Now streaming free for Amazon Prime and Hulu subscribers, Dora and the Lost City of Gold is the live-action feature-length adaptation of Nickelodeon kid-cartoon ultrafranchise Dora the Explorer we’ve all been clamoring for. Except the movie isn’t a cartoon and the Latina heroine is now a teenager and the plot takes her to Los Angeles to go to high school. Otherwise, she’s totally the same character you’ve loved for 20 years! So does this near-nuclear obliteration of Dora canon and tradition work, or is it just blasfemia?

The Gist: This week on Unconvincing CGI Theatre, seven-year-old Dora (Madelyn Miranda) and her cousin Diego (Malachi Barton) drive a little Jeep through the jungle while her map and backpack talk and the monkey Boots monkeys around in red boots and the devious masked fox Swiper (voice of Benicio del Toro) sneaks around. This is just the kids playing pretend, though. In the movie’s reality, Boots is a real monkey except CGI, and Dora is reminded that real monkeys don’t wear boots, so the CGI Boots removes his boots and chews on the insole — except Swiper is actually a fox made of CGI that stands on its hind legs and speaks and steals things. And Boots can’t wear boots? Give Boots his GD boots. Three minutes into this thing and my suspension of disbelief is shot to hell.

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Anyway, Dora, Diego and her mom and dad (Eva Longoria and Michael Pena) eat dinner and she turns to the camera and talks to it, prompting Dad to wear a puzzled look and say, “She’ll grow out of it.” In my house, this type of disrespect for the fourth wall at the dinner table would. Not. Stand. Diego moves away to live in “the city” and Dora’s sad. Cut to — subtitle: 10 YEARS LATER. Dora is not an ageless cartoon but a 17-year-old (Isabela Merced); Boots is still her pal, and he still doesn’t wear boots. Shit sucks for Boots. Dora’s parents navigate the labyrinth of their logic and find that sending Dora to Los Angeles to go to high school with Diego is the minotaur. She needs some socialization and some writer somewhere thought it’d be funny if Dora was a pollyanna outcast among a bunch of stereotypical high school cliches. Her parents stay behind to search for the thing in the movie title, and Boots stays behind to go pound rocks with bananas, barefoot.

So Dora hops a plane to live with Diego and mortify him in school because her non-talking backpack is full of explorer gear that doesn’t pass through the metal detector, and because she’s extraordinarily intelligent and introduces herself to everyone with irrepressible perkiness: “HI! I’M DORA!” Bullies call her Dork-a, of course, but she’s either unfazed or completely lacking self-awareness, or both. She’s nice to the class snob Sammy (Madeleine Madden) and befriends a doofus named Randy (Nicholas Coombe), in direct defiance of Diego’s advice. Diego even makes her take off her signature headband. (Teen Diego is kind of an ass, you see.) Wouldn’t you know, these four teens end up back in the jungle, kidnapped by fiends who want the thing in the title, and believe Dora can lead them to it because they’ve already run her parents into hiding? Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez) helps them evade the bad guys, and the film becomes a grueling survival story in which Dora and her companions jaunt through the jungle looking for her parents and hanging with Boots and tangling with Swiper and navigating all manner of Incan booby traps. Good thing Dora carries a knife that’s so gigantic, it’d make Crocodile Dundee blanch!

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: May your god help you if you thought Dora the Explorer needed to be more like the Jumanji sequels.

Performance Worth Watching: Merced brings so much zest to this movie, she elevates it from irritating to endearing.

Memorable Dialogue: Dora comes across a poisonous frog, and asks the audience, “Can you say ‘severe nerve toxicity’?”

Sex and Skin: None.

Our Take: YES DORA SINGS IN THE MOVIE, STOP ASKING. The best song is when Sammy needs to drop a deuce in the jungle and Dora cheerfully chirps a few verses about digging your own latrine, rhyming “wiser” with “fertilizer.” I kind of wish I was making this up, but part of me is glad the scene exists so the movie isn’t just the typical family-friendly crud all the time. Dora and the Lost City of Gold leaves me feeling conflicted. Does sweet Dora really need to be reimagined as a winking-at-the-audience teen digging a shithole? No. But is it funny? Kind of, in a sincere way and in a subversive way.

The plot winds up being some kind of weird amalgamation of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Romancing the Stone and the Curious George animated movie with Will Ferrell voicing the Man in the Yellow Hat. The kids deal with quicksand, mating scorpions, a crazy old woman shaman and spores that make them hallucinate strange things. It clips along quickly and episodically, and not particularly memorably, ending with a colorful dance sequence that makes one think Dora: The Musical might be darn enjoyable. Then again, one might be delusional or high on the fumes of TV nostalgia.

To be fair, there’s plenty to like here, and it all has to do with Merced’s energy, and how Dora is written as a young woman confident in her smarts and skills, and always focused on being herself. She doesn’t adhere to the inane social “rules” of high school; she doesn’t seem to give them a single thought, even. SHE IS DORA, HEAR HER ROAR.

Our Call: STREAM IT. I kid Dora and the Lost City of Gold because I love it. Actually, I don’t love it. I liked it, mostly. It’s silly; it delivers a few solid surprises. Tweens and under will enjoy it. Orthodox Dora hardliners need not apply, though.

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com or follow him on Twitter: @johnserba.

Watch Dora and the Lost City of Gold on Amazon Prime

Watch Dora and the Lost City of Gold on Hulu

Source: New York Post

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