Turns out Disney isn’t the only studio capable of adapting animated classics into live-action movies. This weekend sees the release of Paramount’s Dora and the Lost City of Gold, a live-action sequel to the classic Nickelodeon children’s cartoon Dora the Explorer. Isabela Moner, who stars as Dora, has a personal history with the character.
“The character’s about a year older than me, so I grew up watching her every day before school,” Moner tells EW. “As I grew up, people called me ‘Dora’ because I had the same haircut, so I always kind of had association with her. The year before I knew about the movie, I dressed up as Dora for Halloween. It was kind of weird how that happened. I think it was almost meant to be, considering we’re both bilingual and we have a lot in common.”
Moner describes her Dora as having a sunny disposition similar to Kimmy Schmidt or Buddy the Elf. Since Dora’s spent most of her childhood exploring the jungle by herself (with the loving support of her parents, played by Michael Peña and Eva Longoria), she comes off a little spacey when she’s first transplanted to an American high school at the beginning of the film. But that same disposition allows her to form fast friendships with a group of fellow students, including Randy (Nicholas Coombe).
“It’s a really fun, rag-tag group of kids. At the start of the film they aren’t friends, they don’t really hang out with each other, it’s just by happenstance that they end up in this group when the adventure takes off,” Coombe tells EW. “In Randy’s case, he relates to Dora because she actually talks to him. He keeps to himself, he’s a solo guy, so she’s another human being that isn’t just on the internet.”
Dora isn’t in school for long before adventure calls, and she and her new friends are brought to a South American jungle to search for ancient treasure. While it’s up to Dora to help her friends figure out how to survive in the wild, they also each bring their own skills to the table.
“When he starts off in the jungle, he’s very inexperienced and doesn’t want to be there,” Coombe says. “The film is about Randy discovering himself. He comes to find he actually has skills and talents. Through watching movies and playing games, he realizes he’s seen some of this stuff before. It was funny to throw him into the universe that’s always been virtual to him.”
Director James Bobin previously helmed The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted, where he gained experience mashing up cartoonish creations with real-world characters. Dora and the Lost City of Gold contains similar touches. For instance, viewers of the original Dora the Explorer cartoon surely remember the way the protagonist would often turn to the screen and ask her young viewers to shout out answers to riddles and puzzles. Moner teases that tendency appears in humorous fashion in the film.
“James does a great job of adding self-aware comedy to the movie in a way that references the show,” Moner says. “You know how Dora talks to the camera and will say ‘and you say ___?’ or ‘do you know ____?’ She’ll do that here, but everyone else in the scene is like ‘What are you doing? Who are you talking to?’”
Dora and the Lost City of Gold is in theaters this weekend.