3 Stars Movies

Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019)

It has reached the point where I am feeling sorry for Dora the Explorer. In modern society, she has been the punching bag of little kid shows (I grew up when the punching bag was good ole’ Barney and Friends). Admittedly, I too thought it was a joke when I heard that there was going to be a live action film of the titular young heroine and was just as shocked as anyone to learn it was the truth. Still, when IMDB users (roughly 200 of them) all go on the film’s page and decide to post in the Parent’s Guide that the PG rated movie should be ranked “severe” in all categories…well, the joke has gone too far (thankfully, it was corrected).

In short, Dora and the Lost City of Gold is still a nice family flick (though much more for the kids, although I admit I found myself smiling once or twice). The film starts off where the TV show takes place, with young Dora and her cousin Diego going off on adventures in the rain forest with her faithful monkey Boots and the mischievous fox Swiper. Diego and his parents move to the city, leaving Dora and her parents (Michael Pena and Eva Longoria) in the rain forest.

Flash forward ten years, and teenage Dora (Isabela Moner) is still her upbeat self, eager to explore and help her parents find the Lost City of Gold. Of course, her parents don’t think she is ready to help, so she is sent to live with her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg, nephew of Mark) and his family, as she explores her greatest challenge yet: High School. Soon, Dora finds herself back in the jungle with Diego and two new friends, the somewhat reserved Randy (Nicholas Coombe) and the rather high strung brainiac Sammy (Madeleine Madden), as they search for her parents who have gone missing. They still have to encounter Swiper the Fox (Benecio Del Toro), but still have the guided help of Boots (whose one scene of speaking is done by none other than Danny Trejo).

The screenplay tool of “fish out of water” has been used countless times, yet it works here, mainly because of the sheer dedication of Isabela Moner. Even the most savage of haters will admit it takes a lot to carry a movie, especially if the source material is of a former six-year-old explorer who talks to the camera (which the movie does playfully nod at). Moner never loses her appeal, even when she is singing about situations you would never think anyone would sing about in any genre of film. Even when other obscure things happen on screen, she is still herself, and it is rather impressive. In short, it is a performance worthy of respect.

As stated before, parents should not look at the user contents on IMDB. It is rated PG, with some minor action and peril, but no swearing or nudity. There is one scene that does contain flowers making certain characters hallucinate in a rather comical and bizarre way. Nonetheless, any age is fine seeing this film.

One of the key aspects of Dora’s philosophy (as taught by her parents) is that she is an explorer, “not a treasure hunter.” For kids, this could be a valuable lesson when it comes to Christianity. The exploring of God’s word (i.e. reading the bible) is its own treasure, wisdom that surpasses all (see Proverbs 3:13 and 8:11).

I was about the age of eight when the original Jumanji (the Robin Williams one) came out. It had its scares but was still fun at the time. Like that film, Dora and the Lost City of Gold is intended for kids over adults (though there are still some things adults would like). The special effects are not anything great (like Jumanji, which has CGI that is borderline laughable), but it is not entirely the movie’s fault (not every movie has the money that a Marvel film would have). It gives lessons to kids (along with the aforementioned one on treasures) that other movies have done in the past, like believing in yourself and the value of teamwork.

The spirit of Dora and the Lost City of Gold is still rather contagious and makes me even willing to say that the film is more enjoyable than any of the recent Disney Live Action Remakes.


Rating: 3 out of 5.
3 Stars Movies

Pokemon Detective Pikachu (2019)

There is a time in everyone’s childhood where (most) of the things we liked as kids become too childish, and we move on to other things that are more mature (basically adolescene). For me, the world of Pokemon snuck in just before I reached this stage as it became one of the staples of my childhood (as well as most kids in the 90s). The games were what intrigued me the most (I did not collect the cards as much as my little brother did), and survived (to say the least) the first animated movie (the show was better). I stopped being totally interested after the second or third generation.

Now, a few years after the huge mobile explosion that is Pokemon Go (which I still dabble in), we have the first live action film in Pokemon Detective Pikachu. While the film is not likely to appeal to those who don’t know a Squirtle from a Pidgey, the film is still nearly as close to a good Pokemon film as we will get. The film starts out with Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) being told that his long estranged father has perished in a car accident. Though he has not seen his father in years (his mother passed away when he was young), he decides to visit the city after being told the details by his father’s partner, Lt. Yoshida (Ken Watanabe).

Unlike the video games (at least the ones I played), there is no fighting in the city (at least legally). Thanks to a business guru named Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy), people and Pokemon live together (somewhat peacefully). Still, Tim realizes that things don’t completely add up. When he arrives at his father’s apartment, he runs into a Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds). Even if you are not at all familiar with Pokemon, you should at least know that they only say their name (or are they named after what they say?) For some reason, Tim can clearly understand the wisecracking electric rodent, and even though he says he does not need a Pokemon, he can clearly use help in finding out what really happened to his father. He gets more intel from rookie reporter Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton), accompanied by her Psyduck (and if you know Pokemon, you know you don’t want Psyduck to have a headache).

As of this writing, there are over 800 different types of Pokemon (seven generations). A very wise choice was made in keeping the number of them very limited on screen. For the most part, we get some good crowd favorites ranging in minor cameos (the always lovable Jigglypuff and her “singing” voice, the ridiculous Magikarp, though we do get to see it evolve with wondrous results) to more powerhouses like Charizard and the legendary Mewtwo. Sadly, for a Pokemon movie, there are very few action scenes (the battle scenes we do get are rather effective). The film plays more like a semi-noir flick (On “The Big Picture” Podcast, host Sean Fennessey said it best when he described the film as “a Humphrey Bogart movie with Pokemon”.) I am not arguing that film noirs are bad (I am a huge fan of Bogie). Its just that if a movie is going to be about Pokemon, I would have wanted more battles.

Undoubtedly, if there is one reason for people (fan or not) to see the film, it is Ryan Reynolds. I walked in expecting a PG version of Deadpool, and that is basically what happened. There are snappy one liners (“At this point, how can you now believe in climate change?”) that are a wonder, mainly because of Reynolds. There are times when it feels like he was just free to adlib most of his dialogue.

Parents, there is very little here to worry about. Despite some mild (maybe two or three times is a minor four letter word used) swearing, there is nothing that should stop you from taking you kids.

It is not hard to imagine that some of you reading this have thought of the whole “Pokemon thing” silly and ridiculous. Fair enough. However, God gave us one of the best gifts, imagination. Some of us have only limited this to playing “pretend” or having an “imaginary friend” (mine was named Gerald), but others have taken it to great lengths. These are names such as Walt Disney, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, A.A. Milne, P.L. Travers, George Lucas, J.K. Rowling, and Stan Lee. Each of these individuals excelled with their imagination and gave worlds that some of us would find near impossible to “live” without. Moreover, Jesus frequently gave some of his best teachings through the use of storytelling (e.g., parables). Perhaps if Jesus’s life and ministry were to have occurred in the 21st century, he might have used film to speak to his audience.

The man who created the Universe of Pokemon, Satoshi Tajiri, may not be completely well known here in the states (at least not as much, I imagine, as he is in Japan), but even non fans of Pokemon have to show some respect for what he did. His universe may not have as many fans as that of Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, or the MCU, but the ideals and core values are still there. It brings the kid out in adult fans. To quote C.S. Lewis, “Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”


Rating: 3 out of 5.

4 Stars

Wonder (2017)

There are many reasons why Wonder hit home for me, but the biggest has to be because I am such a supporter of anything that has to do with anti-bullying.

As a small, autistic child with a larger sized head (“Big head” was a huge nickname for me as a child), it is easy to see why I was picked on as a kid. If only Wonder had come out two decades earlier (Note: I did have friends as a child so don’t feel too sad for me or anything.)