Dora the Explorer has always been synonymous with learning by repetition. We’ll begin with a hat tip to that educational cartoon – the inspiration for this fabulous family film – and say, Dora and the Lost City of Gold is estupendo! Can you say estupendo?!
Young Dora (Madelyn Miranda), her vivid imagination and her cousin Diego have enjoyed an idyllic (and mildly treacherous) childhood roaming free in the Peruvian jungle surrounding their isolated home. When Diego’s parents relocate to the city Dora’s imaginary talking map, backpack and monkey friend Boots fill the hole her companion has left in her life. And help her evade Swiper the light-fingered fox.
As Dora grows, so does her appetite for adventure. Ten years pass and her indulgent parents become increasingly concerned about the risks she takes (and her tendency to narrate). A thrilling discovery leads them to make a tough decision about her future. Elena (Eva Longoria) and Cole (Michael Peña) will follow new clues in search of the elusive Incan city of Parapata and Dora will set off to explore…an American high school!
Eager to see her beloved cousin once more, Dora (Isabela Moner) is shocked to find a trendy teen who has seemingly forgotten their childhood escapades AND eaten the candy bar that sealed their promise to reunite. Her classmates are alien to her too, cliquey and unkind. Class president Sammy (Madeleine Madden) shares Dora’s love of learning but rejects her friendly overtures. Only fellow stargazer Randy (Nicholas Coombe) has time for the chatty outcast.
Nicholas Stoller and Matthew Robinson (who previously collaborated on the sweet and underrated Monster Trucks), together with story writer Tom Wheeler, have crafted a screenplay which rejects tropes in favour of a deeper understanding of and respect for character autonomy. Sammy – taking pride in her studiousness and surliness – resents Dora’s natural intellect and ebullience, Diego is ashamed of Dora’s lack of cool because he himself works so hard to fit in.
James Bobins’ sprightly direction keeps the pacing brisk and shares affectionate in-jokes about the source material with us rather than going low and belittling the show. It makes a difference to watch a film populated with people who feel real. Too often children’s films rely on a roll call of stereotypes as a character development shortcut. The adult supporting cast is marvellous but the film owes everything to its dazzling young leads.
When Diego (Jeff Wahlberg) later confides that high school is a horrible nightmare everyone is trying to survive, it seems to affirm Dora’s instinct to arrive at school all tooled up with her jungle survival kit. Unfortunately, her preparedness and open-hearted nature go down like a lead balloon in the halls and classrooms of her brand new school. For the first time in her life, the girl who has always thrived on her own feels truly alone.
Happily, fate (and a ruthless gang of parent snatching treasure hunters) intervenes and returns Dora and her unwitting followers to the jungle where they take their turn to be the fish out of water (and soon sinking in quicksand). Suddenly the sceptical schoolmates are reliant on Dora’s ‘very particular set of skills’ to survive. With naughty Swiper (Benicio del Toro) and the hunters hot on their heels, they find a way to work together and forge a friendship more valuable than a mountain of gold.
Isabela Moner is luminous and her indefatigable spirit infectious. Her Dora is not cute or adorable but pathologically positive and brave. Dora is a heroine with true moxie, a singular role model for tweens to cling to, in a season awash with safely generic girlie girls. Cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe admirably maintains her perspective and sense of awe throughout, ensuring the final reveal in the lost city is as intimate and moving as it is extraordinary.
2019 has been a particularly rotten year for Hispanic and Latinx people and, on a lighter note, it will never stop being rubbish to navigate being sixteen. Dora and the Lost City of Gold offers a 102-minute window of welcome respite. Upbeat, witty and unexpectedly moving, it is an absolute must-see this summer. And, if you have yet to be sold on this delightful feature, we will leave you with one last irresistible lure: Danny effing Trejo plays Boots!
Dora and the Lost City of Gold opens across the UK on Friday 16th August