MANILA -- Here's something I didn't expect: "Dora and the Lost City of Gold," directed by "The Muppets: director James Bobin, is a hoot. For some, this live-action retelling of the Nickelodeon cartoon may seem like an overeager cash grab for a recognizable kids IP. It's not.
"Dora and the Lost City of Gold" hits the sweet spot for kids and teens who grew up on the cartoon but absolutely plays gangbusters for adults who were forced to watch it while taking care of a younger kid. It's a pleasure to take on, with a first hour that's sidesplittingly funny, and a third half that ups the danger like a teenage Tomb Raider. Can you say "delicioso?" Delicioso!
The plot is standard family adventure boilerplate: Dora is a child who grew up in the jungle with her explorer parents, Cole and Elena, who are both seeking the mythical Lost City of Gold Parapata. When Cole and Elena find a clue to Parapata's possible whereabouts, they send off Dora to the big city to attend high school in a bid to keep her out of harm's way. That's a tall order for the eternally curious explorer and soon, she's off: kidnapped by mercenaries, searching for her parents and tracking down what promises to be an amazing archaeological find.
Part of what works and works so well about this movie is Dora herself, played by Madelyn Miranda as Young Dora and Isabela Moner. Isabela Moner, who did a fantastic job in the movie "Instant Family," plays a supersmart, and relentlessly perky Dora that's clueless in the concrete jungle but badass in the real one. Her Dora isn't the slow-paced wanderer of the Nick cartoon: this is a Dora that packs a yoyo as a deadly weapon but is 100 percent excited about discovery, about learning, about doing things. Her enthusiasm is infectious, and if kids even get half of her enthusiasm about discovering whole new worlds and respecting other cultures, then that's a huge plus. Bangs are optional though.
As a kid, young Dora is already using her map and her backpack to explore the jungle. Her penchant of talking directly to the camera is played to hilarious effect, a wink at the cartoon's roots while also keeping the adult audience on their toes.
Her fish-out-of-water introduction into the big city is also a hoot: bringing a pickaxe and a flare to class, introducing herself to every person she meets and intimidating the high school alpha. "Who are you, why are you smart and what are you doing in my school?" intones one student. It's the perfect introduction why Dora may be too much to handle for her less adventurous peers.
It's not all gold, though. Some of the jokes don't quite land and the CGI on Swiper the fox (voiced by Benicio del Toro) and Boots the Monkey (voiced by Danny Trejo) is just horrible. Swiper's appearance (oh man!) is a distraction, but we do get one funny line about Swiper's need to wear a mask.
The movie picks up the pace when Dora and her friends Diego (Jeff Wahlberg), Sammy (Madeleine Madden) and Randy (Nicholas Coombe) are kidnapped and brought to the jungle where they finally go to Parapata. In truth, that last third cribs too freely from the Indiana Jones franchise - with its jungle mazes and booby traps, but you get the sense that the teens are never in real danger.
"Dora and the Lost City of Gold" is a solid time at the movies for its target demographic. We just don't get enough movies like this anymore -- wholesome, family-friendly, free of snark. Give it a sequel, Hollywood, so Dora can really shine. Maybe bring in Baby Jaguar next time. Vamonos! Tres y medio estrellas!