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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Dora and the Lost City of Gold, Review: Adorable Dora, the explora

Dora and the Lost City of Gold, Review: Adorable Dora, the explora

Dora is shown first as a six-year old, living in the forest with her explorer parents, and then as a sixteen year-old, studying in high school. That is highly appropriate, because Dora and the Lost City of Gold has something for all those who are in the age-group of 6-16, and some more for the older folks, who have seen 17 or more summers. The film is largely driven by the actress playing Dora, who is simply scintillating.

TV’s Dora the Explorer borrows a title from The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold (1958), which itself was based on a TV series too. Though the repetition could have been avoided with some creative copywriting, one cannot deny that the title is as relevant here as it was in the 60 years ago moniker.

Having spent most of her life exploring the jungle, mainly in Lima, Peru, with her professional explorer parents, Cole and Elena, nothing could prepare Dora for the most dangerous adventure ever--high school, in faraway California, where she has to live with her cousin Diego’s family. Self-educated in matters of geography and astronomy, not to mention English literature, she impresses everyone with her deep knowledge--everyone, that is, except for the snob, and President of the class, Sammy, who sees her as a threat.

Diego is upset with her ways, which are unconventional, to say the least. Dora, for her part, finds herself lonely in a school-ful of young men and women, whereas she felt great in the solitude of the jungles back home. Her parents set-off on an expedition to trace the Lost City of Gold, a legend of the Inca era, but keep in touch with Dora via satellite phones. Then, suddenly, the calls stop coming, and Dora cannot reach them either.

While on a project of discovering the oldest object around, Dora, Diego (think young President Obama), Sammy and Randy, who can hold his breath for seven minutes, are kidnapped, and taken to Lima on a private plane. The kidnappers are a group of treasure hunters, who want to use Dora to get to her parents and, through them, to the Lost City of Gold. The children are rescued by a man named Alejandro Gutierrez, who tells them that he is a professor of languages and a friend of Dora’s father. Now Dora and her gang of four have to tackle the gun-wielding mercenaries, who are hot on their trail, and the elements of the forest, which is the lesser of the two perils, in order to trace Dora’s parents and save their lives, and to save the ancient, humungous treasure from being looted by the ungodly.

Who contributed what to the script is impossible to figure, given that there are as many as six writers credited: Chris Gifford (based on the series created by), Valerie Walsh (based on the series created by), Eric Weiner (based on the series created by), Tom Wheeler (story by), Matthew Robinson (screenplay by) and Nicholas Stoller (screenplay and script by). Amazingly, the plot jells as a whole, and strays only occasionally. To their full credit, the skillful six have put together a climax that is long, yet so full of twists and suspense that is does not take its toll on you. You do wonder why the cousins did not meet for a whole ten years, and the writers do not bother to tell you why. And couldn’t Dora’s parents have sent a picture to Diego’s parents to help identify her on arrival at the airport? How does Gutierrez hope to survive in the jungle, when he is totally unfamiliar with survival tactics and prone to hysterics when faced with near death experiences?

Dora and the Lost City of Gold is ably directed by James Bobin (British; the Muppets, Alice Through the Looking Glass). It was a good idea to keep all humans as live actors and all animals as animated or CGI created. Boots, the monkey, speaks gibberish most of the time, but he resorts to English at a crucial moment. That’s not all: he is able to convey to Dora that the mercenaries will kill her parents once they have got their loot. The makers have put in a disclaimer that though the fox has been pictured accurately, and not harmed, foxes don’t ‘swipe’ (slang for steal). This fox does swipe, though, and, what’s more, it is masked and named Swiper. No prizes for guessing that he is ultimately outfoxed by the deadly duo of Dora and…a frog. Parts of the track with the arch-villain are over-done and Dora’s parents come across more as cut-outs than real characters. The forest, too, is not well-created in terms of audio, though the visuals are a treat to the eyes.

With minimal back-story, Bobin manages to make the three teenagers come across as convincing. He rarely lets humour go over the top, and most of the funny scenes, especially the one at the security check-point of the school, are genuinely funny. However, the episode of Sammy needing to empty her bowels after 48 hours of holding back is surely over the top. It is a completely natural occurrence, but most mundane things, like toilet chores, are not exactly appealing to watch, even if no nudity is involved. In recent times, most western films have had no qualms about including one or even two full scenes in a rest room. Sammy, sadly, has only the open jungle at her disposal. The question is--why Sammy? And why only Sammy? And the scene where Dora eats a ten year-old piece of chocolate might have been tongue-in-cheek, only it turns out cheeky. Why, in heavens name, would a super intelligent 16 year-old do that?

Playing Sadie in the TV movie, Legends of the Hidden Temple (2016), which has some similarity of subject, must have come in handy while doing Dora for Isabelle Moner, who was exactly 17 when Dora was made, matching her screen age almost perfectly. Transformers: The Last Knight and Sicario: Day of the Soldado were outings that have surely honed her skills. As Dora, she is adorable and disarmingly natural. Moner is goner go places. By the way, there is an ‘item song’ at the end credits to showcase the fabulous dancing prowess of Isabelle, a sample of which is served earlier in the film. And she is a real good looker, to boot.

Madelyn Miranda as her younger self bears startling similarity to her adult persona, but her accent is too clipped for a six year-old bi-lingual, whose mother tongue is Spanish. Malachi Barton is cute as young Diego. Michael Peña as Cole, Dora's father and Eva Longoria as Elena, Dora's mother, have very small roles, and when the director realises that he’s not given them enough footage, he allows them to ham to bring on the end.

Jeff Wahlberg acts as Dora’s tall, lanky cousin, Diego, whose life is turned topsy-turvy by the arrival of Dora a decade after he last saw her, and her infectious effervescence, that is both non-conformist and unaffected. He conveys all the right expressions over a range of emotions that he goes through during the adventure. Madeleine Madden underplays her snob/bully act, and that is welcome, only her role is not very well written. Nicholas Coombe makes a predictable Randy, his half-smile standing him in good stead. Isela Vega and Q’orianka Kilcher have minor roles as the Inca Princess Kawaillaka and her present day incarnation, and both impress, particularly Kilcher.

Two credits are for voice only: Danny Trejo gives live to the monkey, Boots, and Swiper the Fox gets his Vox from no less a distinguished name than Benicio del Toro. Which leaves only Eugenio Derbez, a name to reckon with among Hispanic actors, as Alejandro, whose features remind you a bit of Italian superstar, late Marcello Mastroianni. He lisps (deliberately?) and contorts his face in equal measure. Is it for the benefit of the character, or are they natural tendencies? I cannot tell.

Evocative music by John Debney and Germaine Franco, soothing, hue-laced cinematography by Javier Aguirresarobe and imaginative, crisp and cutting edge editing by Mark Everson, often to impart comic timing, are the other features that embellish Dora and the Lost City of Gold.

If you turn one blind eye to the narrative flaws, the film would score half a star more, but I am being a bit conservative here. There is a lot in the film about stars and constellations, which will make up for any shortfall in the star rating. Go for Gold. Go for Dora, the adorable explora.

Rating: ***


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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