Movie Review: 'Dora and the Lost City of Gold'

Dora realizes that she's an explorer (not a treasure hunter) and how friendship makes life worthwhile.
Photo courtesy of © 2018 Paramount Players, a Division of Paramount Pictures.
It's the adventure of a lifetime with Sammy (Madeleine Madden,) Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez,) Dora (Isabela Moner,) and Diego (Jeff Wahlberg) on the run from mercenaries in the jungles of Peru.

It's “Dora the Explorer” from the animated Nickelodeon series in her first big screen movie. Dora is a now a teenager and she’s leaving the jungle in order to go to high school in Los Angeles with her cousin, Diego. Comic complications abound on a school field trip when Dora is kidnaped and transported back to Peru. She’s off on a new adventure, trying to relocate her parents (who have also been kidnaped) and find a lost Incan city with gold treasure. 

The Story

The story begins in Peru, with 6-year-old Dora (Madelyn Miranda) and her cousin Diego (Malachi Barton) playing in the jungle with Boots the monkey. Dora lives in a beautiful jungle home with her parents, Cole (Michael Pena) and Elena (Eva Longoria), who are college professors. They tell the kids about wanting to discover Parapata, a lost Incan city with gold treasure. Dora asks if finding this ancient treasure can make them wealthy. Her parents remind Dora that they’re explorers, not treasure hunters. The reward is exploring and discovering unchartered territory. They never own what they find. Instead, the treasure belongs to mankind. This life lesson makes a strong impression on Dora.

The next day, Diego packs up to go home to his family. The cousins say goodbye, but promise that someday they’ll have another adventure together.   

Cut to 10 years later, Dora (now played by Isabela Moner) is still adventurous and cheerful. In the jungle, Dora and Boots follow a herd of elephants and marvel at a snapping crocodile with her babies. Dora stumbles upon a rocky cave with Incan carvings. Dora sees a golden totem that may hold a clue to finding Parapata. There is a canyon between the rocks, and Dora tries to jump across the gap, but she ends up falling and hurting herself. She tells Boots the monkey to get her parents. They get the gold totem and find a map on the back that can lead them to Parapata. 

Unfortunately for Dora, her parents tell her that she won’t be accompanying them on their new adventure to Parapata. Instead, Dora is going to Los Angeles to live with Diego (now played by Jeff Wahlberg) and his family, in order to attend public high school. Dora leaves her parents and flies to Los Angeles. At the airport, Dora finds her aunt and uncle and then excitedly greets Diego, who is cold, distant and somewhat sarcastic. What happened to her favorite cousin, and the bond they once had? 

Diego and Dora start school together. Dora meets the class valedictorian Sammy (Madeleine Madden), whom Diego considers to be a snob, and Randy (Nicholas Coombe,) a nerdy kid that instantly develops a crush on Dora when she share her knowledge of astronomy. Dora is friendly to everyone. She tries to keep in touch with her parents, but they eventually stop messaging her.

On a class field trip to a science museum, the class is encouraged to pair up for a scavenger hunt. Dora and Diego are paired up with Sammy and Randy. They are asked to find the oldest artifact at the museum. Dora notices a poster about an Egyptian pharaoh exhibit, but it's still under development and isn't open to the public yet. A security guard asks Dora and her friends if they’d like to check out the Egyptian pharoah exhibit anyway. Dora and her friends don’t realize that they’re being deceived. They are thrown into a wooden crate and drugged with sleeping gas. They fall asleep, and it’s revealed that the security team wants Dora to lead them to her parents so that they can find Parapata and the Lost City of Gold. 

Eventually, the kids wake up in the crate, and discover they’ve been transported to Peru. The story continues as Dora, Diego, Sammy and Randy try to find Dora’s parents as well as Parapata with it's gold treasure.  

What Parents Should Know

“Dora and the Lost City of Gold” is a good choice for children in elementary school and middle school, although high school students may think of themselves as too mature for this film. It's a fun family movie, with lots of suspense and excitement. You'll find yourself sitting on the edge of your seat as Dora and her friends make their way through the jungle, with mercenaries in hot pursuit. 

In some ways, the movie is a cautionary tale about interacting with strangers. Dora makes the mistake of trusting certain people, simply because they are adult authority figures. For instance, she is deceived at the museum about exploring the Egyptian exhibit, and later in the jungle she’s tricked when a man offers to help her find her parents. There’s also an old woman who double-crosses the teenagers. It’s a hard lesson to learn. Growing up, we are taught to trust and obey adult authority figures, and it’s kind of shocking when they betray us.

Occasionally, there are animations and computer-generated imagery woven into the story. At one point, the characters wander through a field of gigantic pink flowers which end up releasing spores. Inhaling the spores causes the characters to hallucinate about being cartoon versions of themselves. We also see the talking Map and Backpack.

The movie villain is depicted in a funny way. He gets scared, rips off his clothes and runs away naked (although moviegoers only see a glimpse of his naked rear end.) The villains in this movie are not too scary and it's nothing more than what you'd find in a Saturday morning cartoon.

There are many compelling scenes in which Dora and her friends use their quick wits to solve puzzles, and open secret compartments hidden in the ancient ruins. If your kids like videogames with secret doors, panels and levers, then they’ll enjoy this movie. 

Teenage Dora is not much different than how she was as a child — singing, announcing things and wanting to understand everything about the world around her. Most importantly, Dora uses her problem-solving skills, and thinks fast on her feet in order to solve the mystery. The movie also captures the awkward part of being a teenager. Diego and Dora were best friends as children, but now that they’re teenagers, things have changed. At least on Diego’s end. He is aloof, cynical, and often embarrassed by his cousin Dora. Sammy is also a typical teen – self-centered, bossy and even bullying Dora. However, in their journey, they learn to accept each other as they are. This aspect of the story was very refreshing and helps wrap up the plot nicely at the end. 

You may be wondering if there’s anything objectionable in this movie. There are kidnappings, an armed hostage situation, and life-and-death circumstances that involve getting stuck in quicksand and nearly drowning in an aqua duct. One character discovers two mini scorpions in his hair. A poisonous dart frog knocks out two people.

Final Take

The movie ends with Dora, Diego, Sammy and Randy doing a song and dance at school, leading their classmates to join in. They have survived the journey of a lifetime. Dora realizes that what her parents taught her is true. She is an explorer, not a treasure hunter, and everything they experienced makes life worthwhile. The real reward isn’t the City of Gold, but what they learned along the way. They got to know each other, set aside their differences, and they’re being better off for it. Yes, they started off as acquaintances, but now they are forever friends.