What a world we live in where Dora and the Lost City of Gold is a real movie. When you think of some TV shows for kids, it’s almost impossible to imagine them as a live-action feature film. Sure, in theory you could make a movie adaptation of nearly anything these days, but I’d at least like to think that some franchises seem like a bonafide failure if they ever made it to the big screen. Ask yourself this; if an Arthur movie was announced today but it was going to be a live-action feature film, would it sound appealing? Would you say “Oh boy, I can’t wait to see me some real life aardvarks!”
My point is that some franchises just shouldn’t make the transition to live-action. Many try, most fail. Dora and the Lost City of Gold tries to make a decent case for its existence, but it ends up just being confused about what it’s even trying to be.
Dora and the Lost City of Gold
Director: James Bobin
Release: August 9, 2019
Dora (Isabela Moner) has gone from being a little girl with no discernible last name to a teenager with no discernible last name, who lives in the jungle with her parents. She explores all day with her trusty monkey sidekick Boots (Danny Trejo) and wants to join her parents in discovering the ancient Incan civilization or Parapata, a lost city filled to the brim with treasure and hidden secrets. However, her parents instead want her to socialize more with people her age, so they send her to live with her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg) in the big city so she can attend high school instead of searching for Parapata. However, treasure hunters kidnap Dora and her friends in order to use them to track down Dora’s parents, who have gone missing, and claim Parapata’s treasure for themselves, while Dora tries to discover what happened to her parents and hopefully discover the ancient city herself.
Based on the marketing for this movie, I thought I was going to hate it. It seemed to have fallen into every trope that a kid’s movie can fall victim to and then some. Seriously, the claim that “high school is the real jungle” has been run into the ground countless times and made me roll my eyes at the thought that I would be seeing Dora meet a Regina George stand in. Thankfully, the movie rarely spends time with Dora at high school, which is easily the worst part for how forced and cliched it is. Instead it focuses on being a simple adventure film.
Nothing of real substance happens for most of the movie, with the characters just giving general platitudes about being true to yourself, the importance of family, the power of friendship, and all of these other hackneyed morals you’ve probably heard time and time again. They’re not done poorly, and they’re presented in a way that kids will likely find appealing, so I can’t get too upset over it. For many kids, this is a fun way to be exposed to those morals and at least it doesn’t force them onto viewers. The movie could have been a bit more focused on exactly which theme was the most important to get across, but there are worse problems to have in a movie.
One such problem could be tonal inconsistency! Dora is weird to watch because I’m not entirely sure it knows what it wants to be. There are countless odd little moments that never gel with each other and raise more questions than they answer. For example, Dora claims that Boots can talk, a fact that all of the characters disbelieve and even she questions as the movie goes on, but when Swiper the Fox (Benecio del Toro) appears and is speaking fluent English, no one bats an eye at it. Both are CG creatures, but somehow Swiper is perfectly normal in this world while a talking monkey isn’t?
It only gets stranger when the movie tries to break the fourth wall and attempts to parody itself. While some instances are fine, like Dora talking to the audience with her psycho eyes and everyone just questions if she’s sane or not, other instances come across more like mockery. Dora sings about everything in a super chipper attitude, even as she’s digging a literal shit hole in one scene. It’s ridiculing the source material, but in a way that puts down the original show. It’s weird that a fake CollegeHumor trailer feels more respectful to the original series than this movie. It doesn’t feel like it came from a place of love, but rather one of ridicule — making fun of a thing in the show and how dumb it would be in real life simply because they can.
And yet, the movie did manage to portray a decent adventure. Indiana Jones this isn’t; more like baby’s first adventure. It’s simple, with set-pieces that managed to engage a few kids in my audience, and some jokes that made them laugh. Yes, even the fart jokes. It’s important for me to take a step out of my shoes and acknowledge that I’m not the target audience for this movie. I’m just not. Dora the Explorer is a show meant for elementary and preschool kids and has been around since 2000. I remember watching it as a kid, so I had to ask myself if a kid would find this entertaining. My answer is that they would, and it’s harmless entertainment at that.
There are no insidious messages like in The Emoji Movie and it isn’t as moronic as the Norm of the North movies, but those are low bars to jump. Kids can easily enjoy this, but nothing more. It delivers the bare essentials for a family friendly adventure movie and that’s all. As an adaptation, it doesn’t know whether it wants to appeal to kids genuinely or adults ironically, making several scenes unable to click into place. The movie would have been far better if it leaned more into either direction, not just meandering between the two styles.
But I can’t deny that the movie had a certain effect on people. When Dora asked the crowd in my theater to speak Spanish, they did so. Whether they did it genuinely or ironically is up to you, but it was able to connect with the audience enough to do so. I mean, I certainly didn’t because I hate all fun and I’m a total grump that saw Dora and the Lost City of Gold by myself in a theater full of teenagers and kids, but I’m fairly sure I’m an outlier in this case. Look, it’s August and the crop of quality movies is starting to drop pretty fast, so beggars can’t be choosers. You could certainly do a lot worse than Dora and the Lost City of Gold, but you could also do a heck of a lot better.