Disney isn’t the only studio turning their beloved animated properties into live action. Nickelodeon is also getting in on that. The studio has made an entire industry out of people’s nostalgia for the pop culture of the 1990s. With that industry coming to an end, they are attempting to squeeze every last drop of potential out of it, which includes making movies based on their classic properties. Now, the latest is a live action feature based on the Nick Jr. preschool franchise Dora the Explorer, with Dora and the Lost City of Gold.
As a little kid, Dora has been exploring the jungle with her parents (Michael Peña and Eva Longoria) and her cousin Diego. But things change for Dora when Diego is forced to move to city with his parents. 10 years later, a now teenage Dora (Isabela Moner) is still an adventurous spirit, but hasn’t quite grasped the dangers of the jungle. Worried for her safety, her parents decide it’s time for her go to the city and learn how to be a normal kid.
Dora moves in with the now teenaged Diego and begins attending his high school, where her adventurous, kid-like personality makes both of them a laughing stock. But adventure has a way of finding Dora, when her, Diego, and classmates Sammy (Madeleine Madden) and Randy (Nicholas Coombe) are kidnapped by treasure hunters, who are after an ancient lost city that Dora’s parents are tracking. They must work together, along with a colleague named Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez) to find the city before the hunters, and Dora old nemesis Swiper (Benicio del Toro) find it first.
Unless you were 6 or under, Dora was never truly held in high regards among Nickelodeon fans. Most people found her to be made solely for kids, with her high pitched voice and toddler-like personality coming off as annoying. She obviously appeals to very young viewers, as they are really easy to sell to, but they also found the bright colors, kid-friendly cast of characters, and catchy tunes to be fun too. That being said, it was weird to learn that they were making a live action movie. There isn’t a lot to work with in terms of realism. And that very much shows in this film.
Dora and the Lost City of Gold may appeal to fans of the series, or anyone young enough not to know what a good movie is. But for anyone else, it’s low production qualities, mediocre performances, and general sense of laziness won’t find much traction outside of the least demanding audiences. Older people will find the humor either lazy or dated, and its treatment of the source material really teeters the line between what’s appropriate for kids and what isn’t.
The only thing that really works in this movie is the performance of Isabela Moner as Dora. She really sounds and acts just like her, even as a teenage version of the character. The studio did a great job casting someone who could really capture the spirit of the character, while at the same time, bring her into the modern age in a way that can connect with the audience. Props to them for at least trying.
Unfortunately, that’s about as far as their trying went. In a way, the film looks about as good as a glorified TV movie. A lot of this feeling comes from just how low budget the film looks, despite the studio spending almost 50 million dollars on it. The sets and effects look very cheap and basic, and the CGI is about as stripped down without looking like untextured shapes. Nothing about this movie looks up to snuff.
Aside from Moner, the rest of the cast doesn’t do much with their characters. Michael Peña and Eva Longoira are rather bland in their parts, and the other teenage actors don’t have much in the way of talent, or the filmmakers didn’t care to give them any direction. They’re just kind of there to be allies to Dora when she needs it. It seems all they cared about was getting Dora right, and not much else.
The way the filmmakers treat the original TV show is another place where this film went wrong. It doesn’t appear to have much respect for it, and continuously tries to justify why this version is more realistic than the series, to the point where it makes no sense. They come up with a way to explain why Dora’s backpack and map talked, or why she was friends with all these fantasy creatures, but that explanation is completely undone by appearance of Swiper, a talking fox that no one seems to be weirded out by. It’s also undone by the fact that Boots can still do all these weird, cartoony actions, and no one ever seems to notice.
Though Isabela Moner undoubtedly nails the lead character, Dora and the Lost City of Gold’s low quality and lack of respect for the TV show makes it a rather uncomfortable watch. Its most prolific jokes are barely kid friendly, the actors are barely mediocre, and its very basic adventure plot don’t offer much in the way of entertainment for anyone other than the kids. Fans of the series may enjoy the little references, but I don’t think they’ll get a kick out of Dora spouting out modern pop culture references.