Review: Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019)

Dora the Explorer popped up in that sweet spot where I was just a bit too old for it yet my youngest cousin was at just the right age. It became the bane of her visits alongside Blue’s Clues, yet it was the type of mockable show that offered some semblance of joy by playing along with the seemingly inane interaction. Adapting such a simplistic concept into a full-on adventure movie seemed laughable.

Yet here we are, and Nickelodeon has crafted a more engaging Tomb Raider movie than any of the actual adaptations. That is far from high praise, but Dora is largely successful at capturing the spirit of running through jungles and diving into temples. It doesn’t aim for much beyond being Indiana Jones for youngsters, but high art is far from a requirement.

What makes this such an effective adaptation of a rather minimal source is how effectively it brings Dora to life. Edutainment characters have a tendency to be overly bubbly to capture the attention of young children, and it’s easy to imagine a live action remake holding back. Instead, Isabela Moner plays Dora in the exact same manner. Contrasting this larger than life character with an otherwise mundane world really highlights her charm. Where many other works take familiar children’s characters and places them in more bleak circumstances, Dora rejects this notion and has its title character rescue the other characters from a boring existence.

Dora and the Lost City of Gold toys with these back-handed tropes but never embraces them. This film is completely aware of the absurdity of its existence and instead of trying to deconstruct itself, it runs wild. Dora’s spirit is presented as if it can never be broken. It’s a breath of fresh air when Disney’s live action films targeting a similar age group seem to openly reject the vibrancy of their origins. Dora is essentially a live action cartoon.

The film instead uses this toying for comedic purposes, and it can be rather charming in its humor. Early segments carry direct nods to Dora’s audience addresses and, though the movie slyly pulls back on breaking the fourth wall, later sequences have hints of edutainment as the teens try to solve puzzles. A lot of the humor runs off Dora experiencing a culture clash with her classmates – instead of trying to soften her characteristics, this film is molded around her traits.

This film certainly falters. The actual temple exploration is handled a bit too straight by the end. A bit of energy is lost as the classmates begin to go along with Dora. This is far from a great film, but it’s fun and competent enough to be called a good one – which is much higher praise than I expected to give.

There’s not much more to say without digging way too deeply into a standard children’s film. Even as someone who dreaded having to turn the station over from Cartoon Network to Nick Jr. when the cousins were visiting, Dora and the Lost City of Gold is a charming work that not only captures the spirit of its origin but expands upon it. In a time where adaptations try to shed their more cartoonish aspects, Dora takes great pleasure in exploring how little the title character would fit in our world before letting her drag us into hers.

3.5 Stars Out of 5

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