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(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was for a non-apology, so I wrote one to the ancient cultures that have been despoiled in modern times.)

I’d like to take a moment to say sorry, if I may,
To all the ancient cultures our museums now display.
You went to all that trouble, building monoliths of stone,
Turned now to tourist traps we like to think of as our own.

Apologies to Giza and the pharaohs mummified.
It’s just that, with your pyramids, you hardly tried to hide.
When something’s that conspicuous, what person could resist?
It’s honey to the fly that is the archaeologist.

And ancient Greece, I’m sorry for the snatching of your art;
It’s just that all your masterpieces seem so a la carte.
A marble here, a marble there, no price tag to be seen,
It’s not as if you’ll miss another naked figurine.

Regrets to Rome and China, the Aztecs and Babylon;
You should have left instructions for long after you were gone.
It’s just that one philosophy applies to tomb and shrine:
When something sits there long enough, it might as well be mine.

MPA rating: PG

Never in a million years did I think I would have something positive to say about a Dora the Explorer movie, but here we are. I remember growing up when seven-year-old bilingual Dora was at her height of popularity on Nickelodeon, and I also remember how quickly I outgrew her repetitive talking to the camera and decided she had little to offer me. How could a live-action version be worthwhile? Well, it can because Dora and the Lost City of Gold is better than it has any right to be.

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Having voiced a character in a cartoon spin-off of the original show, Isabella Moner (now Merced) of Instant Family plays the young explorer, aged up to a teenager. She lives happily with her professor parents (Michael Pena, Eva Longoria) and her CGI monkey Boots in the South American jungle, but her parents reluctantly send her to school in California, hoping their sheltered daughter will socialize and make some friends. Her overly perky naivete makes her less than popular with most students, including her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg), but when she and some classmates are kidnapped back to the jungle, she proves how handy it is to have an explorer as a friend.

Moner as Dora is the heart of the film, and she is a consistent ray of sunshine, earnest without coming off as saccharine. The writers leaned into her cartoon persona’s more ridiculous traits (“Can you say ‘extreme neurotoxicity?’”), and, while not every joke lands, they found some comedy gold with her fish-out-of-water antics. And I’m not sure what to make of a sequence animated like the old show, which offers nostalgia while suggesting that the whole thing was one massive drug trip. Despite that scene and a vaguely liberal bent, it’s a largely family-friendly adventure that can appeal to a much wider age range than the original cartoon did.

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The story also has some excitement once it reaches the jungle again, with Eugenio Derbez being a slapstick hoot when he joins the jungle-bound teens. The journeys of Dora’s jungle-marooned classmates may be predictable, but I thought the story found a good balance between adolescent growth and National Treasure-style escapades. From the unexpected guest voices of Benicio del Toro and Danny Trejo to the excellent musical number at the end, the whole thing is self-aware and far more entertaining than I had expected. Can you say “franchise potential?”

Best line: (Sammy, a classmate) “There’s nothing more dangerous than a wounded animal.” (Dora) “There are a lot of things more dangerous than a wounded animal. A healthy animal, for starters.”


Rank: List Runner-Up


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