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"I went behind-the-scenes of the new Dora the Explorer movie and it's not the story anyone was expecting."

As an adult I never expected to be able to physically walk through the world of Dora the Explorer, but that’s exactly where fate took me when I journeyed to Australia’s version of Hollywood: The Gold Coast.

Dora, the iconic Latinx explorer, cemented her place in popular culture with her first animated foray on Nickelodeon in 2000. Now the beloved character has been reimagined for her first ever live-action feature film, Dora and the Lost City of Gold. 

In this new offering, 16-year-old Dora is played by Isabela Moner and is sent to live with her family in Los Angeles while her parents undertake a journey to find a lost city. Thanks to the fact that Dora has been raised in the jungle with only a wild monkey for a friend, it’s fair to say that her social skills are somewhat lacking.

You could almost say it’s akin to the plot of Mean Girls until you actually get into the nitty-gritty elements of the story and the production.

Dora was filmed completely in Australia thanks to the fact that the production team wanted her world to look ‘big’.

Many of the film’s scenes were filmed in the rainforest along the Gold Coast, a location which easily passed itself off as an exotic slice of South America. In order to fully create Dora’s world, an immense jungle set was constructed on a sound stage at Village Roadshow Studios, where just a few months earlier all the action of Aquaman had taken place.

Take a look at this exclusive to Mamamia clip from Dora and the Lost City of Gold. Post continues after video.

Since the world of Dora is instrumental in creating the story’s sense of wonder and adventure,  special care was taken by the production team to bring it to life.

The sound stage jungle set where much of the film’s action takes place was so meticulously constructed that when I was walking through it and lifted up one of the faux-logs (secretively of course, I was not meant to be touching anything), I could see that there were hidden clusters of little mushrooms attached to the prop. A tiny detail that would not show up on screen but was instrumental in the creation of the world.

Likewise, the creation of Dora’s jungle home was constructed from this same realm of imagination.

For this set-piece the film’s production designer, Oscar winner Dan Hennah, who is known for working his magic on The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, actually built an entire house on stilts on the banks of the Coomera River for the film.

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The magical-looking bungalow looked completely lived in by Dora and her parents, filled with an array of objects and treasures that Dora’s family would have collected during their travels around the world.

If you look closely around the home when watching the Dora movie, you can see that the house is filled with little clues and hidden nods to Dora’s life and childhood. From her monkey Boots’ bed, which is built inside a steamer trunk, to a small collection of assorted dead insects inspired by Dora’s interest in entomology.

The Dora and the Lost City of Gold film set on the Gold Coast with stars Isabela Moner, Madeleine Madden, Eugenio Derbez, Jeff Wahlberg and Nicholas Coombe. Source: Paramount Pictures.

Wandering around the set in-between takes and looking like she has just stepped out of the Nickelodeon cartoon is 18-year-old Isabela Moner, the American-Peruvian actress who seemed oddly destined to play this iconic role.

"I really related to Dora growing up," Isabela tells me while on a break from filming a particularly action-packed sequence with co-stars Nicholas Coombe and Madeleine Madden who play her new high school friends. "I think because she was also a young girl who had grown up speaking both English and Spanish like I had. Growing up I also had this bowl-haircut so everyone called me Dora. When they came up with the movie I just thought to myself, 'I have to do this'.

"In the movie, Dora does not know how to socialise and she is kind of stuck in that eight-year-old mentality. She's in a mindset where she does not get social cues yet. She does have friends but they are all imaginary or a monkey that does not actually talk to her. Her parents are concerned for her because of this and that's important to the story.

"It would be one thing if they just wrote a script based on the TV show but they didn’t do that. They developed the character to the point where they’ve really filled in the blanks from where she was when she was five to where she is now as a teenager. It is all very surprising because this is supposed to be a kids movie, there is a lot of storytelling and an important message behind it.

"One major difference from the TV show to the movie is that she does have this yoyo, which she holds up and says ‘this is the most dangerous weapon I have' so I’ve had to learn a few tricks with that and eventually you'll know why."

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In order to dress a live-action, teenage Dora for the big screen costume designer, Rahel Afiley stayed true to the television series by sticking with Dora's signature pink T-shirt and orange shorts but giving them a grown-up edge. So the look is just a little more muted and streamlined with a v-neck button detail added in to make the ensemble appear a little more adult.

Isabela Moner with director James Bobin on the set of Dora and the Lost City of Gold.Source: Paramount Pictures.

Once the costume design was decided upon more than 40 versions of it were created, starting with the clean and new versions and then gradually progressing to different levels of distressed and dirty, all to reflect the adventures that Dora and her clothes endure throughout the film.

"The first time I put that costume on it was so funny," Isabela tells me. "My friends were there with me and it was a just a really awesome moment when I looked in the mirror for the first time and I just thought ‘this is it, this is Dora’.

"I don’t like to think about the fact that I’m carrying the weight of this huge movie on my shoulders so sometimes I can actually forget how big this production really is. I was so excited when I heard that Eva Longoria and Michael Pena had agreed to play Dora's parents. I forgot that it’s such a big movie that they would agree to do it and be part of it all.

"Australia was also the perfect place to film it. I had never been here before so I no idea what to expect from Australia, I just knew marsupials lived here and I was told it was dangerous to go in the water if you didn't swim between the flags. But I have also learned some important slang while I’ve been here, you guys say stuff like 'That’s cool as' and there's this word people use all the time, 'bogan', which I love.

"I know people will love where we have taken Dora's character and the story we're working here to tell."

Dora and the Lost City of Gold will open in cinemas Australia-wide September 19. It is rated PG.

For more stories like this, you can follow Mamamia Entertainment Editor Laura Brodnik on Facebook.  You can also visit our newsletter page and sign up to “TV and Movies”  for a backstage pass to the best movies, TV shows and celebrity interviews (see one of her newsletters here). 

Tags: dora-the-explorer , entertainmnet , features , movies
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