Take one cup of “Jumanji,” a heaping helping of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and a pinch of “the Goonies” and you’ll get “Dora and the Lost City of Gold,” a peppy, goofy, live action adventure loosely based on the popular animated Nickelodeon educational series. Dora had her heyday in the early 2000s, but this updated version creates a sunny, family-friendly adventure that will appeal to most kids and tweens.
Dora (Isabela Moner) hasn’t had an ordinary childhood. After spending most of her life living deep in the jungle with monkey Boots as her best friend, the 16 year old is sent to California for a few months to live with her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg) and his family while her professor parents (Eva Longoria and Michael Peña) go on a quest to find a lost city of gold. Nothing has prepared Dora for real life, and especially not high school. But when a class field trip goes awry, Dora finds herself and a couple of her new friends thrust back into the jungle as they race to save her parents from danger.
There aren’t many films like this, an exciting and cheerful adventure that’s appropriate for all ages. The fish out of water scenes of Dora trying to fit in by being herself in a strange school environment are funny, and there are enough mild thrills in the jungle to enchant the younger set. Moner brings a contagious charm to her character, creating a Dora who’s delightfully dorky and sweet. There are positive messages about the benefits of team work and how it’s actually pretty cool to be smart.
The one-note story goes on a little too long and becomes tedious, especially towards the end. Some of the acting is over-the-top, and the bargain-basement animation (especially when it comes to the supporting characters Swiper and Boots) is very poor. I guess a burglar fox and a shoe-clad monkey aren’t supposed to appear completely realistic, but here they look awful and cheap. Overall the film lands everything it sets out to accomplish, despite its flaws.
In case you’re wondering, no previous knowledge of Dora is necessary, as the film is easily accessible to those both unfamiliar and super fans. There’s lots of kid-friendly bathroom humor, but adults will discover plenty to enjoy too. Some of the tongue-in-cheek references to the original series are played for laughs (an early scene has Dora turning directly to the audience and asking “can you say ‘delicioso?'”). There are a few more surprises tucked inside for folks who have watched the series.
“Dora and the Lost City of Gold” is a sunny adventure that’s makes for an acceptable end of summer film. It’s also much better than you’d expect.