Friday 16 August 2019

"Dora and the Lost City of Gold" (Guardian 16/08/19)

Dora and the Lost City of Gold ***
Dir: James Bobin. With: Isabela Moner, Eugenio Derbez, Michael Peña, Eva Longoria. 102 mins. Cert: PG

Paramount’s long-planned live-action Dora the Explorer movie proves an appreciably peppy entertainment. James Bobin and Nicholas Stoller, the writer/director pairing behind 2011’s The Muppets, reframe the wide-eyed, song-prone heroine of Nickelodeon’s educative teatime treat much as 2007’s Enchanted did decades of Disney princesses, pitching a picturebook avatar into something like reality. We’re at first encouraged to laugh at an in-every-sense curious figure, then nudged towards an acknowledgement that this open-minded, forward-looking Latin Pollyanna – an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of the Amazon – might still teach civilisation a thing or two. It’s the only family film on release to broach the issue of how to escape quicksand intact, which should prove useful the next time your offspring venture beyond their depth in the Wacky Warehouse ball pit.

The first act is slightly more subversive than what follows. When her parents (Michael Peña and Eva Longoria) set off in search of the eponymous Eldorado, the now-teenage Dora (Instant Family’s Isabela Moner) is dispatched to relatives in L.A., where she creates havoc at school security with her well-stuffed backpack and calls out Moby Dick for cultural appropriation. Thereafter, the film settles into a conventional matinee arc, with the players returned to colourful jungle landscapes, as per Sony’s Jumanji reboot, in search of the suddenly missing mom-and-pop. Family integrity is the real treasure, though even here there’s the odd, distinctive flourish: youngsters amused by the song about digging a poohole will be beside themselves at the psychotropic flowers that momentarily convert the action back into animation.

The knowing tone again feels like Hollywood confessing to trading in material few could take seriously, yet a certain sincerity is evident in Moner’s very winning performance, and in the most conscientious, cine-literate Latin-American hiring policy this side of Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids films, encompassing both Peckinpah survivor Isela Vega and Danny Trejo as the voice of a wise monkey. Comedian Eugenio Derbez sports a beard of treacherousness worthy of the great Eighties character actor William Atherton; Peña and Longoria have giggly, conspiratorial fun in dispatches. No-one is enjoying themselves more, though, than production designer Dan Hennah (Thor: Ragnarok), who gets to recreate Raiders of the Lost Ark on a modern studio budget, at every turn conjuring up sets even accompanying adults might want to run around on.

Dora and the Lost City of Gold opens in cinemas nationwide today.

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