No one was clamouring for a live-action adaptation of ‘Dora the Explorer’, the pre-teen adventurer with a talking backpack and a pet monkey, but here’s one anyway. Surprisingly, it’s weirdly likeable and seriously charming, though you’ll see its twists coming from a mile away.
Our heroine is an adolescent Dora (Isabela Moner), now 16 years old. While her parents (Michael Peña and Eva Longoria) search for Peru’s lost city of Parapata, she is sent to her cousin, Diego in LA, and to high school. Cue misunderstandings, social ostracisation and, soon, a kidnapping that lands Dora and her classmates back in the jungle.
The film’s genius is to keep its heroine dead-straight but play a little woozy with everything else. Moner is an energetic, peppy and absolutely sincere figure, even when talking directly to camera (‘Can you say “delicioso”?’) in the cartoon’s trademark style, to the bewilderment of those around her. Director James Bobin, once of ‘The Muppets’ movie, thankfully doesn’t overuse the gimmick, though he gleefully breaks other rules. We’re told that monkeys can’t talk, but maybe they sometimes can, and no one seems surprised that there is a masked, kleptomaniac fox running around (voiced by Benicio Del Toro). Reality is elastic and somewhat negotiable even before the gang suffers full, and very funny, hallucinations.
Ultimately, this charming gang of weirdos delivers an old-fashioned, ‘Goonies’-style adventure, though the find-the-archaeological-site plot is overly familiar. Just try to leave before the appallingly catchy song wraps things up. Can you say ‘annoying earworm’?!