If you grew up during the early- to mid-2000s and regularly watched Nickelodeon, chances are you’re at least somewhat familiar with Dora the Explorer. It was a show that aimed to teach the Spanish language to young children, but failed to teach viewers anything beyond the bare minimum and had virtually no respect for the audience’s intelligence. Despite this, the series went on to see major success, with it being Nick’s second-most-merchandised show behind Spongebob Squarepants for a while. Still, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone speak fondly of the show in retrospect, but that didn’t stop Viacom from seeing it as a potential nostalgic goldmine. In an era where Nick is exploiting ’90s and early-2000s nostalgia hard, they somehow saw potential in Nick Jr. nostalgia and decided to make a live action adventure film out of Dora. 

The mere concept of turning Dora the Explorer into an edgier action flick is so ridiculous that even CollegeHumor parodied the idea seven years back, but, if the Sonic fiasco is anything to go by, Paramount has absolutely no shame and will put out any crazy idea the executives come up with. With a premise so bizarre, the film has the potential to either be genuinely awful or so absurd that it’s fun. Ultimately, Dora and the Lost City of Gold leaned more into the latter category, being an average family movie with some weird moments, but not something to write home about.

A sometimes entertaining, mostly predictable storyline

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The story follows the titular explorer Dora (Isabela Moner), who is now 16 years old. After her reckless means of exploring causes some concern from her parents, they send her off to California to live with her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg) and attend high school. Due to her eccentric personality and encyclopedic knowledge, she’s constantly mocked by the other students and provokes the ire of class prep Sammy (Madeleine Madden). One day while on a field trip, Dora, Diego, Sammy, and nerdy student Randy (Nicholas Coombe) are kidnapped and find themselves in the jungle Dora grew up in. After reuniting with her pet monkey Boots (Danny Trejo) and learning that her parents have been kidnapped by a group of mercenaries, Dora and the gang must set out to rescue them while uncovering the mystery behind a hidden Incan civilization.

As you could probably tell by the synopsis, Lost City of Gold is way beyond the scope of the usual Dora episode. For a film based on a sanitized preschool show with no stakes whatsoever, they sure aren’t afraid to put their characters into life-or-death situations and use realistic weapons. You’re probably already aware of Dora using a knife if you’ve seen any of the trailers, but the bad guys also have realistic guns, and I can’t for the life of me get over the fact that guns now canonically exist in the Dora the Explorer universe. There’s also a few other standout scenes of absolute insanity, such as a hallucination scene where the film suddenly shifts into the cartoon’s art style and a scene where Danny Trejo’s Boots talks to Dora about puberty in his only speaking role. There’s a few other weird moments, but I’d rather not spoil them for anyone who might be interested in watching the film. Just know that the film can get pretty crazy at points and might be worth watching if you’re morbidly curious.

Aside from the film’s eccentricities, it’s incredibly safe. If there’s one major downside the film has, it’s that the plot is super predictable. It’s easy to see every plot twist coming from a mile away, such as when they introduce their twist villain early on in the film. I generally don’t care if a film is predictable as long as the journey itself is interesting, but the plot itself is too bare bones and basic. It also doesn’t help that the jungle exploring stuff doesn’t start until about a quarter way into the movie and most of the introduction is just high school filler. There’s just not enough substance here to make this a compelling narrative, and I found myself getting bored at certain points. The bizarre moments keep the plot somewhat entertaining, but they can only do so much to make up for the otherwise mediocre story.

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The humor in Lost City of Gold is pretty hit or miss. There are quite a few good jokes that got a chuckle out of me, but there’s also many that caused me to audibly groan such as the instances of toilet humor. There’s also quite a few jokes that poke fun at the tired tropes of the original series, from the patronizing audience interactivity to Dora having a song for almost every conceivable situation. These can be pretty amusing, but considering that Dorahas been parodied to death in popular media, you’ve probably heard most of these jokes before and are most likely sick of them by now. Personally, I think those jokes land most of the time thanks to the comedic payoffs and line delivery, but I can understandably see people finding those jokes stale. 

Easily, the funniest part of the movie is just the existence of Swiper. Every other fantastical element of the original series such as the talking animals and inanimate objects has been explained away as just six-year old Dora having an active imagination, with the exception of Swiper. Boots doesn’t even talk until near the end of the movie, but a walking, talking kleptomaniac fox voiced by Benecio Del Toro just exists in this universe and is working with the mercenaries. They don’t explain Swiper’s existence at all in this movie ,and his role in the story is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but it’s so ridiculous that I love it. The best part is that they kept all the cartoony sound effects from the show whenever he moves, which just adds to the wonderful absurdity of his character. My only problems with Swiper is that I wish there was more of him and that they didn’t give him some kind of absurdly in-depth backstory and character motivation. Maybe when the Nick Jr. Cinematic Universe finally takes off, we can get a Swiper prequel movie for all us Swiper stans out there.

An unremarkable cast of characters

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If there’s one thing I have to commend this movie for, it’s giving Dora an actual personality. Dora in the cartoon really only exists to talk down to the audience, but Lost City of GoldDora is made out to be a quirky young girl who doesn’t really understand most social cues. Granted it’s not a particularly nuanced or complex characterization and she does come across as one-note at times, but it’s something that makes the character somewhat endearing. As for Diego, he just kind of exists in this movie. The film has an arc with him worrying about Dora not fitting in at high school to try and give his character some depth, but other than that he doesn’t have a ton of defining personality traits.

The original characters really don’t do it for me. Randy and Sammy feel like the same tired archetypes you’d see in your usual high school comedy movie. Randy is the weird nerdy comic relief guy while Sammy is the stuck up preppy smart girl and rival to the protagonist. None of these characters are all that inspired and feel like they were only added to give Dora and Diego someone to play off of. Though I will give credit where credit is due, the writers at least tried to give Sammy a character arc and flesh out her character. Granted it’s a pretty bare-bones redemption arc the preppy mean girl usually goes through, but it’s something. It’s better than Randy serving absolutely no purpose to the story and only existing as unfunny comic relief. Plus, she was the one who delivered the line about Dora bringing a knife to the field trip, so props to her for giving us the best joke in the whole movie.

Surprisingly decent presentation

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The acting in this movie is surprisingly solid for something as seemingly cynical as a Dora the Explorer movie. Most of the actors did a wonderful job portraying their character and they work off each other incredibly well. The real stand out among the cast is Isabela Moner as the titular protagonist. She does such a great job bringing out Dora’s quirkiness and giving life to a character who initially wasn’t all that endearing. The only actor I had an issue with is Diego, whose delivery felt pretty stilted and awkward compared to Moner’s lively performance. The cast is especially impressive when you consider that most of the major characters are portrayed by relatively new actors. Most of these people just recently broke into the acting scene and they still did an excellent job. It would’ve been really easy for the producers to cast whoever was the biggest star at the time and use them to advertise the film to adults, but for the most part they opted to cast based on who fit the characters best and it really worked out in the end. Heck, the biggest stars in the cast are Danny Trejo as Boots and Michael Pena as Dora’s father, but even then the former doesn’t speak for most of the film and the latter doesn’t play a huge role in the plot. Based on their performances in this film, it’s clear that the actors are really talented and I would love to see them staring in more films in the future. 

The CGI in this film is also pretty well done. I don’t know if it’s because films like the upcoming Sonic the Hedgehog and Cats movies have given me a higher threshold for what I’m willing to tolerate in CG character design, but characters like Boots and Swiper are implemented pretty well into the movie without looking like they came straight out of the uncanny valley. The designs aren’t amazing and the animation on them wasn’t anything extraordinary, but they actually turned out pretty decent all things considered.





Images: IMDb

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