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When I started the trailer for a live-action Dora the Explorer film, my immediate reaction was skepticism. I expected some terrible movie that would attempt to relate to kids with low effort story, flat characters and unbearable CGI, something on par with The Angry Birds Movie or that godforsaken Emoji Movie.

But, to my surprise, the trailer actually made me curious. Here we have an older Dora attempting to navigate high school after all that exploring as a kid. What really won me over was a scene where the movie poked fun at the original cartoon by having Dora look at the camera and ask the audience a question, just as she used to do in the cartoon. (Example: "Do you see the red balloon?") And her father looks over his shoulder, wondering who Dora is talking to.

I love it when properties can poke fun at themselves. So as I sat at the movie theater and looked over at my wife, Meghan, we both knew that, of all films, Dora and the Lost City of Gold would be in our viewing future. Imagine my further surprise when the movie dropped this week, and it already had mostly positive reviews from Rotten Tomatoes on Tuesday.

Still, I can't help but wonder if the day is past for Dora. The show premiered 19 years ago, and all of the kids that grew up with it aren't children anymore. It's one thing for Dora to get good reviews, but the question here is if she'll still have the fanbase to make a profit with this movie.

Most of you who read my movie columns know I love cartoons, and they're often the subject of what I write about. But I didn't grow up with Dora. I was already 10 when her cartoon premiered. I'd moved on to what would become my most beloved cartoon series of all time, Hey Arnold! And while I was laughing my head off to good stuff like Ed, Edd, n Eddy, Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack, Rocket Power and so much more, my 2-year-old brother Greg was watching Dora the Explorer and Blue's Clues.

It wasn't that Dora was a bad show. It was formulaic, but it served an important function to introduce children growing up to the second-largest language in our country. For eight seasons, Dora taught Greg how to count in Spanish and expand his developing vocabulary.

While Greg had Dora, I had my cherished series Little Bear, based on the popular books illustrated by Maurice Sendak. While Dora and Joe (and the less popular Steve from Blues Clues) sought to educate Greg with math and language, my childhood cartoons like Little Bear, Franklin and Arthur were more about going on adventures and feeding my imagination. I may not have been able to count to 8 in Spanish, but I could go off in the woods with a stick and explore outside all day.

With Little Bear taking up my TV time, and Calvin and Hobbes taking up my reading time, suffice it to say I developed an overactive imagination, one I still carry to this day. It's probably why I became a writer.

This isn't to say Dora's cartoon was somehow inferior. If anything, its knowledge was more practical. If Dora encouraged kids to learn Spanish, and then they continued to pick it up via classes in high school and college, that can be a valuable skill that boosts their hireability down the road. See? Practical. While I'm daydreaming about finding an ancient treasure buried in the forest (as normal adults do), the kids who grew up with Dora and learned Spanish are training to become translators and bilingual doctors and nurses.

I'd like to see Dora and the Lost City of Gold succeed. Even if she wasn't a childhood icon for me, Dora is a beloved series by kids all over. This is in spite of the fact that my younger sister-in-law was much more interested in Dora's spinoff series Go, Diego, Go! She preferred the fact that Diego dealt with cooler animals and traveled with a jaguar cub. (Sorry, Boots. Jaguars are cooler than monkeys, even ones with stylish footwear.)

In a world of mediocre Disney live-action remakes -- cough-Lion King-cough -- , I hope Dora can inspire other studios on how to properly translate an animated cartoon into a different and entertaining flick that takes the franchise in new directions. Dora's movie doesn't seem a blatant cash grab at nostalgia.

It's also a relief Paramount cast an actual Hispanic actress (Isabela Moner) to play the role. Good job sidestepping the whitewashing pitfall, Nickelodeon Movies.

Adapting an animated cartoon into a live-action series or movie can be done well. See: the Paddington Bear films and the first two Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movies. With that said, it's extremely rare and goes wrong much more often than it goes right. Most of the time Hollywood tries to turn a cartoon into a live-action movie, it ranges from abysmal to horrid. Don't believe me?

Terrible animated series adapted into live-action film include: Anything related to Woody Woodpecker, Yogi Bear, Scooby-Doo, Transformers, Garfield, Smurfs or Alvin and the Chipmunks; Jem and the Holograms; Inspector Gadget; Kim Possible; Masters of the Universe; and so many more.

Dora has her work cut out for her, but if early reviews are any indicator, this might just be a rare, yet solid, live-action adaptation of a cartoon. I still wonder if this movie would have had a more solid fan base if it was released in 2003 instead of 2019, but maybe the fans who grew up with Dora will come back to support her on the silver screen.

The story looks like a solid family adventure; shockingly the CGI animated animals don't look like trash and it also stars the international assassin Machete providing the voice for Boots the Monkey. What a treat!

Now I just have to hope the live-action adaptation of Rugrats languishes in development Hell, just like the live-action adaptation of Akira. Some animated series just need to be left alone in the nostalgia corner of our minds where they belong.

MovieStyle on 08/09/2019

Print Headline: Does day of Dora arrive too late?


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