Review – Swiper! Swipe Left! (“Dora and the Lost City of Gold”)

Okay, I admit it; I never watched any of the animated TV series, Dora The Explorer. The educational Nickelodeon kids program (with a Spanish-speaking counter-part) was wildly popular and featured a cute fourth-wall breaking little girl & Boots, her boot-wearing monkey going on adventures using your help.

But, since this is 2019 and all things MUST be remade, Dora is now a live-action sprightly teenager with a CGI monkey (pardon me while I have a gag-reflex). Anyway, little Dora (Madelyn Miranda) lives with her scientist/professor parents in the jungles of South America and yes, occasionally talks to the audience (“Can you say, “Delicioso?”). Her worried father (Michael Pena) says to her mother (Eva Longoria) that she’ll grow out of it. Well, she does, as she blossoms into a super-smart, 16-year-old teenager (Isabela Moner) that is SO perky, SO happy, and SO full of life that you just want to shove a stick of dynamite down her signature red shorts.

Concerned she’s missing out on social interaction, her parents send her off to L.A. to live with her cousin, Diego (Jeff Wahlberg), who isn’t too keen on her being there. Y’see, Dora is an overflowing effervescent bundle of cheer that’s gonna get her killed in the jungles of high school. Dora makes a friend of astronomy dweeb Randy (Nicholas Coombe) and an enemy of ice-hearted queen bee Sammy (Madeleine Madden). But during a routine field trip, Diego, Dora, Sammy, and Randy are all kidnapped by some nasty mercenaries, hell-bent on not only finding Dora’s parents, but the hidden City of Gold, Parapata!

Rescued in South America by Alejandro Gutierrez (Eugenio Derbez), a friend of Dora’s parents, the quest is on to find Dora’s folks and the forbidden city of Parapata. Happily, Dora is reunited with her childhood friend, Boots, the CGI chimp (who, strangely enough, doesn’t wear any boots). While the gang is looking for the lost parents, they have to stay one step ahead of the bad guys, who happened to have a peculiar ally with them: a CGI talking fox named Swiper (voiced by Benicio Del Toro) that wears a blue mask and steals stuff. Oddly, everyone’s okay with a talking fox in this movie, but not when Dora says she talked with a CGI monkey. Okaaaaaay.

Stealing liberally from both Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade AND The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Dora navigates her way (like Lara Croft) into the dangerous jungles, through Inca temples, and into the hearts of her friends with her perkiness, songs, and damn optimism. Now, I don’t wanna bash this screenplay too much, inasmuch as writers Nicholas Stoller (The Muppets) & Matthew Robinson (Monster Trucks) attempted to make this both a SNL skit and a silly kids movie, but didn’t quite pull it off. Oh sure, there are some fleeting moments, but when you add in gratuitous fart & poop jokes, you might as well cash in your chips.

Not to mention, gaping plot holes, non-sequitur story angles that disrupts the flow, forced romances, and really bad CGI effects. I will give some points for the dialogue that, although clichéd, did have some cleverness for the kids who watched the TV show. Director James Bobin has a history of making kids films (The Muppets, Muppets Most Wanted, Alice Through The Looking Glass) so his technique is strong and fast-paced, focusing on the faces of his players to do the telling of the story.

The elements of a great movie were all there, but the film was torn on which way to go: a parody/comedy of the kids TV series like George of the Jungle, a semi-serious adventure like Indiana Jones or National Treasure, or a teenage romp like Grease or Jumanji. Moner, with her huge Alita: Battle Angel eyes, is delightful and holds this quirky little film together with sheer force of will. The others are mere cardboard cut-outs, with the exception of Pena and Derbez, who excel in their small roles without even trying.   

Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (2002)

Writer/director Robert Rodriguez has made some of THE bloodiest movies around. Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn, Planet Terror, and Machete, to name a few. BUT! The man also has given kids an assorted of goofy, silly, and action-packed films just for them. This is one that is downright strange, yet is fun to watch.

In this sequel to his very popular (and extremely profitable) 2001 Spy Kids movie, the kids of super-spies Gregorio and Ingrid Cortez (Antonio Banderas & Carla Gugino) are now spies themselves after the events of the first film. 13-year-old Carmen (Alexa Vega) and 10-year-old Juni (Daryl Sabara) work for the Organization of Super Spies (OSS) in the new Spy Kids Division. But they’re facing competition from the other rival kid spies, Gary and Gerti Giggles (Matt O’Leary & Emily Osment). Worse yet, Carmen has a kinda crush on Gary, which strains her relationship with Juni.

Problems arise when evil Donnagon Giggles (Mike Judge) arranges himself to be head of the OSS during a party where a group of Magna Men arrive and render all adults unconscious. Uh-oh! They steal the “Transmooker”, a highly coveted device which can shut off all electronic devices, something that Donnagon secretly plans on using to rule the world. Bwaha-ha-ha!! The mission is clear: recover the Transmooker! Using sneaky covert tactics, Carmen and Juni go on an adventure to a mysterious island where the device is, while sending nasty Gary and Gerti to the Gobi Desert.

Carmen and Juni soon meet Romero (Steve Buscemi), a lunatic scientist who has created genetically-miniaturized animals, but his experiments went wrong and now all the animals have mutated into giant mis-matched creatures. After Carmen is captured by a flying pig (yes, they DO fly!), she realizes that both Gary and Gerti are, in fact, evil like their daddy. Naturally, everything turns out okay in the end as Carmen and Juni  recover the Transmooker, are joined by their parents, Juni becomes friends with the President’s young daughter (Taylor Mumford), and Donnagon is defeated.

Rodriguez really knows how to cater to his audience, that’s for sure. For the kids, it’s all silliness and eye candy, crazy adventures with children being the heroes, wacky-looking creatures, and adults misbehaving like kids. For adults, there’s a terrific cast featuring B-listers like King of the Hill creator Mike Judge, Cheech Marin, Danny “Machete” Trejo, Christopher McDonald, Ricardo Montalban, Alan Cumming, Tony Shaloub, and even Bill Paxton in a cameo as theme park owner, Dinky Winks.

Okay, so the kids can’t really act, but ya gotta hand it to Rodriguez who shot the whole movie digitally; that means all his CG effects are quite remarkable. He even pays homage to Ray Harryhausen’s “skeleton army” from Jason and the Argonauts, when the kids fight off a bunch of digital skeletons. It’s all quite ridiculous (Tony Shaloub wearing four heads!?) and wildly imaginative (the Troublemaker theme park is insane!) and definitely fun for the young’un’s. The franchise also produced two more lesser quality films: Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, and Spy Kids 4: All The Time In The World. An animated series on Netflix, Spy Kids: Mission Critical, was released in 2018.

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