James Bobin’s film opens with a glimpse at what a faithful live-action take on the nearly two decade-old series might look like: a pair of grinning kids trundling through the jungle, aided by anthropomorphic hiking supplies and animal pals, eagerly teaching conversational Spanish along the way. Transferred into the live-action world it of course looks silly, and when young Dora (Madelyn Miranda) suddenly breaks the fourth wall and starts talking to a nonexistent audience, her own parents (Eva Longoria and Michael Peña) amusingly shrug it off. Surely, she’ll grow out of it!
DORA AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD starts off showing the young Dora enjoying life with her parents and her cousin Diego (Malachi Barton) in the jungle -- until Diego and his parents move "to the City." Young Dora looks directly at the camera, asking viewers to repeat words in Spanish, and believes that her monkey Boots talks to her -- just like on the show. But in the film, her parents consider it a quirk of her being homeschooled.
A decade later, a now teen Dora (Isabela Moner) makes a breakthrough discovery that leads her parents on a mission to Peru to unearth a legendary Incan city. While they're gone, they send her to live with Diego (Jeff Wahlberg) and his family in Los Angeles. For the first time in her life, Dora has to attend public school with kids who are decidedly uninterested in her earnest curiosity and friendliness. During a field trip to a museum, Dora and her friends are kidnapped and taken to Peru -- but they escape with the help of Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez), a friend of her parents. Together they try to find her parents and the city of gold.
This surprisingly funny, earnest adaptation of the beloved bilingual kids' show features an unwaveringly positive teen version of Dora. Although it's unclear precisely to which audience this film will appeal -- fellow teens nostalgic for the Nickelodeon series they grew up watching? younger fans curious to see an aged-up protagonist? -- one thing is immediately obvious: It's incredibly well cast. Peruvian American Moner doesn't just look like Dora with her large, expressive brown eyes and signature bangs; she nails the precocious, generous, and inquisitive young explorer's personality. And Longoria and Peña are caring and comedic as Dora's parents, who, like all parents with older teens, have ambivalent feelings about their little girl growing up.
The supporting roles include some big-name Latinx actors, including slapstick master Derbez, who's also a producer; Mexican superstar Adriana Barraza as Dora's abuelita; Benicio Del Toro as the voice of Swiper the thieving fox, and, in a single hilarious cameo, Danny Trejo as none other than the otherwise squeaky-voiced Boots. Wahlberg (Mark's nephew), whose mother is Dominican, is promising as cousin Diego. But some of the film's jokes are overly predictable, there's an unnecessary (but super low-key) romantic subplot, and the relationship between Dora, Diego, and their two classmates isn't as compelling as, say, the one between the teens in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Still, the Australian forest doubles nicely for the Amazonian rainforest, and the action sequences are just perilous enough to be tween friendly without being too scary.
It's always clear that Dora and her pals will be able to proverbially yell "We did it! Hooray!" at the end. Watch through the credits for a cute bonus number featuring Moner, who gets to show off her musical theater skills.