Live action adaptations of much-beloved cartoons can be risky business as Disney has proven with mixed reactions to both Aladdin and Lion King this year, but Dora and the Lost City of Gold has cracked the code.
Rather than a play-by-play copy, this film expands the concept of Dora the Explorer and feels like both a natural development from the cartoon, and a cinema-worthy event. Peruvian-American Nickelodeon star Isabela Moner (Transformers: The Last Knight, Sicario: Day of the Soldado) takes on the role of teenage Dora sent to live with her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg) in the big city after being raised solely in the jungle.
Michael Peña and Eva Longoria are brilliantly funny as Dora’s professor/explorer parents who go missing whilst looking for Parapata aka the lost city of gold, and it’s up to Dora and her friends to find them. The relationship between Dora and her parents is the heart of the film, and while the coming of age theme is fairly traditional, it’s nice for Dora to have come from a loving background with parents who have equipped her with albeit non-traditional tools for life.
Dora’s ragtag gang includes Diego and two very different types of school nerd stereotype: loser Randy (Nicholas Coombe) and smart queen bee Sammy (Madeleine Madden), while Eugenio Derbez is the standout of the film as the flamboyant professor helping the kids on their quest.
The jungle journeying feels Indiana Jonesy with gold hungry mercenaries, dangerous wildlife, and quicksand to tackle – a good old fashioned adventure romp the likes of which are few and far between in this superhero saturated cinematic landscape.
The inclusion of animated sidekick Boots the monkey and nemesis Swiper the fox are perhaps a little jarring at first, but you’ll soon forget amongst the visual spectacle of the jungle and the city, as well as the unbelievably funny cognitive dissonance of those critters being voiced by Danny Trejo and Benicio del Toro respectively.
The film imparts some wonderful messages about acceptance and friendship, as well as not being shy about the history of colonisation in Central and South America. A key motif emphasises the importance of exploring in order to learn, and not for the sake of treasure, and it’s refreshing to see the ‘mysterious native jungle dweller’ trope subverted and given a voice in the story.
The film does everything you’d want a kids’ film to do – the real treasure is the friendship they discover along the way, there are only a few annoying songs, a couple of well-placed poo jokes, and a fair few laughs for the grown-ups too. Not everyone quite pulls off the cartoonish acting style, but Moner shines at the centre of this joyous romp.
Dora and the Lost City of Gold hits cinemas 16 August.