“Dora the Explorer,” the educational animated TV show for preschoolers, gets a live-action movie adaptation that is, if not educational, at least harmless enough kiddie fare. Entitled “Dora and the Lost City of Gold,” it’s aged up a bit, aimed at children who are too old for baby shows but too young for PG-13 adventures, and it has just enough self-awareness for adults not to lose their minds watching it.
A prologue shows 6-year-old Dora (Madelyn Miranda) and her cousin Diego (Malachi Barton) living in a South American jungle with Dora’s parents (Eva Longoria and Michael Peña), who are professors of some kind. Whatever kind of professor lives in a jungle, I guess. The kids are avid amateur explorers, and Dora in particular is obsessed with it. Sometimes when she learns a new word she looks at an unseen camera and asks, “Can you say [whatever]?,” like she’s talking to a home audience. Her parents think this is weird but just a phase.
Diego moves back to civilization and 10 years go by. Spunky 16-year-old Dora (Isabela Moner) now runs around the jungle with a GoPro camera, presumably addressing YouTube subscribers while behaving in a dangerously overfamiliar manner with wild animals. Her parents, embarking on a journey to find the fabled lost city of Parapata, send Dora to live with Diego’s family and go to public school for the first time. She’s excited to see her beloved cousin again, but Diego (Jeff Wahlberg, nephew of Donny and Mark) no longer cares about exploring and is embarrassed by Dora’s cheerful, earnest, introduce-yourself-to-everyone, fish-out-of-water zeal and her unfamiliarity with social norms.
After some gags centered on Dora being super-bright but having no understanding of how high school works, we move to the crux of the matter: While on a field trip, Dora, Diego, brainy girl Sammy (Madeleine Madden), and male dweeb Randy (Nicholas Coombe) are drugged, abducted, and whisked back to the Amazon by treasure-hunters who intend to force Dora to help them find her parents and whatever fortunes they’ve discovered at Parapata.
When I said before that the movie is “harmless,” this is what I meant. The events I just described could be the basis for a harrowing thriller or horror film; here, it’s just another li’l adventure for Dora and her friends. Sammy complains comedically that she wants to go home, but no one’s in any real distress, and their multi-day journey through the rain forest takes no visible toll on them. Animated or not, the film operates on cartoon logic, where mortal peril is easily escaped without even minor injury, where everybody’s clothes are clean and dry moments after being in quicksand (to name one of several life-threatening situations that director James Bobin carefully avoids making seem too scary). It’s like a mild, junior version of Indiana Jones with very low stakes.
Isabela Moner is a terrific teenage Dora, full of energy and sunshine, indefatigably chipper. The villain, played by Mexican comedy star Eugenio Derbez, is irritating (and his villainy is plainly telegraphed before it’s revealed), but Dora and the other kids solving jungle puzzles, many of which require teamwork, is the sort of movie fun that’s hard to screw up. Some elements of the TV show are included only for fidelity’s sake, like a CGI fox named Swiper who steals things. (The kids remark on how unusual it is for a fox to wear a mask; the fact that he also speaks — with the voice of Benicio Del Toro, no less — does not impress them.) Overall, though, the movie seems eager to establish its own personality. There’s no educational value, but hey, at least it’s not making your kids any stupider.
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