“I hope it’s not as bad as I think it’s going to be.” – Me, to the person seated next to me (Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019)
My expectations for “Dora and the Lost City of Gold” were incredibly low. Not only because it’s based on a cartoon intended for very small children, but also because I assumed it would fall into one of the following categories where most contemporary “family films” reside:
• So watered down they’re neither fun or exciting
• So vapid that you pray for a fart joke or two to raise the intelligence level
• A 90-minute fart joke
• Littered with so much adult humor to placate parents that it no longer qualifies as a family film
Finding a family film that doesn’t fit into one of those is rare and unexpected. Essentially, it’s a theatrical unicorn.
“Wait, is this actually pretty good? Am I enjoying myself?” – Me, to myself, in my head, about 30 minutes in
In short: it is, and I was.
On paper, I am not the target demo for this movie. In fact, I’m so far removed from the target demo that I barely know people who are in it. But the fact that “Dora” appeals to a broader audience isn’t surprising to its stars.
“What’s weird is they’re like ‘the key demographic here is moms and their kids,’” Isabela Moner, who stars as Dora, said. “But I really think it’s speaks to everyone in a way.”
Eugenio Derbez, who stars as Alejandro and serves as one of the executive producers agrees.
“My kids grew up watching Dora … but the cartoon is different [than the movie],” he said. “The storyline [of the show] is kind of simple, and she’s 8 years old or so. The movie is different, so it appeals to a broader audience. You can enjoy the movie even if you’re not a toddler.”
In “Lost City of Gold,” Dora is now a teenager being raised in a Peruvian rainforest by her explorer parents, Cole (Michael Peña) and Elena (Eva Longoria). When they stumble upon new clues they hope will lead them on a dangerous quest to find a lost Incan civilization, Dora is sent to Los Angeles to reconnect with her family, including cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg). Through happenstance, the cousins and schoolmates Sammy (Madeleine Madden) and Randy (Nicholas Coombe), find themselves back in the rainforest chasing the treasure and Dora’s parents.
In many ways, “Lost City of Gold” is reminiscent of movies like “The Goonies” and “Jumani.” It’s fun and exciting, and delivers a positive message of family and friendship without being heavy-handed. It also has moments of irreverence and silliness, but doesn’t often go so far as to feel pandering.
However, what really drives it is the fun and excitement.
“For me it was a dream come true,” Derbez said. “I grew up watching Hollywood action movies, and I always wanted to be a part of them. I never thought it was going to happen, but it happened so I was really, really happy.”
“It was amazing, just working with all of the stunt work, and each other, and everyone’s improvising,” Moner added. “You’re working with these CGI characters, so all you have to work with is these things called stuffies. They are the size and shape of them, but they don’t look as cute as them so it’s just kind of scary, but it was a great time.”
While the more dangerous stunts were passed off to the professional stunt performers, there was plenty of action for the cast to do. The pair spoke about the physical demands of the film, with an underwater scene and one featuring quicksand being noted as especially trying.
“I wanted to do all of my stunts, we all did, because it was fascinating,” Derbez said. “I mean, even though it was hard, I really wanted to be the guy doing everything.”
Even without a full slate of stunts in front of them, both Moner and Derbez had plenty on their plates. Moner credited Derbez (in his producing role) for making sure the Spanish used in the film was authentic, and that negative stereotypes that are often given to Hispanic characters weren’t present.
For her part, Moner learned a new language – Quechua – for the film.
“What’s the big deal? People learn new languages for movies all the time?” – You (probably), right now
Learning Quechua is different than learning most other languages. It’s unwritten, so there’s no Rosetta Stone (I checked), and, Moner said, people generally learn to speak it use a quipu (knots on ropes that have different meanings) or hearing other people speak it.
“It was crazy. I never imagined that I’d be learning Quechua for a movie, but never say never, right?” she said. “I had a voice memo to work with … and that was all I had.”
When you take that attention to detail, add it to a fun and exciting narrative, and make it for kids rather than their parents, you’ve got a recipe for success … which is not something I ever expected I’d say about a “Dora the Explorer” movie.
Jared Huizenga is a freelance film critic and the owner of www.ManVersusMovie.com.