Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019)

“This is a golden poison tree frog! Can YOU say ‘extreme neurotoxicity’?”

Justin’s rating: [a faint echo in his head sings “backpack, backpack…”]

Justin’s review: Anyone who’s been a parent of a very small child in the last couple of decades most likely bears deep emotional scars from having to watch incredibly basic and insipid children’s programming that one-year-olds love. These are your Baby Einsteins, your Wonder Pets, your Mickey’s Clubhouse, and, yes, your Dora the Explorers. Unlike cartoons that try to throw a bone to older viewers with the occasional hidden adult joke or an actual plot, these shows are really just a way to get your kid to swear fealty to your television instead of his or her parents.

This is to say that Dora — a show in which the main character is asking the viewer really basic questions about how to navigate obstacles — is not the ripest field for a film adaptation. Dora and the Lost City of Gold should never have been made, and it most certainly shouldn’t work as well as it does. But what surprised all of us here in our household is that this is a cheeky, funny, and self-aware movie that pokes fun at itself more than bores its audience.

And it is one of the most flat-out bizarre movies I’ve ever seen. That’s a complement.

So the concept is that instead of telling more escapades of a wandering toddler and her pet monkey, Dora and the Lost City of Gold ages the titular character up to her teens and then takes her out of the jungle and throws her into high school. The survival-minded, sing-songy Dora has a lot of trouble fitting into this environment, but before long, she ends up on another adventure through South American jungles with her new friends, her horribly CG-created monkey Boots (who isn’t wearing boots for some reason), and her cousin Diego. The quest is to find a lost Incan city before mercenaries do, and with that thin Indiana Jones framework, we’re off to the races.

Why is Dora bizarre? For starters, the writers have way too much fun presenting Dora’s world with a very straight face and then tossing jokes against it. Dora’s extremely enthusiastic childhood has resulted in a teen who’s bubbly and positive to the point of being on a constant sugar-high, and that by itself is really funny. This is a kid who even has a song for digging latrines (and a pep talk: “You can do this. And medically, you have to.”) and wields her yo-yo as the world’s most dangerous weapon.

This oddity is what had my wife and I laughing and grudgingly settling in to watch this film with our kids. It’s a movie that knows its premise has no basis in reality, so it’s free to abruptly toss in innuendos that sail right over kids’ heads or have a formerly mute monkey open up and dispense words of wisdom. It’s a movie where giant flowers spew pollen that makes everyone hallucinate as if they’re actually in the Dora cartoon, only with more adult male nudity.

I’m just saying that if you’re throwing a party and you want a good group viewing experience, one in which everyone can laugh at as much as with the film, Dora’s my recommendation.

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