Isabela Moner Once Again Showcases Her Ability As A Charming & Infectious Screen Presence. Director James Bobin Keeps A Loving Homage To The Animated Series. While Keeping “Dora and The Lost City of Gold” With A Smart Screenplay, A Marvelous Sense Of Playfulness & Breezy-Ness. One Of The Most Entertaining Films I’ve Seen This Year. There Is Fun To Be Had By All, Go Check It Out. Vamonos!
In 2000, the animated series “Dora the Explorer” made its debut on Nickelodeon. The show ran for eight seasons, having been the longest running series on the Nick Jr channel. It was aimed at preschoolers who were just getting their bearings with both the English and Spanish language. Dora was the host in offering a look and find adventure aided with the help from her monkey pal Boots, cousin Diego and various talking items like a map or backpack that would serve as basic survival gear.
The trademark of the show hinges on Dora’s fourth wall breaking moments in which the ecstatic heroine stops in the middle of the show to help teach her audience basic Spanish and ask the audience “Do you know what that means?”.
Director James Bobin and screenwriter Nicolas Stoller, who previously worked wonders on the excellent 2011 film “The Muppets”. The duo once again achieves the right amount of loving homage to the original show, while trying to age up the material to reunite with the original generation of viewers and bring in new ones. “Dora and the Lost City of Gold” brings the character into her teenager years, keeping to the fourth wall breaking, keeping simple tasks originated from the show, while adding sophisticated adventure puzzles and real-world struggles of acceptance.
“Dora and the Lost City of Gold” takes the typical film adaptation route of putting our heroine into a fish out of water situations, knowing that putting these characters in a real-world setting would be an opportunity for commentary and laughs. Rising star Isabela Moner (“Instant Family”, “Transformers: The Last Knight” and “Sicario: Day Of Soldado”) delivers a pitch-perfect, energetic performance and she is fantastic in every possible way.
Isabela Moner’s version of Dora, goes to live with her extended family in Los Angeles after spending her first 16 years in jungle, on expeditions with her explorer parents (Michael Pena and Eva Longoria). For the film’s first act, it’s a classic “fish out of water” story with the cheerful and fearless Dora trying to fit in with moody teenagers of today. Quickly enough Dora, her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg, nephew to Mark Wahlberg) and two classmates are kidnapped by mercenaries and taken back to South America where Dora is forced to search for her missing parents, who the mercenaries believe have found the fabled Lost City of Gold.
Director Bobin and screenwriter Stoller bring in Dora characters Boots (voiced by Danny Trejo) and Swiper (voiced by Benicio Del Toro), in some not so great CG creations. “Dora the Explorer” was always about a girl who loves to explore and learn new things, and every opportunity was taken for a new lesson to be taught. Bobin is well-aware of the animated show’s quirks and keeps the film filled with Dora trademarks, like when she breaks out into song to help her friends get through dangerous situations or faced with embarrassing tasks as when Dora hilariously sings “The Poo Song”. While fourth wall breaking is nothing new, especially since “Deadpool” it’s fun to see Isabela Moner’s charisma as she asks the audience to repeat a word in Spanish or like the animated series stops to ask “Do you know what that means?”. Moner’s Dora even imparts one factoid or another on her colleagues and the audience.
Moner’s charisma keeps things pushing forward, as does the film’s appealing spirit. I just wish every big screen adaptation of a beloved property could feel this funny, fresh and fun. That’s what Dora is all about.
It helps that director James Bobin and writer Nicholas Stoller, in addition to their work on “The Muppets” movie, also have edgier credits between them including “Flight of the Conchords”, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “The Five Year Engagement”. They try to keep it PG, but there are a few fun oddball moments, as when the team finds their way into a strange land of oversized flowers. They are soon hit with a blast of hallucinogenic pollen, allowing Bobin a chance to revisit the animated “Dora the Explorer” as they are turned into their cartoon selves.
Dora is an exceptionally colorful film with nice photography by “Thor: Ragnarok” DP Javier Aguirresarobe. At an hour and forty minutes the pace is kept bouncy throughout. I also appreciate that Stoller’s script doesn’t diminish Dora’s Latina heritage, and embraces it and the language.
It’s got a smart screenplay, a marvelous sense of playfulness and breezy-ness, an involving adventure tale and some spot-on casting. This was one of the most entertaining movies I’ve seen this year. Seeing “Dora and the Lost City of Gold” makes me feel proud that I go into each movie as a reviewer with an open mind. Check it out. Vamonos!
GRADE: ★★★★☆ (4 out of 5)