FlixChatter Review: Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019)

Dora and the Lost City of Gold is a new family adventure live action film, based on the popular Nickelodeon animated television series Dora the Explorer. If you are like me (and you don’t watch Nickelodeon on a regular basis—OR AT ALL!!), you may have heard of Dora the Explorer from Saturday Night Live’s TV Funhouse animated skit spoof, where they switch Dora’s name with the name “Maraka”, and do pretty much what Dora does on Nickelodeon but with the SNL twist.

Hola. Hello. I’m Maraka. Soy Maraka,” says Maraka, standing next to an animated kitten. “Do you know who this is?” ask Maraka to the audience. “That’s right, I’m Mittens. Soy Mittens,” says the animated kitten. “Mittens is a cat. Mittens es un gato,” continues Maraka. And then Maraka throws you a curve ball: “Do you like Penguins?” Both Maraka and Mittens wait for five or six seconds, blinking here and there, while they wait for your answer. “Me too! Mittens and I are on our way to Penguin Island. Can you break a fifty?” asks Maraka, showing you a fifty dollar bill. Then they’re off on a hot balloon ride towards Penguin Island, breaking out a song—in English AND Spanish. And this is all you need to know to understand what makes Dora the Explorer so unique and strange animation at the same time.

Similarly to the Saturday Night Live version of Dora the Explorer, the movie Dora and the Lost City of Gold introduces you right away to a young version of Dora (Madelyn Miranda) and her cousin Diego (Malachi Barton) who are living somewhere in the jungle, each with their parents. Dora has an animated monkey, Boots (voiced by Danny Trejo), who is her sidekick in jungle exploration. Of course, he understands her and speaks to her. One day, Diego’s parents decide to move to the city (somehow that ends up being Los Angeles). That leaves Dora to stay with her parents, going on adventures exploring the jungle. A few years later, an older, teenaged Dora (Isabela Moner) is told by her mother Elena (Eva Longoria) and father Cole (Michael Peña) that they have found an Incan treasure that they had been on the hunt for years, but she couldn’t come with them to find the treasure. Instead, she would be sent to live with her aunt, uncle and also-teenaged cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg) in the city.

Once she arrives in Los Angeles, Dora finds Diego less-than enthusiastic about her arrival, seemingly being a normal American teenager who is embarrassed by his cousin’s exuberance. The next day, they are sent to high school in the city, and Dora being herself sets off the school metal detectors with all kinds of tools and weapons used in jungle, found inside her school backpack. In class, Dora seems to be one of the smartest students, being home-schooled by her parents, but has competition from another girl named Sammy (Madeleine Madden). Dora is mostly ignored by her cousin Diego throughout the day; while in the lunchroom (she does complement all the lunch ladies and lunch gentlemen, of course) she befriends another geeky student named Randy (Nicholas Coombe) and develops a crush on him. Later, at a school dance Dora embarrass Diego yet again, which frustrates him to no end and alienates him from his group of friends.

The next day, while on a school trip the Museum of Natural History, the students are told to make groups of four and go on a scavenger hunt. All students form groups…all but Diego, Sammy, Randy and Dora. Left with no choice, they form the last group and are led to the basement by a museum docent who overhears their conversation about the scavenger hunt. They get tricked and are locked inside a large crate, then knocked out by sleeping gas. Once they wake up, they find that they have been flown on an airplane to the jungle. They get unexpected help from a guy named Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez) who tells them that he is a friend of Dora’s parents and is here to help them. While being chased by the treasure-hunting mercenaries, the teenagers and Alejandro escape into the jungle to try to find Dora’s missing parents. The treasure-hunting mercenaries are hot on their trail, and are aided by the sly animated character Swiper the Fox (voiced by Benicio del Toro).

Soon enough, the teenagers and Alejandro find Dora’s parents, but it turns out that Alejandro isn’t the savior he claims to be but is ***SPOILER*** (highlight to read)working with treasure-hunting mercenaries to find the long lost Incan treasure for himself.  This doesn’t come as a shocker, because if you have been following the story all along, you would realize that Dora’s parents have been safe all along and were just out of communication range while in the jungle. Luckily, the teenagers and Dora’s parents escape from the treasure-hunting mercenaries, and find the long lost Incan city of gold. This is where the movie turns more into Indiana Jones than it does Dora The Explorer . There are booby traps, gold idols and even Inca Princess Kawillaka (Q’orianka Kilcher) makes an appearance. Since this is a family-friendly movie, you can probably assume that all’s well that ends well… and you’d be correct!

The problem with Dora and the Lost City of Gold is that while it may work for a lovable animated child, like Dora, to be engaged in her kid adventures of life, it doesn’t work quite as well with real life teenage Dora, who is trying to be Indiana Jones more than she is Nancy Drew, putting her family and friends in real danger. It’s also bizarre that Dora is accompanied by a cartoony monkey and is being chased by a cartoon masked fox that runs on its hind two legs. Actress Isabela Moner does her best to portray the upbeat, sleuth-y main character, but the lines given to her by co-writer Nicholas Stoller and director James Bobin feel like the belong more like on Nick Jr. than on the big screen. The jokes are very kid-friendly and will make most adults roll their eyes, as they try to land a punchline. What the movie has going for it is that it features a large Latin cast, speaks Spanish and doesn’t try to hide its cultural heritage. Also the actor that stands out the most is Eugenio Derbez, a Mexican actor and comedian that has found his way into some big Hollywood productions recently, including How to Be a Latin Lover and Geostorm.

Overall, Dora and the Lost City of Gold will appeal to those most nostalgic for the animated series, and to those kids who’ve outgrown the cartoons but have not yet moved on to the full-fledged superhero movies. This crowd of moviegoers (and their parents) will carry the film, and I could easily see it turning into a live action franchise for Nickelodeon. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough for adults to enjoy here, and the educational quotient of the movie leaves much to be desired.


  Review by Vitali Gueron


Have you seen Dora and the Lost City of Gold? Well, what did you think? 

TCFF 2018 Indie Film Spotlight: RICH KIDS & interview w/ filmmaker Laura Somers

One of the things I love most about blogging for Twin Cities Film Fest is getting the opportunity to see so many indie gems, as well as insights about making them from the filmmakers themselves. Filmmaker Laura Somers has been such a personal inspiration to me as a newbie filmmaker from the moment I reached out to her to do this interview. For the past four years, day in and day out, she somehow found the energy to push herself to get her film out there. “It’s a crazy form of dedication.” she says, and I can totally relate.

This film has been making ways in various film festivals and rightly so. Such a thematically-rich film (pun intended) with a talented young cast, plus diversity in front AND behind the camera. What’s not to like?

A group of troubled teens from a low-income community break into “Los Ricos”, the local mansion with a border fence, and spend the day pretending to be rich in order to forget their difficult lives.

Twin Cities Film Fest Screening:

Sunday October 21st – 10:10 AM

Q&A with filmmaker Laura Somers

Q1. Before I go into the film itself, I’d like to ask you about your filmmaking background. What makes you want to be a cinematic storyteller?

I have been making films since I was five. My mom and dad bought an 8mm camera and we used to write scripts and act and my parents would shoot and edit them. I got hooked early on, and it’s always been a part of my life. I ended up directing theater for a long time before I decided that for me the stage felt like it wasn’t enough. The biggest obstacle for theater to me is limited audience reach. Being an indie theater director often means short runs in one city – now as a filmmaker my work can live forever and travel around the world – for better or worse!

Whenever I talk to a filmmaker, I’m always interested in what inspires them to make this particular film. How did you come across this screenplay that’s based on an actual event?

The idea for Rich Kids came out of an incident that happened in the neighborhood I grew up in. Our road cut through two completely different neighborhoods, one, a low-income working class neighborhood and the other, an upper middle class neighborhood. Although the road was only eight feet wide, the divide was clear as day.

My house was on the edge of the upper middle class neighborhood at the road. It was a beautiful, ostentatious fortress built incongruously in the neighborhood. The house was a neighborhood legend that the locals spun stories about. School friends and kids in the neighborhood were always breaking in to get a look inside. It wasn’t until I moved out on my own, did I grow to appreciate what that house represented to people who didn’t even have a house. The luxury and tranquility it offered. An escape from the hardships of life.

A few years ago, a group of kids broke into the house. Evidence left behind tells us that these kids lived in the house for a few days, having one hell of a time before it ended in tragedy. We turn on the local news and see stories like theirs all the time. And many people just think, “Well, they were bad kids,” change the channel, and forget about them. But I knew kids from this community, they were my friends. I wanted to use this opportunity to give those kids a voice.

The story speaks about economic and perhaps racial disparity amongst youth, which is a timely subject in today’s climate. Yet the title signifies that ‘richness’ isn’t always about money/materialism. How did you/your team come up with that?

The title was literally the first thing I came up with. It was just the obvious choice. At that time I really only took it as face value – that poor kids were pretending to be rich. The dual meaning grew organically out of the whole process – the writing, the crowdfunding, the acting, the editing, the music. Everyone that has touched this film approached it with so much dignity, so much love for the story and the characters – the themes evolved and presented themselves as we went along. It was truly a magical experience.

What’s the biggest challenge you as a filmmaker faced in bringing this story to life?

I’m a filmmaker, and I’m also a mother to a four year old. I started working on Rich Kids when my son was six months old. I’ve been a stay at home parent with him this entire time, and my husband and I don’t have any family near us in Los Angeles to support us and we couldn’t afford regular childcare. So for the last several years I’ve been juggling these two worlds – new motherhood and indie filmmaker-hood – two dreams have come true at the same time, which is such a thrill!

Since the story is based on a real event, were you able to film it in the location where it happened? If not, how was the location scout process?

We filmed in the actual house the event took place in – it was my childhood home. The location was really the push that we needed to get us going – my parents were preparing to sell the house as we were writing the script – I kept telling them – “I’m doing this film that I want to shoot in the house, but if you have to sell the house, do it – don’t let me hold you back”. So I was really moving fast to get it all done. We shot the film right as my parents hired a real estate agent and they started showing it after we wrapped. Lucky for me that agent wasn’t very good – because after we did our first edit pass, we had to come back a few months later and shoot a few extra days at the house – and it was still available. They’d gotten a new agent by then who literally sold the house a week after we wrapped that second shoot! The universe works in amazing ways sometimes.

I’m interested to hear about casting, as most of the young cast are unknowns. Is that a deliberate choice and did you do a wide casting call to find the right people?

It was a deliberate choice to work with unknowns. I just find it really exciting to discover new talent. I love their energy, they are so joyful because they’re at the beginning of their careers and that really radiates on the screen. There’s so much talk right now about the need for diversity and representing people of color on screen, about lifting each other up. This is the small part I can play in that. If any of the people who worked on Rich Kids can benefit from this film in any way, I’ll be very proud.

The casting process was amazing. I did a very wide open call, reaching out to acting teachers and agents, putting ads online everywhere, including Craigslist! I looked at a ton of people, just trying to find talent who I felt had a similar soul of the characters. My sister and I held a big group audition and we had 10-15 actors in two hour blocks and we did improv and cold readings. Then we had each person spend five minutes talk about why they felt they could relate to the story of Rich Kids and what it would mean to be in a film like it. And these amazing young people just talked and talked – they were so anxious to tell their stories. It was so cathartic for all of us. We went back and used some of the inspiration from the auditions as lines and scenes in the film. Once I’d narrowed down my favorite actors, I spent a lot of time on Skype getting to know them and letting them know me so that we could build a lot of trust and we could use our life stories to craft their performances. And the actors who were finally cast spent a lot of time getting to know each other on the phone and in person, so by the time we walked onto set, we had already built solid relationships.

DP Eun-ah Lee on the set of Rich Kids

What’s your favorite parts about filming? Is this the first time you work with a primarily young cast?

I love working with actors! I really have fun guiding them to great performances, helping them see a moment or movement that they hadn’t considered before. I love all the emotion that gets poured into their craft and I enjoy emoting along with them. I’ve worked many times with a young cast, their creative energy is always invigorating and inspiring to me.

Lastly, what would you like the audience to come away with after watching your film?

Simply that they feel like they’ve been on a really good journey. They walked in as one person and left as another. And they’re excited about what kind of film we’re going to make next.

Check out some exclusive BTS photos from the set
(Thank you Laura!)


Follow RICH KIDS journey online:


Check out the trailer below:


Thanks so much Laura Somers for chatting with FlixChatter!