THE JUNGLE — It was only a matter of time before Hollywood started to mine educational kids programing for their next big-screen properties.
I was surprised it was a live-action version of Nickelodeon's “Dora the Explorer” to start that off.
When my 12-year-old daughter and I saw the official trailer for “Dora and the Lost City of Gold,” we promised each other we would go together no matter how bad or good the movie was just to see what it could offer. To our surprise, we were not disappointed.
The “Dora the Explorer” television show is an educational cartoon that features a friendly yet earnest little girl named Dora who embarks upon missions to save her friends from dangerous situations or to learn about her surroundings and make new friends along the way.
Each episode contains a problem to be solved through a series of steps to be followed on a map. A simple formula, but the interactive nature of the show and the main character makes it fun and engaging for little kids.
In the film adaptation, Dora is reimagined as a teenager played by Isabella Moner. She is just entering the world of high school after she is taken from the jungle where she lived for her entire life with her researcher parents.
Her environment is different, and the problems she faces are real, but her approach to life has not changed. Dora’s way of dealing with cartoon problems as a child is now hilariously ill-suited to her when dealing with teenage life and problems.
Here are a few things that worked well for this film and a few things that did not:
This film is keenly aware of its origins in the world of children's educational programming, and it uses that to its full advantage as a plot device to move the story forward.
The writers did an excellent job of creating a real-world setting for a character that was originally a cartoon. This film played to the naiveté that the human version of a cartoon would bring to real-world situations, which created a lot of opportunities to make fun of itself.
At one point there is a full scene played out as a few of the characters hallucinate in a field of poison flowers and see themselves as the original cartoon characters. There is always a tongue-in-cheek approach to this film and its dialogue, including a couple of times where Dora breaks the fourth wall by speaking directly to the audience just as her cartoon character does.
Since this film did not take itself too seriously the door was open to a lot of funny situations and dialogue.
My daughter and I caught ourselves laughing often and out loud throughout the film. Some of the humor in this film is literally potty humor, which is not for everyone, but when you put it to song it somehow makes it a little funnier.
Michael Pena and Eva Longoria have hilarious chemistry in this film as Dora’s parents, who are slightly apologetic about their daughter's awkwardness in the real world. There really is humor for everyone in this film, with plenty of jokes that only adults get and gags that kill the kid crowd.
The characters are fun
Not a lot of the cartoon characters made it back to this film, other than some cameos.
The characters that did come back are Boots the monkey, Swiper the fox and cousin Diego. The two animal characters are computer animated and completely out of place in the real world, but no one seems to care.
I wasn’t sure about Swiper (Benicio Del Toro) at first. He seemed awkward in the film, but the way he was written even his very limited dialogue was hilarious. Eugenio Derbez played a mostly lovable bad guy that you couldn’t hate for long.
The story is nothing new
The story wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. It kept the plot moving along and never became boring.
The pace was nice for keeping younger kids focused while still taking time to keep adults interested. Beyond that, it was a standard movie plot that felt a little like “The Goonies” at times, which was fun but nothing new.
The acting is inconsistent
Most of the acting of the main characters was good, but some of the secondary characters throughout the film were not great.
There was a lot of overacting by some of the high school characters. I couldn't tell if those were bad performances or if that's just how high school kids are. Either way, it was distracting.
If you or a loved one has fond memories of the original “Dora the Explorer” show and you want to see what she is up to now, you should check out this film.
Don't worry, even if you are not familiar with the original series there is no explanation needed. This film gives you something brainless to enjoy with your kids while they still have a few days left of summer vacation.
"Dora and the Lost City of Gold" is rated PG for action and some impolite humor.