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Dora’s first live-action, big-screen adventure serves as both a fresh start and a loving tribute to the long-running animated TV series.

Can You Say, “Endearing”?

Dora sandwiched between the parental units
Dora sandwiched between the parental units

Kudos to Isabela Moner (Transformers: The Last Knight). By the time the end credits roll (accompanied by a typically upbeat dance sequence), it’s clear Moner owns the role of famed Dora the Explorer. Her eager, innocent, happy delivery of virtually every line manages to transcend caricature and creates a unique character that is charming and disarming. And she’s smart. Way smart.

The problem here is the movie might be too sweet and good-natured for its own good. But, come on now — it’s designed for the younger set, those who might not be ready for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and those who most certainly aren’t prepared for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. While it’s not a Pixar-level of sophistication, it is fully aware of its progenitor’s trappings and it embraces them. This isn’t a Land of the Lost-style reimagining that shreds its origins and tries to be something else.

Actually, at one point, there’s a fanciful sequence in the thick of Dora’s adventure in which all of the live-action characters are turned into a cartoon — a cartoon that looks exactly like the old-school animation of the original series. It’s not brushed up with sophisticated, photo-realistic CGI. It is what it is. And it is fun.

That alone makes this one something to celebrate and appreciate.

Can You Say, “Smart Kids Rule”?

As a primer, Dora’s parents (Eva Longoria, TV’s Desperate Housewives, and Michael Pena, Ant-Man) are professors home-schooling their daughter. “Home” in this case is a gorgeous lakeside hut in South America. There are no city streets teeming with people. There are no cities, for that matter. They’re way out there, in the heart of the jungle. And they’re searching for Parapata, a lost city of gold.

Perhaps to be expected of a jungle-schooled child, 6-year-old Dora sports a vivid imagination. She’s got a talking backpack, she “drives” a cardboard Jeep during her adventures with her cousin, Diego, and she dresses a monkey in red boots.

Okay, the monkey’s “real.” Appropriately named Boots, he’s one of her jungle friends. Dora’s comfortable with all sorts of creatures, great and small. She even wears a boa constrictor as a boa. It’s a boa boa, much to her parents’ dismay.

But the problem is Mom and Dad are about to go even deeper into the jungle and, for safety’s sake, it’s time for Dora to head out to California to stay with relatives and go to a school where she can make friends and live a normal life.

Thankfully, it’s not long before the PG-friendly high school antics are sidelined with an emergency. Dora’s parents have gone missing. And that’s a mighty good thing for audiences, because it puts 16-year-old Dora right back in her element.

Can You Say, “Dangerous Pitfalls at Every Turn”?

The quest to find Dora’s parents and, ultimately, the Lost City of Gold is a good one. There are plenty of junior-level Tomb Raider puzzle pieces and antics that end in a “think it through” climax that would make Indy Jones and Lara Croft proud.

Even so, there are some quibbles to be made here. It’d be nice to have a little more meat on the bones, a little more substance to the life lessons and to the relationships as Dora, Diego (Jeff Wahlberg) and two other high school kids are kidnapped and carted off as pawns in finding the legendary gold.

Then again, this movie (directed by James Bobin, The Muppets, and written by Matthew Robinson, Monster Trucks, and Nicholas Stoller, Muppets Most Wanted) has a subtlety to it that needs to be acknowledged. In one scene, soon-to-be-kidnapped Sammy (Madeleine Madden, Amazon Prime’s Picnic at Hanging Rock) is at school campaigning to save the rain forests. Even though she’s an honors student, she clearly doesn’t grasp the situation. Dora does, which doesn’t exactly win Sammy over to her side. In response, Sammy has a couple questions for Dora. Who are you? Why are you smart?

There are just enough savvy, understated bits and quips to paint a human element into this colorful picture – most touchingly when Dora has to contend with a sense of loneliness at school that’s worse than in the jungle, even as she’s surrounded by a ton of kids her age.

Can You Say, “Computer-Generated Imagery”?

The previously mentioned animated sequence is cute. But the movie’s CGI effects are a little soft; they’re not the most convincing — and that’s a little jarring after efforts like Jumanji and so many others have taken great strides in blending the human with the non-existent. Certainly, it’s partly a budget issue. It’s not easy — or cheap — to bring to life a friendly, personable monkey friend like Boots (voiced by Danny Trejo, Muppets Most Wanted).

Similarly, there’s a fox named Swiper (voiced by Benicio Del Toro, Star Wars: The Last JedI) running around wearing a blue mask. He’s not finessed to the level of Rocket Raccoon. But, then again, this movie starts off in a very quirky fashion with a public service announcement from the Fox Council of the Americas. It takes offense to the notion that foxes swipe.

Dora’s is a fanciful, imaginative world of fact and fantasy. It’s not about making those fantastical elements blend seamlessly with the rest of the world.

It all has to be tied together and taken as a whole to fully appreciate the success of Dora and the Lost City of Gold. Its shortcomings are balanced out with its upbeat outlook (ever so much like Dora and her family) and a giddy enthusiasm that is one contagious condition that needs to be spread far and wide.