Like an expertly gift-wrapped pair of Christmas socks, Dora the Explorer’s leap from the small screen to the big promises much and delivers relatively little beyond novelty value or outright boisterousness. With nearly twenty years of history under its belt, the Nickelodeon television show is a much-loved paragon of ingenious, fourth-wall-breaking humour, a champion of the spirit of adventure and an educational illumination of Latin culture and language. Dora and the Lost City of Gold feels like a muddled fulfilling of an obligation: a stubborn insistence on getting something, anything into cinemas because, well the TV show was so good, we sort of have to. Despite hints at harnessing the playful anarchy of the series, this feature film shows only glimpses of the kind of cheery daring-do that could have made this genuinely original and exciting.
Dora’s (Isabela Moner) formative years are spent in the Peruvian jungle with her parents Cole (Michael Peña) and Elena (Eva Longoria). Her’s is a childhood of rural bliss, exploring the jungle with her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg) and her friend – an imaginary backpack.
This life of untamed bliss is disrupted, though, when her parents pack her off to Los Angeles to live with her family while they go looking in search of a mythical lost city of gold, Parapata. Queue some fish-out-of-water nonsense as she adjusts to life in the city, getting used to the social jungle of high school and all its strange conventions and idiosyncrasies.
Then a disaster, or perhaps a miracle, that saves Dora from a life of suburban domestic hell. She is, along with Diego and her classmates Randy (Nicholas Coombe) and Sammy (Madeleine Madden) kidnapped by mercenaries seeking the same lost city as her parents and forcibly dragged to the jungle where the bad guys look to exploit her natural propensity for adventure and exploration.
An adventure story that doesn’t seem to have packed enough provisions to see you through until the finale; Dora starts out with energy and vim, but by the halfway point you find yourself starting to lag. Just when you feel it needs to shift a gear, it remains resolutely trapped in neutral. A mid-point animation sequence, for example, threatens to inject a surreal element of grotesque comedy into the piece, but like the movie itself, it seems to stall, raising only modest laughs and piquing your interest only for a moment or so.
The Indiana Jones-light shtick is fair enough and the “up and at ‘em” philosophy of Dora is a positive message that gets duly hammered home for watching kids. But there is always an air of mediocrity that’s most noticeable when the pre-teen humour descends into fits of shrieking kids (and adults) and on-the-nose social ladder critiquing.
Moner, to her considerable credit, is likeable and a safe role model for kids with a curious mind, and when it pushes its messages about environmentalism, friendship, family and never giving up in the face of adversity, you can’t help but appreciate it. Like those socks, it’s not something you could ever really love, though, or get unduly excited about.
Dir: James Bobin
Scr: Nicholas Stoller, Matthew Robinson
Cast: Isabela Moner, Eugenio Derbez, Michael Peña, Eva Longoria, Danny Trejo
Prd: Kristin Burr
DOP: Javier Aguirreesarobe
Music: John Debney, Germaine Franco
Runtime: 102 minutes
Dora and The Lost City of Gold is in UK cinemas now.