DORA AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD
*** (3 out of four)
When a movie hits the screen that’s been adapted from a television series, it makes sense that a familiarity with the source material is often required for maximum enjoyment.
That’s not the case with Dora and the Lost City of Gold, an ingratiating family feature with the capacity to please even adults with limited knowledge of the popular Nickelodeon show.
James Bobin, who directed those delightful Muppet reboots earlier this decade (2011’s The Muppets and 2014’s Muppets Most Wanted), here tackles a live-action offshoot of Dora the Explorer, the animated series about a little Hispanic girl and her educational adventures. The age of Dora has been raised for this film, with the plucky heroine now a teenager and played by Isabela Moner.
Having grown up in the South American jungles alongside her explorer parents (Michael Pena and Eva Longoria), she’s suddenly sent to California to attend high school and, as she puts it, study the “indigenous people” found in this learning environment.
But the sudden disappearance of her folks as they search for the ancient Incan city of Parapata inevitably leads to her and her classmates off on a quest to find them, with a bumbling professor (a tiresome Eugeno Derbez) and Dora’s pet monkey Boots also along for the bumpy ride.
What makes Dora and the Lost City of Gold so appealing is the characterization of its heroine as a perpetually chipper, never-say-die sort, with Moner irresistible in the part. There are also some witty references to the cartoon series, including one that seems inspired by The Wizard of Oz until it heads off in its own animated direction.
Watching Dora navigate the high school halls is amusing, and it’s initially disappointing when she’s snatched from this setting and sent back to the jungle. But any fears that the picture will turn into a pint-size Laura Croft rip-off are quickly alleviated thanks to the inventive situations cooked up by the scripters.
As usual in modern family fare, there are a few too many scatological gags, and the climax won’t fool anyone who’s ever seen Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Otherwise, Dora and the Lost City of Gold is polished enough to offer amusement beyond its target audience.