If you find yourself laughing more than you thought you would at Dora and the Lost City of Gold, you can thank the skills of filmmakers like director James Bobin and writer Nicholas Stoller. The two comedy veterans breathe life into a movie, based on the Nickelodeon animated show Dora the Explorer, that might have otherwise been a throwaway, end-of-summer kids movie.
The gist of the plot is that Dora (Isabela Moner), now a teenager, has been sent to live in Los Angeles by her explorer parents (Eva Longoria and Michael Peña) while they go in search for the titular lost city of gold. She’s not there long, however, before a rival group kidnaps her, her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg), and her friends Sammy (Madeleine Madden) and Randy (Nicholas Coombe) in an attempt to blackmail her parents into giving up information on the city’s location.
Once in South America, Dora and friends are rescued by Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez), who promises to help lead them back to her parents. With the rival group hot on their heels, Dora uses her many skills to help the group through a variety of obstacles that the jungle has to offer.
If it had been done the easy, cheap way, the film simply would have recycled the familiar elements from the TV show that would prove entertaining for small kids and excruciating for almost anyone else. Fortunately, Bobin, Stoller, and co-writer Matthew Robinson dispense with the expected jokes early on and, understanding that kids are only half the audience, do a lot to entertain parents, as well.
They treat Dora and her friends as actual characters instead of caricatures, giving them motivations outside of that which is convenient for the plot. Lots of clever wordplay serves to deliver funny jokes and allows Dora to talk like an actual person. And Benicio Del Toro and Danny Trejo were somehow convinced to give voice to Swiper and Boots, respectively, a funny notion before they even say a word.
Of course, this is not high art. There are fart jokes and telegraphed twists you can see coming a mile away. But the low-brow stuff is kept to a relative minimum, and the rest of the film, which plays like Indiana Jones for kids, is so enjoyable that you won’t notice most of it anyway.
Moner, who was seen onstage in North Texas as Wendy in the Dallas Theater Center production of Fly in 2013, is near-perfect as Dora. She’s bright, bubbly, and charming, with a face so cherubic that you can’t imagine her ever doing anything wrong. Wahlberg, Madden, and Coombe make for a fun, if not all that memorable, friend group. The adults in the film are almost beside the point, but Longoria and Peña elevate their scenes, unlike Derbez, who is an acquired taste at best.
It’s always a pleasant surprise when noticeable effort is put into a film that didn’t necessarily need that support. Dora and the Lost City of Gold is a family film that has plenty to offer for anyone in the audience.