Dir: James Bobin; Starring: Isabela Moner, Michael Peña, Eva Longoria, Jeff Wahlberg, Madeleine Madden, Nicholas Coombe, Eugenio Derbez. PG cert, 102 mins.
Okay, so it’s no Tarantino. But there might not be a pleasanter surprise in cinema this year – really! – than this live-action adaptation of Dora the Explorer, the long-running Nickelodeon cartoon. Sweet, exciting, silly, and featuring an elaborate poo joke that actually earns its keep, Dora and the Lost City of Gold feels tailor-made for school-holiday viewing.
To that end, it also happens to be scrupulously education-free, unless you count a broad moral about the value of of cooperation and a smattering of Spanish vocab.
The flesh-and-blood Dora, played by Isabela Moner, is a full decade older than her animated forerunner – presumably in the hope a teenage face might help appease the older siblings who come as a package with the show’s core eight-and-under demographic. The film couldn’t have hoped for a more capable lead than 18-year-old Moner, a breakout star in last year’s fostering comedy Instant Family.
She strikes a breezy, guileless tone that’s funny in the same kind of way Elmo from Sesame Street is funny – the sheer innocent daftness of the schtick sails past your defences, whatever your age. This makes a great deal of sense when you notice the film was directed by James Bobin and co-written by Nicholas Stoller, who performed those same tasks on the excellent 2011 Muppets reboot.
For those unversed in Dora lore, our heroine was raised in the depths of the jungle by her archaeologist parents (Michael Peña, Eva Longoria), who as the film begins are sending her to visit her cousin in the city (Jeff Wahlberg), in the hope that she might get to experience something of an ordinary childhood.
However, soon enough the twosome are back in the wilds of South America with two classmates (Madeleine Madden, Nicholas Coombe) and an old friend of Dora’s parents (Eugenio Derbez), on a mission to locate the lost city of Parapata before it can be plundered by a gang of treasure hunters. In Dora’s books, ancient artefacts don’t belong in a museum but exactly where you find them: take note, Indiana Jones.
A couple of computer-generated animal sidekicks are as wince-inducing as you might expect, but the generous supply of one-liners more than compensates. I particularly enjoyed one of the kids’ confusion on encountering quicksand, having previously assumed it was “just a video game thing” – and there is a tremendous running joke about “jungle puzzles”, which sends up the Hollywood convention that civilisations of old loved nothing more than building elaborate riddles and contraptions into their temple walls and floors.
Dora and the Lost City of Gold has contraptions to spare – falling platforms, lava pits, a water slide that pays homage to The Goonies – but its storytelling is commendably lean and faff-free. In the depths of summer break boredom, it’s a treasure horde of fun.
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