Very light spoiling ahead
Nickelodeon had a feature film heyday in the late 90s and early 2000s that I was lucky enough to have been the perfect age to love every minute. They managed to take a ton of their more popular products and turn them into box office hits, including my favorite movie ever (Good Burger), some had critical acclaim (The Wild Thornberries Movie) and some not so much (Clockstoppers). Say what you want about them, but these movies were exactly what a kid wants: youthful excitement, action, and some potty humor mixed in for good measure.
Dora the Explorer was not an obvious choice to be the next big Nickelodeon product to bring to the big screen. Sure, it’s the longest running Nick Jr. show, but it is also a very slow and simple education show for 4-year olds. The popularity and very deliberate, unique presentation of Dora had also led to plenty of parodies (the Maraka cartoon from Saturday Night Live was one of the funniest things TV Funhouse produced in years), but no feature-length episodes like Nick does with other productions. Nevertheless, Dora and the Lost City of Gold somehow managed to find the perfect mesh between the earnest nature of the show while recognizing the silliness of its premise. The best way I can encapsulate it is if Tomb Raider was made through the lens of The Muppets. Sounds weird, but it really works.
For those who have never seen the show or need a refresher, Dora is a girl with a pet monkey inside a computer who solves problems with any number of anthropomorphic animals and things trying to help/stop her. And she does everything very slowly and optimistically to make sure that her preschool viewers feel like they’re part of the action. My perception of Dora was always clouded by the fact that I was a preteen when it was on and my younger sister liked it. It did make me wonder who this film was for; people who watched Dora at its peak don’t have kids yet, and young kids who watch it now may be confused as to why their favorite bilingual peer is suddenly a teenage action star. After seeing it, “family movie” was certainly a good descriptor, although it waffled between being for kids, teens, or adults a little awkwardly at times.
Dora had plenty of well-written jokes and references to the show, but it doesn’t lean too far into meta-jokes. The director, James Bobin, had plenty of comedic chops from Da Ali G Show and co-creating Flight of the Conchords, before honing his craft towards a younger demo with the most recent Muppets films. Swiper tiptoed, Dora talked to the camera, and she had a backpack filled with things and knick-knacks too. But the most important thing that Dora took from the TV show was Dora’s unstoppable optimism. Isabela Moner’s portrayal of teenage Dora was perfection; it was impossible to not smile when she was on screen. The other teens were much weaker characters, but that served to further boost the brilliance in Moner’s charismatic performance. Michael Peña and Eva Longeria were hilarious as Dora’s parents, and using Danny Trejo and Benicio del Toro as cute little Boots and Swiper were hilarious choices.
There was plenty for an adult moviegoer to enjoy. While there was some immature humor, there was also a good amount jokes that would go over kids heads but made me chuckle. The filming locations were beautiful and made the whole thing very striking to watch (although it was pretty clearly not South America. I looked it up later and turned out they filmed on the Gold Coast of Australia).
I really can’t give enough praise for this movie. As soon as I saw the trailer, I knew it would at least be good for a laugh to see Dora in this way, but I was truly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It’s still a film meant for kids, and that means that there is some cheesiness, but hopefully you aren’t going to see a movie starring Dora the Explorer hoping for an Oscar nominee. If you have nostalgia for the old Nick films, watched Dora as a kid, or have a kid who watches Dora now, get to the theater and enjoy the ride.