Directed by: James Bobin
Written by: Nicholas Stoller & Matthew Robinson
Starring: Isabella Merced, Eugenio Derbez, Michael Peña, Eva Longoria, Danny Trejo
Child-like wonder and a peppy attitude have become so foreign to the common teenage cynical view of the world, which makes the insertion of Dora hilarious. Through a meta-view of its source material and pure sincerity, Dora and the Lost City of Gold wears its heart on its sleeve and turns into something better than it has any business being.
With a life full of adventures in the jungle and a clue to find Parapata, a city of Gold, Dora (Isabela Merced) is sent to live with her aunt, uncle, and cousin in Los Angeles while her parents pursue the lost city. Now she has to go to high school with her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg), who used to live in the jungle but moved to LA when he was seven. Knowing that she just has to be herself, Dora sticks out and embarrasses Diego in front of everyone. After attending a museum trip and being captured by mercenaries, Dora, Diego, and two other students have been transported to the jungle where they will be used to lead these men to Parapata.
The whole idea of a live-action Dora film seems absolutely absurd if anyone has ever seen the long-running and popular series. In the show, she has a backpack that can speak to her along with a map, which can do the same. She has a monkey sidekick named Boots and a thieving fox named Swiper becomes her main adversary. Exclaiming the phrase, “Swiper no Swiping” seems to be the only method that stops the wily fox from committing the robbery. I cannot begin to think about how they could have possibly made this into a feature film, but against the odds, they did and it turned out well.
For storytelling purposes, it’s imperative that they age up Dora because she’s going to be on a journey that will face peril. Having a 10-year-old doing that would be traumatizing so they cast the lovely Isabela Merced to play a teenage Dora as she traverses high school. It would have been an easy creative decision to keep some elements of the character but crafting something mostly new for the film but they stuck to who the character was from the beginning. She was always going to be herself and she comes off incredibly sincere throughout the story. When she first arrives at the school, Diego tells her that it’s basically hell and everyone just tries to survive so he doesn’t want her to be offended if they don’t converse much throughout the day. Being the survivor she’s always been, Dora does not let that detract her and utilizes her kindness to say hello to everyone and be herself. Even when others laugh at her she’s not going to pretend she’s something she’s not just to fit in. It serves a breath of fresh air to anyone who conformed in order to fit in during high school and it really works.
I was so thrilled to see the cast assembled for the film, which includes the rising star Isabela Merced, who has quickly made a name for herself with roles in Instant Family, Sicario: Day of the Soldado, and Transformers: The Last Knight. Then add in some Latinx legends into the fold with Eva Longoria and Michael Peña as her parents and Eugenio Derbez as a resource they meet in the jungle. Adding them into the fold makes it a pure Latinx-led film, which remains disturbingly lacking in American filmmaking considering the percentage of the population Latinx individuals encompass.
While having all of the sincerity that the character of Dora portrays, this film feels like an adventure film, as it has the types of puzzles and mysteries that would be seen in any Indiana Jones movie. It has an adventurous quality to it and once Dora returns to the jungle, she shines with her incredible abilities. The film has some pretty good stuntwork as well, it’s most surprising feature lied in its comedy. I guess it can’t be that surprising considering the talent enlisted in the film, but overall the script was well-aware of who the character has always been. In the series, Dora breaks the fourth wall and speaks to the audience to help her find clues or the correct path. The film utilizes it in a way that confuses all of the other characters and while I saw that coming, the execution still worked.
Dora and the Lost City of Gold had no business being a good movie but the filmmakers committed to the character’s identity and it results in a lovable story about just being yourself. A simple message for a film so sincere and pure.