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Review: Energetic 'Dora and the Lost City of Gold' preaches good message

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures


“Dora and the Lost City of Gold” has arrived at the perfect time.

Considering all the horrible tragedies that have flooded our news feeds as of late, I think the country could use a small dose of optimism and beaming personality in the form of Dora (a terrific Isabela Moner) who just wants to explore for hidden treasures and maybe sing about it along the way.

Based on the popular morning cartoon series, “Dora and the Lost City of Gold” attempts to faithfully recreate the iconic character while also adding a spice of originality and savvy humor to the mix. The TV show was a touchstone in that it featured the first animated Latina character in a leading role but would also become the longest running American TV show that featured characters speaking Spanish.

Nineteen years later, Dora has been promoted to the star of a live action franchise. This junior version of “Indiana Jones” will no doubt entice youngsters who grew up going on missions with the energetic Dora, as well as win over new fans who may just be discovering the world seeker for the first time. It harks back to the glory days of good family-adventure films that both adults and kids alike will appreciate.

This being a new spin on the character, screenwriters Nicolas Stollar and Matthew Robinson are clever in taking creative liberties with the material. They take a meta approach, like when Dora stops to ask the audience questions deadpan into the camera (a staple and recurring theme on the 30 minute cartoon) - her parents (played by Micheal Peña and Eva Longoria Parker) ask who she’s talking too. It’s a funny bit of social commentary, and it’s clear director James Bobin (“Muppets Most Wanted”) understands the importance of paying homage to the Dora universe.

Updating her character for the modern age, Dora is now a teenager who - having grown up in the jungle - has taken to live streaming her adventures with a GoPro strapped to her chest and building up a solid audience as she goes on cross country excursions. Dora is fearless in her scvanages which ultimately leads her parents to send her off on her most dangerous task yet: High School. Now she’ll explore the tribulations of high school cliques and inner city living as Dora heads to Las Angeles to live with her cousin Diego and his family with one piece of advice: “Just try to be yourself.”

And tries she does. But the threat of living among deadly creatures and insects is a piece of cake compared to dealing with hormonal teenagers. Though Dora stays in touch with her parents via a two way radio who send their coordinates every chance they get, suddenly - after months of constant chatter - they’ve gone radio silent. Which doesn’t alarm Dora until she, Diego, and two kids from school end up kidnapped by cartoonish mercanieries who need Dora to track her parents and lead them to a priceless tomb of untapped gold.

Though the screenwriters struggle to figure out what kind of tale they wish to tell early on (Is this a coming of age story? Or just a normal fish out of water journey?) But when the film stands back and remembers the heart of why “Dora the Explorer” was so beloved (it’s about a young Latina girl who loves to explore new locations) the film is able to garner some traction and open the floor for fun characters like a wacky Alejandro (Eugenio Debrez), the sneaky fox Swiper (voiced by Benicio Del Toro) and the charming monkey Boots (voiced by Danny Trejo) to shine.

Plus it helps to have a glowing Isabela Moner in the driver's seat propelling the action as Dora, who manages to live up to the iconic character while bringing a fresh perspective to the story. Moner possess everything that made the cartoon so special, giving younger generations a taste of the animated counterparts DNA, she captures Dora’s wide-eyed innocence while also taking time to be a teenager.

Though the film deploys some cliché characteristics in the final act, it’s hard to resist the charm of what Dora is employing. Not only does she believe in teamwork and helping people, but she genuinely cares about those around her. She’s non judgmental, and strives to make sure everyone feels included. With all the hate spewing around, or politics clamoring up the airwaves, here comes Dora to inject some compassion and humanity into our hearts. We could all learn a thing or two from her playbook.

Grade: B

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