Dora and the Lost City of Gold reveals to us that Dora is now an adolescent and just like Nim from Nim’s Island, has the jungle and animals be her teachers on all there is to know about the universe. She’d certainly make an excellent biologist, knowing the poisons of tree frogs and the best velocity to go when you want to swing on a vine like a monkey. Diego had to leave years ago to America because of family business matters mostly kept offscreen. And now it’s Dora’s turn to have to follow when she finds an artifact in the jungle that hints at a lost city her parents have been searching for for ten years...and she does something crazy, even for her, trying to get to it. Her parents decide it’s best if she learns the ways of most others, and they go off on the clue Dora found to look for the lost city of gold, Para Pata. They promise to notify her at least once a week of their progress while she stays with Diego, who has lost his entire sense of adventure and has conformed to keeping himself out of the spotlight at high school to avoid a bad rep. Dora has not caught up and says hello to everyone, does not recognize teasing, and compliments the cafeteria chefs extravagantly about their amazing mac and cheese. It soon gives her a nickname she’s oblivious to but the fact Diego is her cousin makes him the target for a few sneers of his own, making him forced to chastise the cousin that remembered to keep her half of a candy bar for ten years to show him. Then one day she realizes her parents haven’t picked up their phones for a while, and she, Diego and two classmate outsiders; Sammy, alone because she’s a bossy know-it-all, and Randy, an astrology-lover who’s into nothing the other boys like, are kidnapped back to the Peruvian jungle, and the four escape with a friend of her parents, Alejandro, and the five of them head off in the bread-crumb trail left to find the lost city of gold.
There are movies like The Emoji Movie that have an error from the minute its concept is invented, and the one for that one was assuming emojis were more grand than they really are and that our new generation is so lazy that emojis are the new vocabulary. This movie had a supposed error according to some viewers of the trailer, which was that the map and backpack no longer talk, nor does Boots, and we don’t know if Swiper the Fox does or not, and that Dora was, while absolutely an explorer, not exactly a tomb raider. One good thing I can definitely admit in the premise is the idea of aging Dora into someone just a little younger than me, and I liked that idea because Dora has been around for decades at this point, so there are new current fans and old fans aplenty that grew out of the source material but have fond memories before they realized it’s a little loud and silly. Yeah, at this point in my life I think Dora the Explorer, the cartoon version, is a little too loud and repetitive. So to put Dora in a few more mature situations without stretching it to the point of scariness, there’s something for all these fans. Even though I think the actual movie could’ve been better, the premise for making this a kids’ Lara-Croft comedy adventure was probably the best way it could’ve been done.
Moner was perfect for Dora, adolescent or otherwise. She’s clearly deserved her fame, happy to have been cast as such an optimistic character who’s never grown out of the fourth wall and does not see why you shouldn’t treat every day like a party. Just like those movies you see like Jackie Chan’s The Spy Next Door or Charlize Theron’s Monster, this movie wouldn’t have worked at all without a proper lead carrying her charisma and backup cast across the screen. I was worried we wouldn’t see enough jungle puzzles or enough of Swiper The Fox, who’s the character everyone was most curious about, and I was worried it would not feel like the characters ventured too far into the forest. None of that was a reality. I especially loved it when a certain puzzle involves Diego going to a lever that represents a jaguar, and despite Swiper being a little one-dimensional in his desires during this movie, we at least see a satisfying amount of him. And the trekking does feel efficient. During a scene that turns from hilarious to horrifying relatively quick, I learned something about the jungle that could really come in handy down the road, and there’s an animated sequence I really loved when characters accidentally inhale a plant that reminds me a lot of a corpse flower but isn’t.
The biggest blow to the movie are two problems. One is a twist we’re hinted of in an overly obvious way that only those who can’t yet say “Uno” will not get the hint. Because of this, I kept expecting a twist on top of it and a side story as to why this significant person chose to do something, but we never get a snippet of it. The other is the idea that hints of actual fantasy throughout Dora’s life, the movie too confused to ground its new take on the universe down and hammer it. Boots understands Dora and Dora understands Boots’ monkey language, apparently. Swiper can talk. Yet Boots can’t actually speak English to others like Swiper can. Dora’s map and backpack can’t talk. The intro shows Dora and Diego imagining a scenario like Calvin and Hobbes did, them being ripped from their imagination as we are when dinner is called by the bubble-bursting parents. If Swiper can still talk and wear his bandana, it shouldn’t have to be too much of a stretch to still have the map and backpack talk, and have all the characters from the original cartoon be alive as well. There’s hints her friends are human personas of these characters, which is perfectly fine, but we’re still left wondering about the implications the original cartoon had.
There are a few moments in this film that may annoy adults, but they end up a little less annoying in the long run than expected, such as something scatological that turns out less embarrassing and a dance number that's maybe too optimistic, but a lot of optimism in movies can feel fake and this one knows the real deal.
I was primarily looking forward to seeing this movie solely because of the director, James Bobin. He directed two recent Muppets movies, unseen by me but loved and kissed on by critics, and Alice Through the Looking Glass, a film critics trashed but I saw and loved so much it was my favourite movie of the entire 2016 year. I felt Bobin’s efforts to return Mia Wasikowska and Johnny Depp to the world of Wonderland was delightfully gorgeous, heartwarming, and as nail-biting as possible. It’s kind of sad I have to say his newest production is nowhere near the level of Looking Glass, but it’s undeniably unpretentious and oddball-embracingly cheery, doing what it set out to do in trying to have something for every infant and preteen.