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Not Much Glitter

Isabela Moner
Isabela Moner
Paramount Pictures
 102 Minutes
Rated: PG
Directed By: James Bobin  
Starring: Isabela Moner, Eugenio Derbez
Dora and the Lost City of Gold

I’ll be the first to admit that I have never had the pleasure, if that’s the accurate term, of witnessing a single episode of Dora the Explorer, an animated children’s TV series that features the adventures of a plucky seven-year-old named Dora and her talking monkey, who have all sorts of experiences in the jungle. So I can’t judge how much pre-teen girls will be thrilled to see Dora, aged a decade or so and played as a plucky 16-year-old by Isabela Moner, on the big screen. I will say that, as an adult who appreciates intelligent animated films, I actually enjoyed Dora and the Lost City of Gold, at least until Dora returned to the jungle and actually began exploring.


For the first 16 years of her life, Dora has been happy to wander the jungle with Boots, helping her mother (Eva Longoria) and father (Michael Pena) in their explorations, most notably their effort to find the lost Incan city of Parapata. Unfortunately for the intrepid junior explorer, just when she finds a mysterious totem that might reveal the secret to the lost city’s location, Dora gets shipped off to America to experience “normal” teenage life. Dora is thrilled to be reunited with her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg), who left the jungle years earlier and to experience school life.


As you might expect, a plucky, extremely bright, socially unaware 16-year-old (imagine a cross between a teenage female Gomer Pyle and a rocket scientist) gets a rude reception from her high school classmates. Dora, however, doesn’t understand that they are making fun of her. Instead, she reacts as if they are laughing with her instead of at her. Needless to say, her social circle is minimal, comprising only Diego and the school’s former top weirdo, Randy (Nicholas Coombe), who develops a crush on Dora.


Dora’s stay in America doesn’t last long, as, during a field trip, she Diego, Nicholas, and one of the most popular girls in school, snooty Sammy (Madeleine Madden), are kidnapped from a museum by some mercenaries. The high schoolers are then packed in a crate and flown off to Peru. In South America, the kids are rescued by Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez), an old high school friend of Dora’s parents. Together, Alejandro, Dora, and the others make their way through the jungle to find her parents and the fabled lost city. However, when they get closer, they realize that their parents may have fallen victim to the same mercenaries who kidnapped Dora.


The obvious inspiration for Dora and the Lost City of Gold is Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s not giving too much away to reveal that Dora and her friends do battle with all sorts of jungle beasts and beastly humans. There’s even a talking fox named Swiper, who, as his name implies, is sort of a canine burglar whom the mercenaries employ to steal things like Dora’s treasure map. Both Swiper (voiced by Benicio del Toro) and the monkey Boots (voiced by Danny Trejo) are rendered in surprisingly cheesy CGI animation, looking more like refugees from the Dora the Explorer TV show than part of a reasonably decent budget action film. And, despite the quality of the actors lending their voices to the characters, nothing that either of them does will impress any viewers older than the cartoon Dora character.


While Dora and the Lost City of Gold pitches itself as a jungle adventure, the most effective part of the movie is the part set in the United States, where Dora’s open cheerfulness clashes with the realities of today’s high school life, and Dora herself remains above the fray. This is familiar material, but it works, largely thanks to the performance by Isabela Moner. She manages to brighten up every scene in which she appears. An entire movie about Dora in high school would have been one of the better examples of the genre.


The same can’t be said of Dora’s jungle cruise with her high school friends. Once Eugenio Derbez appears, the movie goes downhill, as director James Bobin, best known for his work on the recent Muppets movies seems intent on giving Derbez as many slapstick antics as possible, all designed to show that he is less capable of coping in the jungle than are the high school kids. There’s also the requisite amount of toilet humor, in this case literally, as an extended, painfully unfunny sequence revolves around the snobbish Sammy having to excavate a hole in which to do her business. While that is undoubtedly a part of long-distance hiking, it’s not one I needed to see in a movie.


When Dora and her friends finally find the Lost City, the film becomes a mashup of every Indiana Jones movie with the intensity dialed down to ensure a PG rating. Dora and company meet the spirits of the long-dead Incas guarding their treasure and have to go through one of those obstacle course mazes common to the genre in which stepping on the wrong part of the floor while crossing the room can lead to an elaborate death. My understanding is that solving the riddles necessary to navigate the maze successfully is a learning experience for children on the TV show. There’s little learning in the movie, however, for children or adults. Children may find the action mildly entertaining, but, for adults, the thrills in Dora and the Lost City of Gold are a pale imitation of those in many other jungle movies.


The producers of Dora and the Lost City of Gold undoubtedly want this movie to anchor a franchise, but they face several challenges. First, cute and perky as Moner is, she can’t pass for a 16-year-old much longer, and the farther Dora gets from her cartoon incarnation, the less effective her character becomes. Second, the jungle adventure was already running out of gas by the end of a 100-minute movie. As far as the current film goes, home viewers will have a distinct advantage over those watching in a theater. They can fast forward from the moment Dora leaves civilization until the lively closing credit sequence. Dora and the Lost City of Gold is 12-carat, half gold and half dross.   

In this clip, Isabela Moner and friends flee danger.

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Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019) on IMDb