There are many amongst you now that I can sense are angry. I can hear you cry, ‘You gave ‘Joker’ two out of five, and this you give a four?’. The answer, ‘Yes, of course I did. Have you seen this? It’s brilliant.’ Look. I know. I try to write about things that people may actually want to know about, or care about an opinion on. But believe me, this one will be worth it.
Before I begin, I feel that I must preface this review by reminding you that while it may seem that I am taking this film extremely seriously at times, also know that the movie starts with a quote from the ‘Fox Council of The Americas’ which says, ‘Everything you see is true. Except that foxes don’t swipe. That is a hurtful stereotype.’
That should tell you all you need to know about how I view the film, and how the film views itself. With that said…
Children’s entertainment always faces a problem. It has to entertain two very different demographics in order for most people seeing the film to enjoy it. Both parent/carer and child would like to have fun watching the film, and so films need to have enough of its run-time devoted to pleasing older watchers, which can be a tremendously difficult balance to maintain.
Some films do it well, to give credit to filmmakers. Movies like ‘The Princess Bride’ (1987) which not only exists as a parody of ‘soppy, romantic fairy-tale films’, but also as a shining example of a fantastic ‘soppy, romantic fairy-tale.’ ‘Dora’ manages to do the same thing (not as well, mind you, but when the bar is Rob Reiner, the bar is probably too high), and in doing so, elevates the viewing experience for both groups of people, both young and old(er).
This film is a deceptively fun time. With some very funny meta-commentary running throughout, (my particular favourite moment being when Dora (Isabela Moner) turned to camera and, whilst talking about a poisonous tree frog, said, ‘Can you say severe neurotoxicity?) and there were times when I thought that the adults around me were getting more from this film than the four year old was.
‘Dora’ knows what it is and what it is trying to do, and it fulfils all of its objectives. The laughs are good, the story is simple, and there is enough variety in the film to keep anyone, no matter their age, entertained. It displays a cynicism to the TV show’s original relentless happiness, which brings a fresh and entertaining spin on the tired genre.
The story is pretty basic, and yet exists to make a barrel full of jokes that I really wasn’t expecting. Dora lives with her parents in the Peruvian Jungle, and she really seems to be having a blast. Honest to god, this seems like the most fun anyone has ever had in the Peruvian Jungle. But when her parents set of to seek the lost city of Parapata, Dora must go and live with her cousin (Jeff Wahlberg) in the city, where she befalls the trap of being nice to people at school.
There is so much to be said in favour of the school scenes. From ridiculous moments such as the fall dance with the theme of, ‘Come as your favourite star’, and so of course, Dora turns up as her favourite actual star, or when she is confronted by a metal detector, and the security guard begins to pull out all sorts of dangerous and terrible objects, and yet Dora continues to smile and chat with him, everyone involved with this film seems to behaving ridiculous amounts of fun. And it is Isabela Moner who carries these scenes, and allows them to be the slight piss-take that they are, taking care to not make this too obvious to the younger viewers (who this film is aimed at. I think.)
Eventually the story kicks in, and I won’t ruin too much, but just know that Eugenio Derbez as Alejandro Gutierrez, the main villain of the film, gives a wonderfully campy turn as the backstabbing explorer turned evildoer. There is an almost 1960’s feel to him that fill me with nostalgia (yes, I do know I wasn’t alive then) and pure childlike glee. He inhabits the sort of villain that you know is wrong, but can’t help but love watching. He truly is the highlight of the film, and he makes it worth every slightly below average joke (of which there are only a few).
But by far my favourite moment of the whole film is when the characters collectively hallucinate what appears to be a genuine episode of the cartoon version of Dora the Explorer. It is truly wonderful, because it keeps those who the film is actually aimed at entertained, all the while containing some fantastic, knowing jokes to make the older viewers smile. I mean, the sheer amount of genius it takes to make such a huge amount of fun out of your source material, all the while staying incredibly faithful to said source material. It truly is a fine line that director James Bobin, and writers Nicholas Stoller and Mathew Robinson walk, but yet they walk it with ease.
No spoilers, I hope, because it’s not too hard to figure out, but it all ends happily, with Dora choosing to stay in the city, and continue to go to school there. Unfortunately at the end, as is mandatory with all children’s films, there is a dance number where the cast sing and remind us of everything that they did in the film, as if we couldn’t remember. Fortunately, it’s surprisingly good, with some nice choreography and a catchy tune, and as a result I didn’t hate it as much as I have at the end of say, ‘Zootopia’ (Zootropolis, whatever) or ‘Sing’.
While this review may have lost me some of my readership, or all of it for that matter, I truly did enjoy this film. I would be wary against judging a film just because of its source material. I went into it already dismissive of how good it would be, and I came out having had a well spent hour and three quarters. Just try it, you’ll find that you’re pleasantly surprised.