When Isabela Moner first heard that the beloved animated Nickelodeon show ‘Dora the Explorer’ was getting an aged-up, live-action adaptation, she was admittedly concerned about the idea.
“It’s natural to wonder if what you love is going to be corrupted just to make money off us fans,” said the 18-year-old star of ‘Dora and the Lost City of Gold’. “I was sceptical about what Hollywood would do to something that was special to me.”
But that’s not the case here, stresses Moner, because the movie has everything kids and parents remember about the series, which debuted in 2000. That includes Dora’s signature look: bangs, a hot pink shirt and bright orange shorts.
Moner, who starred in ‘Instant Family’, ‘Sicario: Day of the Soldado’, ‘100 Things to Do Before High School’ and ‘Transformers: The Last Knight’, isn’t just your average teen nostalgic about the bilingual exploradora’s adventures — she was involved in the show’s animated 2014 spin-off ‘Dora and Friends’, which turned Dora from a seven-year-old to a tween. Moner was the voice of one of the friends, Kate, so playing the high school version of Dora came naturally to her.
“When I read the script and realised it was really clever and fun and kid-friendly, I thought ‘this will work,’” the Cleveland, Ohio, native said. “It’s very touching to see all the characters and animals, Boots, the backpack and the songs.”
In the movie, Dora lives with her archaeologist parents (Eva Longoria and Michael Pea) in the South American jungle, with only pet monkey Boots to keep her company. When her parents go to Peru to search for a legendary Incan city of gold, they send the previously home-schooled Dora to live with her cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg) and his family in Los Angeles, California.
Trusting and enthusiastic, Dora is the ultimate fish out of water when she attends public high school for the first time.
“She’s not sarcastic at all, she doesn’t have a phone, she doesn’t have social media. She’s completely out of the loop, which I think is funny and has a good dynamic,” Moner explains. Eventually Dora, Diego and two classmates end up in Peru, where Dora’s explorer skills guide them on a dangerous rescue mission.
Moner may be considerably more social media savvy than Dora, but she actually has a lot in common with her legendary character. Peruvian on her mother’s side, Moner is bilingual in English and Spanish (she even learnt some lines in the indigenous language Quechua for the role). She also loves to sing and dance (she got her start in musical theatre), and she adores animals.
During the four-month film shoot in Australia, which stands in for Peru, Moner learnt a lot about the unique animal and plant life Down Under — a very Dora-ish thing to do.
“I did a lot of exploring, no pun intended. The plants, the animals, the insects... it’s like, where did these come from, how did they end up here? It’s crazy,” she said. “I visited the zoo and an animal hospital and even got to see a surgery on a koala.”
Moner believes, whether audiences watched the original show or not, Dora could be just the inclusive and intelligent role model today’s kids and teens need.
“Right now it’s really cool to not care, so Dora’s unwavering optimism, her unshakeable nature, the strength of her character, her contagious sense of joy. That’s all important for kids and teens to see.”
More about Isabela Moner
Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio
Siblings: Two brothers. Jared is 22; Gyo is 15.
Pets: A dog that is a Staffordshire terrier-Rhodesian ridgeback mix. “His name is Pluto, and he’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
Education: Graduated from high school; studying psychology at a community college.
Favourite book and why: ‘Prayers for the Stolen’ by Jennifer Clement. “It’s super empowering and educational. It’s about young Mexican girls, and one in particular who’s an immigrant to the US”
Favourite movie to re-watch: ‘Elf’ (2003). “My family loves it.”
Musical artist she loves: “The obvious answer is Beyonce, but also right now, this Spanish artist Rosala. She takes classic Spanish flamenco music and makes it modern.”
Favourite superhero: Wonder Woman. “I love Gal Gadot, who plays her. She’s so admirable.”
Actor she’d most like to work with: “Donald Glover. He’s also my celebrity crush. I love him so much.”
Hobbies: “Playing with my dog or making music with my little brother, who is actually a producer. He’s really talented. I do the vocals and the melodies.”
Upcoming projects: ‘Let It Snow’ comes out around Thanksgiving on Netflix. “It’s a Christmas [romantic comedy] for older kids and teens.” It’s based on a holiday short-story collection by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle.
Don’t miss it!
‘Dora and the Lost City of Gold’ releases in the UAE on August 15.