This feature film adaptation doesn’t try to be as explicitly educational as the Nickelodeon cartoon it’s based on, Dora the Explorer, wherein a spunky 7-year-old would pause along her adventures with a monkey named Boots to break the fourth wall and teach her rapt audience of tiny tots a new word. But Dora and the Lost City of Gold proves edifying nonetheless – in the way it embraces values like kindness, resilience, and curiosity, and nudges young viewers to consider a more sophisticated emotional terrain.
Did I mention it’s also stupid charming? That has everything to do with the titular heroine, aged up to be a high schooler and played here by the dazzlingly charismatic Isabela Moner. Home-schooled in the jungle by her explorer/professor parents (Longoria and Peña), Dora is shipped off at film’s beginning to the big city and her cousin Diego’s family, while Mom and Dad go off in search of a lost Incan kingdom. Navigating high school turns out to be a lot more dangerous than anything she’s encountered in South America, and the funny, fleet script by Nicholas Stoller (The Muppets, The Five-Year Engagement) and Matthew Robinson (The Invention of Lying) mines some quick – but never cheap – laughs out of Dora’s fish-out-of-water status before wisely getting her back to the jungle on a new adventure.
There are a few meta shenanigans that nod grinningly at the original cartoon, but mostly the filmmakers take a sincere and straightforward approach. The overall vibe is JV-squad swashbuckling, evoking The Goonies and the Indiana Jones films for a tweens-and-under demographic, and all without the exhausting quippiness of the Lego franchise.
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