Now, I was as shocked as anybody when the word came in down the pipeline that we were going to get a live-action Dora the Explorer movie. And not just any Dora movie either. We were going to get a Platinum Dunes Dora the Explorer movie.
That’s right. Michael Bay (or, rather, his production company) won the bid on a live-action movie based on an animated children’s educational show where a little girl and her monkey taught your little brother rudimentary Spanish, geography and counting. From the makers of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), Friday the 13th (2009) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)… comes Dora the Explorer.
What’s even more shocking, however, is that the movie’s actually supposed to not be that bad. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes has is Certified Fresh at the 80% mark (meaning that 4/5’s of the critics sampled at least liked the movie), with its stitched-together “critical consensus” professing that it is “led by a winning performance from Isabela Moner, Dora and the Lost City of Gold us a family-friendly adventure that retains its source material’s youthful spirit.” Female-centric aggregator Cherry Picks – which sells itself as the female critic’s answer to Rotten Tomatoes puts its consensus score at a slightly lower 74% (meaning, like Rotten Tomatoes, that nearly 4/5’s of critics sampled liked the movie on some level). Meta Critic, which more closely approximate’s the intensity (rather than breadth) of a movie’s praise, gives it an overall positive aggregate score of 63/100.
And although the movie debuted at fourth place last weekend – trailing behind franchise mainstays The Lion King (2019) and Hobbs & Shaw and fellow newcomer Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark – the appeal of a decades old show targeting preschoolers as a major motion picture IP is understandably much smaller than what it was up against. In fact, viewed in that light, its $17 million weekend take, paired with its strong reviews, is more than anybody attatched to this particular project could have hoped for, especially given how much Platinum Dunes likes to work on the cheap (the reported budget for the movie is something in the neighborhood of $49 million).
Better than could have been hoped for, yes, but I still can’t help but feel like we’re getting robbed of a much more interesting movie in the process. That’s not to say a better movie by any means – I doubt that many could have turned in as comparatively strong of an end-product as director James Bobin (of The Muppets and Alice: Through the Looking Glass fame) under similar conditions – but a more interesting movie, certainly. Dora’s fine enough for a mid-August release at the tail-end of an almost-average summer season, but when you consider the alternative…
You see, when I first heard that they were making a Dora the Explorer movie, I didn’t just think that Michael Bay’s production company was putting its weight behind the production, I thought that Bay himself was heading up to direct the feature personally. After all, all of the art and mock-ups for the movie floating around at the time were of pint-sized cartoon Dora slowly walking away from a Bay-sized explosion like she was Iron Man or something. Bay had just rage-quit the Transformers movies and was presumably on the lookout for his next big project. The promise of an aged-up Dora, especially in light of the enduring generational popularity of Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft, seemed an oddly right fit for the director, even if everything about it positively screamed against the spirit of the movie’s source material (then again, that didn’t stop them when they started working on those live-action TMNT movies).
Now, despite the relative high quality of the feature in question, I can’t help but sit back and dream of the movie that we might have gotten: not just Platinum Dune’s Dora and the Lost City of Gold, but fully Michael Bay’s Dora and the Lost City of Gold. Imagine a twenty-something Dora running around the jungle, strapped to the nines and holstering a good old-fashioned bow and arrow, blood caked to her cut-off jeans, mud streaked across her face and hair still singing from the last super-sized explosion that nearly consumed her. She creeps up to the enemy encampment late at night. The sky opens up with an ominous bromtide before the rain comes pouring down. She creeps silently behind the nearest guard (although double her size, he’s distractedly lighting a cigarette and does not see her) before slitting his throat open. He stumbles to the ground, choking on the bitter taste of his own blood, wide-eyed at the identity of his assailant and gaspingly fail to sound the alarm.
But Dora doesn’t wait around to watch the life slowly (inevitably) drain from his eyes. She has a camp full of soldiers to get through yet, and this is just one man. She draws a machete from a leather strap on her side – a nasty, battered piece of work, but sharp enough for what she needs to have happen – and moves on to her next victim. One by one they drop with a wet-and-heavy thud amidst the concussive rain, and nobody notices her just yet. But then comes something she had not expected: a patrol from the far side of the island returning to relieve some of the men on watch. They round the bend in the forest and see the carnage from her fist clutch of victims.
The men start shouting orders at one another as her first arrow loosens, embedding itself in the throat of the first men with a heavy THUNK. Her second just barely misses the mark, as he turns to watch his captain fall, momentarily putting him out of harm’s way. As the arrow glances past his cheek and a hot dribble of blood starts mixing with rainwater as it downs his face, he yells at his men to spread out and get the girl firing on them.
Dora grins. This one was smart. She’d save him for last.
I don’t care how “good” Dora and the Lost City of Gold is, it’s not “Michael Bay letting loose with a beloved kid’s show adaptation” good.