Nickelodeon’s Dora the Explorer, an educational animated series for children that ran from 2000 to 2006, shouldn’t work as a live-action Hollywood remake. Weirdly, this sprightly, self-aware action-adventure movie does. Director James Bobin and co-writer Nicholas Stoller launch with the cartoon’s memorably bouncy theme tune. Within minutes, a six-year-old Dora (Madelyn Miranda) is breaking the fourth wall and asking the audience if they can say “delicioso” (in the original TV show, Dora would teach viewers Spanish words and phrases). Dora’s simian compadre Boots is computer-animated and integrated into the film’s ever-so-slightly surreal live-action world without question.
Dora has grown up in the rainforests of Peru, home-schooled by her parents (a zoologist and an archeologist, played by Eva Longoria and Michael Peña respectively). They are explorers, the film insists, not treasure hunters, in one of its gentle swipes at colonialism. Now 16 years old, Dora (Isabela Moner) is being sent to the city, aka Los Angeles, to attend high school with her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg) while her parents search for Parapata, the lost Incan city of gold. A relentlessly cheery brainiac with a propensity to burst into song, she soon earns the nickname Dorka, turning up to a themed school dance dressed as her “favourite star” – the sun. Moner is a magnetic, sunny screen presence. Seeing Dora navigate the wilds of high school would’ve been entertaining enough, but a kidnapping places her and her classmates back in the jungle.
In this section of the film, there are Jungle Run-style mazes and puzzles, a farting bog of quicksand and a song about poo. A field of giant pink flowers precedes a trippy, animated interlude. Benicio del Toro voices a masked trickster fox. The result is goofily charming and a rare, age-appropriate children’s film in which the adults are silly and the kids, especially the girls, are smart.