Watch this as soon as you can…
Dora and the Lost City of Gold’s title does not feel particularly inspired. Surely someone could have picked a better, more creative name for the eponymous lost city. Fortunately, the creativity and excitement went into the film itself. This is a solid example of how to adapt something seemingly unadaptable, and a pleasant surprise.
James Bobins (The Muppets) proves himself a superb adapter. He maintains the energy and high spirits of the original television series, but has found a way to translate this vitality so that it works in the new medium of film. The pacing is snappy and not bogged down by the fourth wall didacticism or the repetition of the series. The jokes and humour is not just aimed at children. This film will make you chuckle no matter your age. The film pays homage to the singing map and the talking bag, but does not dwell on them, knowing that what works in a Nickelodeon cartoon does not necessarily work in film.
The best translation from cartoon to film comes with regards to character; the film is extremely well-cast. Isabela Moner is perfect as Dora. She portrays the character as optimistic, innocent and filled with awe. She dazzles on screen, and it would not be a surprise to see her cast in more movies in the future. Her excitement and desire to explore is infectious, and a large part of the reason why this movie works. Even all the side characters, played by the likes of Michael Peña and Eva Longoria, are well-suited to the roles assigned to them. Despite the fact this movie is an adaptation of a cartoon, all of the characters feel refreshingly real.
As do the settings. Production designer Dan Hennah, who worked on Thor: Ragnarok, has created some impressive and, most importantly, fun sets. The child actors running around on these sets must have had an absolute blast. Hennah appears to have been inspired by other movies set in lost settlements in the jungle, such as Raiders of the Lost Ark or Jumanji. Most of the budget must have went into them and it really shows. Whilst this means the CGI is not the most impressive ever to hit the screen, it is perfectly satisfactory. It does its job of bringing the evil fox to life, for example, without feeling distractingly inauthentic, even it is not the most impressive use of effects. At least the sets impress.
A television cartoon, aimed at under eight year olds, that relies heavily on fourth wall breaking, didacticism, singing and a lot of repetition, should be difficult to translate into a film that works. Whilst Dora and the Lost City of Gold is hardly the most impressive children’s film ever made, it is a solid effort that proves anything can be adapted, so long as the life of the original is translated creatively using tools from the new medium. Dora does that wonderfully. The director, production designer, and the cast really make this a surprising delight that kids of all ages can enjoy.