By Sapna Khajuria
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls — there’s a new supergirl on the block. She’s familiar like an old friend, the girl next door, wide-eyed and earnest, but she has got the smarts. And she is brave, fierce and very resourceful. Say hello to Dora version 2.0 – non-animated, teenage live action version.
Teens and most parents will be familiar with the TV show Dora the Explorer, featuring a bilingual explorer, her talking backpack, her cousin Diego, and Boots the monkey. Their adventures entertained little children and truth be told, sometimes got on the nerves of parents who had heard the Dora song more times than they cared for. I went to watch this film with my sister, my six-year-old niece and my nine-year-old nephew — one excited to meet Dora again; and the other sulking about being dragged to a “baby movie”. Ten minutes into the movie and the nephew was laughing away at the jokes, all misgivings rapidly forgotten.
Dora and her explorer parents live in a stunning lakeside house in the middle of a rainforest in Peru – she has her backpack, her map, Boots the monkey, her cousin Diego, and enough flora and fauna for company. Sadly, Diego has to move away to the city. Cut to 10 years later, and Dora the teenager is still living an idyllic life exploring the forest. Her parents decide to send her to Los Angeles to get a chance at living an average teenager’s life, while they set off in search of the mysterious Inca city of Parapata.
Dora moves from the jungle to a very different kind of jungle-high school. The wide eyed, always cheerful and super smart girl does not fit in. She does not know her way around high school stereotypes and the world of labels — nerd, mean girl, dork and so on. Her smarts land her in the bad books of Sammy the mean class topper; and Diego is embarrassed by her at every step. Other kids call her “Dorka”, but she insists she has to be herself; and befriends Randy the bullied nerdy kid. The lines may be funny, but the positive messages about fitting in and being bullied in a new environment are handled sensitively. Isabela Moner plays the role of Dora to perfection — large eyes, hairband and a perpetually peppy, if slightly quirky demeanour.
The action picks up when Dora, Diego, Sammy and Randy are abducted by mercenaries who hope to get to Dora’s parents and through them, to the treasures of Parapata. Kicking firmly into Indiana Jones territory, with jeep chases, arrow shooting enemies in hot pursuit, quicksand, rivers, fog, totems, messages in code, mysterious old relics – the motley crew of bickering teenagers meets a friend of Dora’s parents and sets off on an epic adventure (with Boots the monkey). After hiding from the bad guys (and a villainous talking fox aka Swiper), escaping from quicksand, they encounter an old Quechua woman. Lucky for our explorers, Dora speaks the Quechua language and learns from the frightening lady that anyone seeking Parapata is cursed. More adventures, more chases, a twist in the tale, almost drowning, solving complex puzzles- and somewhere along the way, the forest and the adventures help the four teens bond with each other. Away from the stereotyped roles high school had thrust upon them, they manage to become friends.
An endearing part of the movie was how the script found a way to crack jokes about the original Dora show without parodying it — the song-for-every-situation, and Dora asking viewers to repeat new words, and then pausing. If you’ve ever watched the TV show, you will definitely love this bit.
This movie about treasure is quite a treasure in itself; exceeded my expectations and how. What my nephew and I expected to be a “baby movie” / two-hour long snooze fest turned out to be a snazzy, sweet joyride. The story moves at a fast pace, alternating between thrills and humour — there are loads of funny scenes to keep children and adults in splits. Most viewers in the movie hall seemed to have enjoyed the film, if the frequency of laughter is anything to go by, with nephew’s laughter being the loudest and most infectious of the lot.
In a nutshell, from a parent’s point of view:
Yay or nay: A resounding yay. You don’t want to miss out on this one.
Swear-o-meter: None, really.
Humour quotient: There’s plenty of humour — subtle, slapstick, and the toilet variety. The scene with Dora’s father trying to warn her of rave parties in the city, while beatboxing, with varying shrillness, was a total hoot. Since Dora’s USP is, among other things, a love for singing about every little thing, sure enough she breaks into a song about poop, which was the undisputed ruler of funny scenes. A hilarious and super earnest song, “time to dig the poo hole” — how do you not laugh at a song that has the words “natural fertiliser”?
Is it scary for younger children: The only episode of a crying child inside the movie hall today had more to do with the poor kid’s popcorn being spilled than any scene from the movie. Younger kids loved the thrills and suspense — my niece, who is not a fan of scary scenes, had no complaints.
Positives to take away from the film / talk to your kids about:
There’s so much to take away from this gem of a film — the indigenous Quechua people and the Incas’ mysterious Quipu codes that feature in the film are two examples of small but significant details seamlessly layered into the storyline.
Dora’s parents keep repeating that they are “explorers, not treasure hunters”. While this has a role to play in the search for Parapata, this subtle distinction is a good way to speak to children about using a resource sensibly rather than mindlessly ravaging the planet. There are messages about prejudices, and bullying, fitting in, teamwork, friendship through the storyline, woven through the jokes and the thrilling scenes.
The children’s review
I missed my pre-teens throughout the film — the humour was right up their alley; Quipu and the Quechuas are topics they have recently been reading about- I’ll just have to watch it with them again (yes, it’s good enough a film to be watched again). My nine and six-year-old movie watching buddies loved the movie. My niece was enthralled by Dora’s bravery and the poo song. My nephew’s laughter that echoed through the room was the biggest vote in favour of the film. While younger children and adults enjoyed the movie, it was a bit of a mixed bag for the 14-18 age group. It’s not quite Tomb Raider / Jumanji and unless they have nostalgic associations with the TV show, some of them may not find it funny enough.
Go for it: Dora, with her ability to see the good in everything and everyone, keeps saying, “if you believe in yourself, anything is possible”. I for one thought she was a real superhero — she didn’t need to kick a*s to be one. Goes to show that one can be kind and smart, yet be a fearless adventurer; and a winner in every sense.
Take advantage of the long weekend, get yourself some popcorn and enjoy this unexpectedly sweet and fun film.
(The writer is a lawyer by training, who would rather be a full-time globetrotter, and mom to 12-year-old twin boys who share her love for all things filmy.)