Treasure Hunting Bad, Exploring Good

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Dora, Diego, and their friends Sammy and Randy scout out the jungle.

In 2000, viewers were first introduced to Dora the Explorer, and with a 19-year run, it’s safe to say that it was a hit. The perpetually 7-year-old explorer spent her days swinging around the jungle with her monkey pal Boots and solving countless audience participation riddles. Now, in Dora and the Lost City of Gold, Dora (Isabela Moner) has to face the realities of high school in the city as well as the responsibility of saving the people she cares about most.

Dora’s parents (Eva Longoria and Michael Pena) have been searching for Parapata, the Incan city of gold for as long as she can remember. When Dora stumbles across a map that shows the location of the ancient city, her parents send her off to Hollywood to live with her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg) while they look for Parapata. Dora may know how to avoid poisonous plants and stampeding pygmy elephants, but she has no idea what to do when it comes to navigating high school. Nevertheless she persists, approaching every problem with a relentlessly cheerful attitude. It’s not long before Dora has bigger problems than high school: her parents are in trouble. When she and some of her classmates get kidnapped on a field trip, it’s up to her to get them home safely and save her parents.

One of the film’s biggest achievements is not attempting to whitewash the source material. In fact, they even go a step farther than keeping Dora and her family Latin. Moner was specifically cast for her Peruvian heritage and consulted her grandmother about the proper translations and pronunciations for her lines in the ancient Incan language Quechua. Q’orianka Kilcher, who plays the Incan princess Kawillaka, is a direct descendent of the Quechua-Huachipaeri people of Peru. 

While it shouldn’t be a rare occurrence to have true indigenous representation in a film, it is, and it’s commendable that this movie features actors whose heritage is true to the storyline. The film also shows a great deal of respect for indigenous tribes and cultures, sending the message that while it’s okay to look for artefacts and archaeological sites for the knowledge that comes with them, it’s not okay to search for them with the intent of looting and destroying the historical sites and items. Or as the movie puts it in terms that any six-year-old could understand, “treasure hunting bad, exploring good.”

Moner portrays Dora with the same unstoppable energy as her cartoon counterpart. She’s always upbeat and happy, never slowing down in her attempts to cheer up herself and others. However, she also brings a more human touch to Dora, reflecting some of the insecurity that even the most confident of people feel from time to time. 

This more vulnerable side of Dora almost seems to clash with the cartoonish aspects. From the almost flippant way Dora treats a stampeding herd of angry pygmy elephants to full blown choreographed musical numbers, she acts like the 7-year explorer aside from a handful of moments. This movie had the potential to bring Dora to a slightly older audience while still making it enjoyable for young children, but instead it makes her older with the same age range of viewers in mind.

While Dora and her companions faces many challenges, none of them seem life-threatening for more than twenty seconds. It is clear that the filmmakers designed these challenges in a way that they wouldn’t be too scary for younger viewers, but still provide some form of entertainment for the older people who get dragged along.

Dora and the Lost City of Gold is, at its heart, a children’s movie, but it’s a children’s movie with a big message. Dora has the same kind of relentless confidence many people wish they had, and she’s never afraid to be herself. The movie also shows a respect for indigenous cultures that is important for children to learn, especially with the current political climate in some parts of the world. It’s an interesting movie, but the appeal of the movie relies on the fact that people know and love Dora. I would not recommend this movie to someone who is unfamiliar with Dora, but whether you’re a current or former Dora fan, or just one of the people who watched with the Dora fanatics as they answered her questions for hours on end, this movie could be worth a watch. Dora and the Lost City of Gold, rated PG-13 for some action and impolite humor, comes to theaters on August 9.