At some point in time, a live-action version of “Dora the Explorer” must have seemed like a good idea. After all, the animated TV series has, for eight seasons, been a bilingual cash cow for Nickelodeon, inspiring young viewers to pick up some basic Spanish; to shout at the TV in response to prompts by its titular heroine; and to beg their parents for all the tie-in toys Target can hold.
Spinning the adventures of an intrepid 6-year-old Latina girl into a feature-length film could have been a way for Dora — known for going on quests and solving problems with little more than a monkey, a talking backpack and a map — to seek out a new frontier. But instead of taking her (and us) into a brave new world, “Dora and the Lost City of Gold” has a warning for all who venture into the theater: Sometimes it’s better to stay home.
“Lost City” picks up the show’s premise: Dora (Madelyn Miranda) lives in a nonspecific jungle with her best friend and cousin Diego and her parents (Michael Peña and Eva Longoria), professors who have been searching for an ancient Incan city, full of riches. (They’re not in it for the money; they’re explorers, not treasure hunters.)
Fast-forward 10 years. Dora’s parents are ready to head to Peru for the final search, and our now 16-year-old heroine (Isabela Moner) is sent to live with Diego and his family in Los Angeles.
Thus begins the movie’s jaguar-out-of-the-jungle story. Understandably, a home-schooled girl whose only friend is a monkey is going to have a little trouble navigating her urban high school.
That might have made a pretty good movie.
The problem is: There’s more. During a school field trip, Dora, Diego (Jeff Wahlberg) and two walking high school cliches (Madeleine Madden as the smart, driven queen bee and Nicholas Coombe as the awkward video gamer) are kidnapped, along with an old friend of Dora’s parents (Eugenio Derbez). It seems that bad guys want to use Dora to track her parents. So it’s back to the jungle they go, where the movie’s main story takes place — and when it starts to feel that time has stopped.
There are glimmers of cleverness in the script (by Matthew Robinson and Nicholas Stoller) and in the direction by James Bobin (“The Muppets”). Dora’s oblivious cheerfulness, rendered by Moner with wide eyes — and wider smiles — makes her wonderfully out of place in the big-city school. And when she and her squad head into the jungle, there are discussions of colonialism and the plundering of artifacts.
But “Lost City” can’t seem to make up its mind: Is it an homage to the animated show? A straight-faced live-action version? An affectionate mockery? “Dora” should have picked a path and stayed on it. Instead, it’s a movie that is muy aburrido — boring.
Can you say “aburrido?” Say it: Aburrido!
Dora and the Lost City of Gold
★ out of 4 stars
Rating: PG; contains action and some impolite humor.