It’s a jungle out there.
Oh, it’s a jungle back home, too, but Dora’s used to that one. She and her parents have lived in the Amazon all her life, and she knows the place like the inside of her sometimes-chatty backpack. Panthers? Pythons? Piranhas? They hold no fear for this rainforest vet: She skips through the jungle undergrowth and traipses across its swamps with all the familiarity most kids have of their own bedrooms. She even bursts into song on occasion—just like Snow White. It’s a wonder that swarms of mosquitos don’t flock to hear her sing.
But one cannot warble to disease-bearing insects forever. Dora’s 16 now. Her backpack has long stopped talking. Her favorite companion, Boots the monkey, ate his boots long ago. And Dora’s parents—their eyes on an adventure of their own—think it’s about time that Dora leave the jungle and see more of the great, wide world.
Los Angeles, for starters.
Diego, Dora’s cousin and one-time BFF, lives in the city of angels (with his family). Dora can go to high school with him and make some friends that don’t pick fleas out of their fur (presumably). Then, Elena and Cole (Dora’s mom and pop) can go out and search for a fabulous lost Incan city with their minds and hearts at peace, knowing their little girl is safe. Their own adventure—to track down a legendary lost Incan city protected by possibly supernatural guardians—is certainly not suitable for a youngster.
But when Dora lands in the States, she discovers that high school is a jungle of a different sort.
Diego’s not so interested in adventuring as he used to be. He’s got his own high school rep to consider now, and let’s be honest: Dora’s forehead might as well be branded with the word dweeb. All that joy. All that vivacious optimism. All that, that, singing. Ugh. No one wants to be around that in high school—especially not Diego. “If I don’t talk to you, don’t take it personal, OK?” He tells her.
Also, Dora’s professor parents had the temerity to teach her stuff while in the jungle. That makes Dora not just the most socially clueless girl in school, but the smartest, too—which earns the enmity of the much-hated queen bee Sammy. Only one guy—Randy—dares to talk with Dora. But he’s stuffed in lockers too often to be a reliable conversationalist.
But while Dora may be a nobody at the local school, she’s still somebody in the jungle. And for a few rainforest rapscallions, she could be an asset.
One afternoon while on a field trip at the local history museum, Dora is kidnapped by nefarious evildoers. The villains, like Dora’s parents, have a hankering to find that lost Incan city. They figure that Elena and Cole just might lead them to it (and the rumored treasure therein) if they’ve got Dora in tow. So they nab her—along with Sammy, Randy and Diego, who were in the wrong place at the wrong time—and fly them to the jungle.
And really, how much trouble could a little chipper teenage girl and her three city-spoiled friends be?
Turns out, quite a bit. Those baddies take young Dora home, after all. She and the jungle are old pals. And soon, Dora just might be teaching her adversaries—and her classmates, too—a whole new tune.
“I have to be myself,” Dora tells an exasperated Diego. “That’s all I know how to do.” And while image-conscious Diego would love for her to be someone else for a while, it’s obvious that Dora’s individuality is her greatest asset.
First, there’s the fact that Dora just knows a lot and comes prepared for pretty much everything. And while her emergency shelter and water purification kit were of dubious importance in high school, her preparedness pays off big time in the wild. “The jungle is perfectly safe,” she tells her reluctant fellow adventurers. “Just don’t touch anything. Or breathe too deeply.” She guides her pals through the forest’s ferny, thorny maze and (mostly) keeps them safe. And her relentless optimism—so out of place in the halls of high school—helps buoy her companions through a myriad of dangerous trials. One of the grouchiest, in fact, admits at the end that Dora’s songs are kinda cool (in moderation). They all learn to not just appreciate, but love Dora’s curious mix of expertise and enthusiasm—a reminder to the movie’s young viewers that it’s OK to love learning, dig exploring and even sing now and then.
But Dora learns a valuable lesson, too.
For years, Dora was pretty much on her own in the jungle, and she liked it that way. But she learns that you can’t deal with the jungle—be it a metaphorical one or a literal one with snakes and stuff—all on your own. “Make friends,” her mother exhorts. “That’s real exploring.” And it’s not long before Dora learns that you need friends. You need a community to help you.
Dora’s community does help. Her friends might not recognize a poisonous frog immediately, but they offer help in other ways. Sometimes one may have just the sort of skill they all need. Sometimes they work together for the greater good. They all contribute to the group’s survival and (spoiler warning) the movie’s happy ending. And by the credits roll, Dora has a whole new appreciation for these city dwellers.
The Incan lost city is filled with a bevy of gleaming monkey statues that feel like idols, and the movie’s many explorers are eventually asked to make an offering to “the gods” to gain more access to the city.
That’s not all that unexpected: The movie’s ancient Incas didn’t have much familiarity with Judeo-Christian monotheism. But some parents may be surprised how active these Incan deities seem to be. The city is indeed guarded by seemingly ageless warriors led by someone who appears to be a princess or priestess. And when an adventurer makes a poor decision, a storm mysteriously whips up and nearly destroys the city. (We’re told that the adventurer “angered the gods.”)
Dora notes that Diego’s attracted to Sammy, and she mentions that perilous adventures can often speed up the “mating process.” Diego tells her to never use the word “mating” again—but she does so a bit later anyway, when two scorpions apparently engage in some sort of mating activity on top of someone’s head. (We only see them sort of dance and push together their little pincers.)
Two people kiss. At one point, the movie’s characters morph into 2-D animated versions of themselves, and one adult man in said form rips off his clothes and runs into the jungle. (We see his bare animated buttocks.) The next morning, he wakes up in camp, covered with a blanket. When he peers underneath that blanket, he indicates that the animated sequence was no dream.
Dora tries to jump over a chasm and winds up falling several feet—bruising herself a bit. Several people are nearly gobbled up by quicksand. The city’s unseen protectors shoot arrows at Dora and her friends: Several of those arrows perforate a rotten log in which they’re hiding, and when someone feels something wet and sticky on his body, he’s sure he’s been shot. (Turns out, the arrow just punctured a juice box he was carrying.) Dora evades rampaging pygmy elephants and hops across a body of water, using a crocodile or two as stepping stones. Characters tumble down hills. Randy is physically accosted at school. Someone is thunked in the head twice with a yoyo.
The Incan city is filled with a number of perils, and characters must deal with spike-covered rooms, sloping floors (that might send the unlucky to yet more terrible-looking spikes) flooding chambers and pits of lava. One character nearly falls do his death into said lava.
Dora and her friends are threatened, and Dora assumes that her captors mean to kill them no matter what. Someone sets off a flare at school. Two characters are temporarily paralyzed, falling to the jungle floor as if frozen. Someone knocks his head against a tree trunk.
Two OMGs and a few insults are pretty much all viewers have to worry about on the language front, though we do hear some crudity stand-ins like “freaking” a time or two.
Dora and a couple of other characters must cross a plain filled with giant flowers that, when touched, seem to release hallucinogenic pollen. We see the effects of that pollen clearly. A vial of sleeping gas is dumped in a wooden crate where Dora and her friends are being kept.
An embarrassed Sammy needs to relieve herself. That need leads to a pretty drawn-out conversation on the act, and culminates in Dora taking Sammy out to a more secluded part of the jungle, whipping a “poo shovel” out of her backpack and singing a very descriptive song as she digs a latrine hole for Sammy. We later see Sammy apparently squatting over the hole (from the waist up), singing Dora’s song softly to herself.
We also hear lots of jokes about flatulence (and noise that mimics it) as the characters cross a stretch of what appears to be mud.
Someone appears to get sick to their stomach. Another character worries that he’s contracted dysentery. In flashback, Boots eats his boots. Swiper, a masked anthropomorphic fox, swipes things (despite being repeatedly told not to). Dora eats a 10-year-old moldy candy bar.
The original Dora in Dora the Explorer was a prepubescent, bilingual dynamo who went on grand, innocent adventures with her monkey pal Boots and taught her young viewers everything from how to count to how to speak a few words in Spanish. The interactive show encouraged viewers to take part in Dora’s exploits—often asking them to shout back at the television. And during its 179 episodes, it became one of Nickelodeon’s most popular shows.
It’s hard to update a cultural icon—particularly one so firmly built to appeal to a preschool audience. And this live-action revamp of Nick’s timeless heroine is not entirely successful.
Part of that is by necessity. You don’t see a lot of purely educational shows migrate to the big screen because ticket-buying moviegoers don’t typically want to be educated there (or, at least, not explicitly educated). In that light, all of Dora’s standard-form lessons are gone, with only a few gags (referencing Dora’s penchant for breaking the fourth wall) left to remind us of them.
The movie also acknowledges that Dora’s fans are growing up—and so, presumably, Dora must too. The show’s un-self-conscious preschool innocence has been replaced with in-the-know nods and winking asides.
The result is less pure Dora and more a mashup of Indiana Jones and High School Musical (without all the singing)—and, at times, a rather uninspired version of either. The film’s inescapable bathroom humor and murky spirituality only further pull things into the cinematic quicksand.
But while The Lost City of Gold could’ve been better, it could’ve been a lot worse, too. The film gives us plenty to smile about, and even adults may find reason to chuckle. And while the movie punts the Nick show’s puzzles and Spanish vocabulary drills, it replaces them with more relational lessons: Don’t be afraid to be yourself. You can’t do everything alone. Persevere, and everything will be fine.
Those are good thoughts for Dora’s now-older audience, who have more on their minds these days than just simple addition. And for a film to remind kids that learning stuff is cool, being yourself is important and embracing a cheery outlook will serve them in their own personal jungles … well, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.