dora

Danny Trejo and Isabela Moner star as Boots and Dora in “Dora and the Lost City of Gold.”

From 2000 to 2006, “Dora the Explorer” was a beloved animated television series geared toward preschoolers as Dora donned her talking backpack and carried her map with a mouth, accompanied by a monkey named Boots and her sidekick cousin Diego as she embarks on new adventures filled with puzzles to solve as they avoid Swiper, a cheeky, sneaky fox.

Known for breaking the “fourth wall,” talking to her audience, the show helped kids learn to count, speak a little Spanish, and problem solve. The show still airs on Univision and is now a part of Nickelodeon’s new film “Dora and the Lost City of Gold” starring Isabela Moner (“Instant Family”), Jeff Wahlberg, Eva Longoria, and Michael Pena.

This live action version of the show gives audiences a glimpse into Dora’s life as a youngster in the jungle, living with her brilliant and loving professor parents as she exhibits her imagination reminiscent of the animated TV show. We quickly fast-forward ten years and Dora has grown up into an exceptionally bright teen whose positive outlook and love of adventure and singing remains.

Her parents cannot allow her to accompany them on this next quest, finding Parapata, the Inca’s legendary city of gold, and she is sent to live in LA with her Aunt, Uncle, and cousin Diego (Wahlberg). This is one jungle she has no clue as to how to navigate.

The story takes innocent Dora who isn’t quite acclimating to her new environment, her embarrassed cousin, and two unwilling school acquaintances on an adventure deep into the Amazon to find Dora’s missing parents. Filled with obstacles to overcome, and puzzles and riddles to solve, the teens must band together to not only save Dora’s parents, but themselves.

“Dora and the Lost City of Gold” is two parts “Indiana Jones,” one part “Jumanji,” with a sprinkle of “The Wizard of Oz,” but definitely geared toward very young audiences.

It is the epitome of “cute” with the effervescent Dora who educates and enlightens all who watch and listen. We learn about the solar system, poison dart frogs, and neurotoxins and how to pronounce it.

The cast of characters represent typical teens with Sammy (Madeleine Madden), the school’s All-American athlete and scholar who must be the center of attention, Randy (Nicholas Coombe), the kid everyone picks on who has no self-confidence, and Diego (Wahlberg) the perceptive cousin who is just trying to get through the crushing pressures of high school.

Of course, Swiper (Benicio Del Toro) and Boots (Danny Trejo) are along for the journey, bringing in the element of make-believe reminiscent of the old television show. And there are the requisite bad guys, in this case mercenaries, setting up the moral story of right vs. wrong or good vs. evil.

Nickelodeon couldn’t have chosen a more perfect “Dora” in Moner. She’s vibrant, adorable, and with her expressive eyes, she is incredibly engaging, giving a performance that could easily be suited to a stage. Moner skillfully captivates you with her personality and intellect, love of learning and sharing, and will certainly hold a youngster’s attention.

Coombe’s performance is also a standout, finding more subtlety and precision comedic timing than would be expected in this role. Both Longoria and Pena adequately fill their roles as the parents, and Wahlberg finds a charming way to demonstrate his character’s struggles with his cousin so that we actually empathize with him.

The remaining supporting cast, Eugenio Derbez as Alejandro Gutierrez and Madden, push their characters over the top, but this will certainly delight young kids.

The story itself is all-out fun as the group sets out to make their way through the jungle, encountering plenty of dangerous situations. There is never a dull moment for the kids and writers Matthew Robinson and Nicholas Stoller understand kid humor, interspersing a few potty jokes and physical comedy inflicted upon our bad guys.

Overall, “Dora and the Lost City of Gold” is a vibrant, fun film that will delight youngsters as they learn great information about a unique part of the world, solve problems, and root for the kids to prevail. Unlike “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” or “Inside Out,” “Dora” isn’t a movie for adults to see without kids in tow.

3 stars

A version of this story ran in the e-edition Friday of the Daily Journal.

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