In the first fifteen minutes of Dora and the Lost City of Gold, the titular character will remind audiences of how odd the original cartoon could be —from the bizarre talking objects, which include an all-knowing yet simple map and a bag with zipper mouth; the garrulous boot-wearing monkey, Boots; the wordy songs with nonsensical lyrics; to the oddity of Dora’s break-the-fourth-wall trademark. The live-action adaptation begins with comprehensive mockery of such elements—reducing them merely as some products of children’s imagination; therefore, those oddities are left behind in this new adventure. Only the carefree yet resourceful, Dora (portrayed enticingly by Isabel Moner), remains the same person as in the cartoon, even when she’s grown up.
The live-action gets fast-forwarded to the 10 years following the timeline of the original series (which ironically has been running for around 20 years). Dora has to move from the jungle to an American town after her explorer parents (Michael Peña and Eva Longoria) decide to discover the lost city of Parapata without her. Unbeknownst to her, she only escapes from one jungle to another jungle called high school, where she needs to survive and mingle with its enigmatic indigenous people a.k.a. angsty American teenagers, which includes her primo and childhood playmate, Diego (Jeff Wahlberg), an ambitious straight-A student, Sammy (Madeleine Madden), and an astronomy-geek, Randy (Nicholas Coombe).
It’s fun to watch how Dora juxtaposes the wildlife with the high school environment, even when the narrative seems to exaggerate her resourceful nature. As in most high school movies, we know that this ecosystem has never been the easiest to inhabit, especially for a geek like Dora. And yet, Isabela Moner’s charm brings out the titular character’s happy-go-lucky personality, which somehow invites the audiences to root for her during the adaptation to her high school life. However, Dora and the Lost City of Gold doesn’t seem to bother to go on with the enticing high school arc. As soon as conflict starts to arise, director James Bobin brings Dora and her high school friends, with some barely smooth transition, back to the jungle where Dora et al have to embark on an absurd Tomb Raider meets The Lost City of Z mission, which is more like a Journey to the Center of the Earth tropes.
From there, Dora and the Lost City of Gold turns into an incomprehensible joyride full of forgivable inconsistencies. Dora will still sing some made-up songs that help to survive the jungle; but, there follow some actual treasure-hunt action sequences that will get her involved. While aiming for families, the movie takes a bizarre turn when Dora and her companions stumble upon a hallucinogenic garden, which becomes the movie’s most exhilarating reference to the original cartoon. Aside from that, the adventure narrative is rather formulaic with some traps to avoid and some puzzles to solve. And yet, with Moner enthusiastically guides the way as the protagonist, the whole ride does not seem stretched and tedious at all.
While the narrative becomes more textbookish as the story goes and some unnecessary twist makes it a bit muddled, Dora and the Lost City of Gold is still brave enough to get aboard with a riskful yet fresh take on the original comics, especially in aging the characters and throwing them to the non-literal jungle during the first half. Besides, that decision might seem way bolder than it looks, given the filmmakers’ confidence in not whitewashing the protagonists. Honestly, it’s hard to take this live-action adaptation seriously in some aspects, but you really cannot put aside the movie’s bravest decisions.