Finding our place in the world is not an easy task, and from what I can tell, it gets ever more complicated as the years go by. Coming of age stories give us insight into the struggles that kids face. Within the first three minutes of Dora and the Lost City of Gold, which opens this weekend, writers Nicholas Stoller and Matthew Robinson, along with director James Bobin, managed to not only put us into Dora’s (Isabela Moner) world, but also to mock her for being so stuck in her ways.
The pacing of the first few minutes of the film features a younger Dora and Diego, going on adventures, but that quickly gives way to a teenaged Dora who understands her place in the jungle, having been home schooled by her parents, Cole (Michael Pena) and Elena (Eva Longoria); she was prepared for any eventuality.
When her parents need to send Dora to the big city so that they can go on their own adventure, Dora wants to tag along, but they think that this is a good time for her to begin to integrate with other kids her own age. Pena makes a brilliantly hilarious attempt to tell Dora to avoid raves while Elena tries to offer encouragement. Pena and Longoria’s antics are not awkward because we already know that Dora is far more mature for her age.
That and the world changed while they were away in the jungle.
With that, Dora is sent to Los Angeles to live with her aunt Mami (Pia Miller), Abuelita Valerie (Adriana Barraza) and her cousin, Diego (Jeff Wahlberg). They welcome her with open arms, but Diego is a typical teenager and doesn’t want Dora in his way. The idea behind this is that it would protect Dora from herself, but as she tries to integrate herself into high school, she finds a very unforgiving jungle.
That’s that juxtaposition that director James Bobin (The Muppets Most Wanted, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Flight of the Conchords) wanted to create as Dora tries to make friends in a foreign environment – one would think that a jungle would be a foreign enough environment.
That’s also part of the film’s charm as Diego tries to avoid her, she attracts the attention of the class valedictorian, Sammy (Madeline Madden) and the geeky Randy (Nicholas Coombe). A class field trip to a local history museum has her feeling right at home. It is here where Stoller and Robinson invert her character as she, Diego, Sammy and Randy are kidnapped in order to help treasure hunters find her parents and Parapata, the Incan lost city of gold.
The entire film is painted as an adventure and the juxtapositions aside, we see Dora transition from each environment while managing to be herself – she doesn’t let the pressures get to her and she remains as strong as she was at the beginning of the film. As the film transitions back to the real jungle, we see the formerly comfortable teenagers now out of their elements and it is up to Dora to guide them through the dangerous foliage and animals that they might encounter.
This applies equally to her encounters with the mischievous Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez) as he rescues the four intrepid teenagers when they arrive in Peru. Derbez is an absolute hoot to watch as he suffers through one pratfall after another, usually at the expense of Dora. It isn’t malicious, but it enhances Dora’s resourcefulness, and this is a credit to Isabela Moner’s performance.
Some might feel that the movie has very few redeeming qualities short of children under the age of 12. Dora and the Lost City of Gold reminded me of all the great adventure movies I enjoyed as a kid. It feels more like H. Rider Haggard than Steven Spielberg, but Dora and the Lost City of Gold has something in it for the young and the young-at-heart.
Now in theaters, Dora and the Lost City of Gold is rated PG by the MPAA.
Photos courtesy of Paramount Pictures.