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'Dora and the Lost City of Gold' review: Awkward leap from TV to movies

Eugenio Derbez, left, Nicholas Coombe, Jeffrey Wahlberg, Madeleine

Eugenio Derbez, left, Nicholas Coombe, Jeffrey Wahlberg, Madeleine Madden and Isabela Moner star in  "Dora and the Lost City of Gold."  Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures/Vince Valitutti

PLOT A plucky high-school girl and her friends are kidnapped by ruthless treasure hunters.

CAST Isabela Moner, Eugenio Derbez, Michael Pena

RATED PG (some moments of peril)

LENGTH 1:42

BOTTOM LINE "Dora the Explorer" makes an awkward leap from television to the big screen.

Dora Marquez, the young heroine of Nickelodeon's "Dora the Explorer," has accomplished a great deal since her debut in 1999. In addition to helping several generations become bilingual, Dora has served as a role model for female independence and a poster girl for Hispanic representation (albeit an animated one). Now she's making her transition to the big screen in "Dora and the Lost City of Gold."

She's becoming a live-action human and a high schooler, too. Can Dora maintain her appeal to young fans, pull in older ones and attract a wide-enough swath of demographics to support a potential theatrical franchise?

Whew — life was simpler when all Dora had to do was solve an episode's worth of puzzles with the help of her talking Backpack and Map and you, the viewing audience). In "Dora and the Lost City of Gold," our plucky heroine feels very lost, indeed. Uncertainly directed by James Bobin from a scattered script by Nicholas Stoller ("Forgetting Sarah Marshall") and Matthew Robinson, the movie demands too much of Dora and doesn't give her enough help to do it well.

The story begins in a kind of fantasyland, with little Dora (Madelyn Miranda) living in a jungle outpost with her scientist parents (Michael Peña and Eva Longoria, briefly). Sent to the big city as a teenager, Dora (now played by Isabela Moner, an appealingly chipper presence) struggles to fit in, but her nature-girl ways make that difficult. A simple plot contrivance — a kidnapping — puts Dora back in her native habitat along with her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg) and two stock classmate characters, know-it-all Sammy (Madeleine Madden) and sad-sack Randy (Nicholas Coombe).

The treasure hunt that follows feels like "Romancing the Stone" pitched at grade-school level, mainly because the movie keeps referring back to the original series. The CGI figures of Boots (voiced by Danny Trejo) , Dora's faithful monkey, and Swiper, a walking, talking fox (Benicio Del Toro), make us wonder what world we're in and who this movie is for. There's also a brief hallucination sequence(!) that turns the main characters into traditional cartoons. Meanwhile, Eugenio Derbez, as a hapless adventurer named Alejandro, provides loud comedic relief.

Though overstuffed and uneven, "Dora and the Lost City of Gold" may yet spawn the first kid-friendly, Latino-focused franchise since Robert Rodriguez's underrated "Spy Kids" movies. Maybe the young explorer will find her way.

FOUR MORE

Live-action movies based on animated television shows have a fairly spotty track record — though there have been some success stories. Here are four examples:

THE FLINTSTONES (1994) The talents of John Goodman as Fred Flintstone and Rick Moranis as Barney Rubble seemed to promise good family fun. Instead, a weak script with weirdly adult themes (adultery, white-collar crime) sunk the movie. Generally regarded as a low point in its genre.

INSPECTOR GADGET (1999) Matthew Broderick played the extendable-and-retractable title role in this critically panned adaptation of the 1983 animated series. Co-written by future “X-Men” scribe Zak Penn.

ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE (2000) Previews for this cartoon-to-feature-film made it look like junk. But with producer Robert De Niro playing Fearless Leader, how bad could it be? The answer: A low 36 score at Metacritic.

TRANSFORMERS (2007) Hasbro’s cartoon-and-toy property seemed unlikely to go far on the big screen. Instead, the film franchise survived the stigma of Shia LaBeouf, the disappearance of Megan Fox and overall critical antipathy to earn a total of $4.8 billion at the box-office. — RAFER GUZMAN

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