Title: Dora and the Lost City of Gold
Release Date: August 9, 2019
Director: James Bobin
Starring: Isabela Moner, Eugenio Derbez, Michael Pena, Eva Longoria, and Danny Trejo
Review: Remember Dora the Explorer? The cartoon aimed at preschoolers where a little girl went on strange, simple adventures, all while singing songs, speaking Spanish, and randomly talking to a non-existent audience. Of course you do! Everyone loved that show for it’s intricate plots and beloved characters, right? Your nostalgia has got to be strong enough to get you to go buy a ticket. After all, if Disney can bank on your childhood in live action, why can’t Nickelodeon? I mean… they could. This is just a weird place to start. But, with a Rotten Tomatoes score in the upper 70’s and the director of The Muppets at the helm, I thought there was a chance I might actually enjoy this. I was wrong. It’s not as bad as it could’ve been but I’d argue this movie is a long way from fresh.
My main criticism with this movie is that it just felt like it was trying too hard. From the moment the logos stop playing, it’s throwing jokes in your face constantly for the next hour or so. And they are bad. Like, real bad. I would expect this for a TV movie on Nick Jr, but this is supposed to be good enough to hit cinemas aimed at a slightly older audience. Actually, for the first half of the movie, I think I’d (as a grown adult) actually prefer to watch the cartoon. I will admit that there are a couple of genuinely funny lines but the movie doesn’t give them a chance to breathe. We’re just right on to the next lame joke. They’re all over the place too. One minute there’s a poop joke, clearly aimed at kids. The next: a sex joke. Sure. It’s not super graphic but I’m sure parents don’t want to explain to their kids what “mating” means. They’re trying to have it both ways. They want to be both 21 Jump Street, admitting that this is a goofy premise but still going for it, without losing that family audience. I’m not sure they ever could’ve pulled that off. However, I will admit that once the movie lays off the humor a bit and just let’s it be Indiana Jones for kids, it’s a lot more fun. I wish they had just gone down that route. Dora is the only one that has to be wacky and weird. Everyone else should be a semi-straight man. I’m looking at you, Eugenio Derbez.
But, you know what’s really a shame? I actually liked these characters. Sure, they’re super one note like a lot of live action kids’ fare. But, by the end of the movie, they had completely grown on me. I think Isabella Moner is a perfect Dora. She really shines as this goofy oddball from the jungle with a couple of quirks. Given a better script, she could’ve knocked it out of the park. The whole cast could’ve. And that’s not just my nostalgia talking either. While I was just outside of the age range for Dora the Explorer when it started but still know who she is, I totally missed the Diego stuff. I’ve seen him on merchandise but I’m not sure I have ever watched that character on screen. So, I have almost zero connection to that character. But, I really enjoyed him here. I thought the two new characters, played by Madeleine Madden and Nicholas Coombe, were really fun too. It takes a while (thanks to the previously mentioned awful jokes) for them to grow on you, but they did. I would almost be down for another adventure starring these four. Almost.
I can’t, in good faith, wrapped up this review without mentioning how some of the sillier aspects of this movie play out. I’m talking the stuff that would be hard to translate to screen in a live action adaptation of this cartoon. Yes. It’s time to talk about Boots and Swiper. First of all, the CGI on these two was absolute crap. I never bought that they existed in the same space as the human characters. Worse than that though, they were way underutilized. In fact, I think it would’ve been a lot better if they weren’t there at all. Boots is kinda scary looking, especially in one scene where he and Dora laugh at Diego. He disappears for long segments of the movie. And, the joke of him being voiced by Danny Trejo really isn’t all that great. I would’ve preferred if he was just a realistic, mute sidekick like Disney did with Iago in this year’s Aladdin. And, Swiper really had no purpose at all. It felt like the writers just crammed him in last second because they thought they had to have him. They didn’t even take full enough advantage of the “Swiper, no swiping bit” which should’ve been one of the funniest jokes in the movie. Plus, I’m not totally convinced that they didn’t just follow a drunk Benicio del Toro around as he played Dora the Explorer with his daughter. Not only did the voice not match but it sounded like he was super far away from the microphone when they recorded him. Maybe he was tricked into being in this movie? I don’t know just a theory.
There is one really funny sequence though where they just went for it. It’s one of those hallucination scenes that a lot of movies do, but they really let their freak flag fly. Every thing that’s weird about the cartoon is in that scene. And, it features really clever parody, something this movie doesn’t have enough of. I legitimately perked up the moment it started and was way on board. Too bad it only lasts for a couple of minutes…
TL;DR: This movie is almost good. The characters are likable and there are some legitimately funny moments. Unfortunately, it was trying too hard to be something it wasn’t. There’s a joke a minute and most fall flat. I wish they were either more earnest or more edgy, because the line they tiptoed just doesn’t work here.
Rating: 3 Stars (I didn’t really like it or dislike it. Just kinda meh.)