More Info



Transfiguring Adoption awarded this movie 2 Hoots out of 5 based on how useful it will be for a foster/adoptive family. [Learn more about our Hoot grading system here]

Movie Info:

  • Rating:
    PG (for action and some impolite humor)
  • Genre:
    Action & Adventure, Kids & Family
  • Runtime:
    102 minutes
  • Studio:
    Paramount Pictures

From the Cover of Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019) by Paramount Pictures:

“Having spent most of her life exploring the jungle with her parents, nothing could prepare Dora (Isabela Moner) for her most dangerous adventure ever — High School. Always the explorer, Dora quickly finds herself leading Boots (her best friend, a monkey), Diego (Jeffrey Wahlberg), a mysterious jungle inhabitant (Eugenio Derbez), and a rag tag group of teens on a live-action adventure to save her parents (Eva Longoria, Michael Peña) and solve the impossible mystery behind a lost city of gold.”

[Buy the FULL Comprehensive Review & Discussion Guide]

Transfiguring Adoption’s Overview:

Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019) is a long-awaited sequel to the famous U.S. TV series many children have grown up watching. While this film can appeal to many children with slap-stick moments, fart jokes, and the throwbacks to the TV series, caregivers of children from the child welfare system should be cautioned when viewing this film. Many children who have grown up in nurturing families may not have the same struggles with this film as children in care, but what could be considered innocent fun could reflect some serious struggles children in care have due to emotional and social neglect in crucial developmental years. This should be a film that caregivers make a point to watch with their older children in care and be prepared to discuss some important concepts after relating to health parent/child boundaries, stranger danger, and how a safe, capable adult should care for children. Younger children will not understand most of the film and will struggle to follow the fast-paced plot and older teens most likely will find the film to be “baby-ish” due to overreliance on humor points such as fart jokes.

** Spoilers Could Be Ahead **

How Is This Relevant To Adoption & Foster Care?

Dora is presented in the film as being a very capable and bright explorer raised in the Peruvian jungle with her parents, Cole and Elena, who are professional explorers. The title as explorer is presented as being very important as these are the “good guys” compared to bad “treasure hunters”. However, once Dora is placed with her cousin Diego’s family in California the family begins to notice that Dora is a little… different from her peers. From bringing exploration tools to school (setting off the metal detector and making everyone late for class) to how to she breaks the fourth wall to address the audience Dora receives much criticism to the disgust of her cousin, Diego, who has grown up in the area and grows embarrassed by Dora’s behavior. Dora doesn’t care about how others think about her and while this is admirable, Dora’s overconfidence in herself and lack of “stranger danger” leads her and her classmates into the trap of some very dangerous people who openly threaten her harm. Even after being duped in the initial trap, Dora is again tricked when an adult named Alejandro identifies himself as a National University of San Marco Professor and states that he is a “friend” of her parents. His verbal proof of this is that he remembered seeing Dora as a baby and recognized her. Later it is revealed that Alejandro is actually the leader of the very treasure hunters who kidnapped Dora and company to begin with! Throughout the film, in spite of Dora displaying such naivety, Dora is portrayed as being more competent than adults around her, such as Alejandro, her parents, and other adults that may mean well but appear clueless. This lack of stranger danger and lacking the ability to trust adults are both commonly present (sometimes simultaneously) with children in care of the child welfare system due to inappropriate parent/child boundaries in relationships and lack of knowledge in what adults are trustworthy. In addition to this, due to feelings of being left behind, being let down, and neglect many children feel the need to display over competency in order to control their environment and create a felt sense of safety. Though this film may not overtly support the idea that caregivers are capable and safe a caregiver can use this film as a way to see how a child may perceive safe vs. unsafe adults and work with children to build social emotional skills and learn how to identify and trust safe adults.

Discussion Points:

  • Stranger Danger
    One of the biggest concerns in this film addressed is the danger of a child walking away with an adult who claims to “know parents” or gives some other indication to trick a child into leaving with a stranger. Many children in foster care have not been taught to defend themselves against stranger danger and may attach to easily with adults who may not have their best interests at heart. Caregivers can look at Dora’s naivety and learn from her lack of awareness of danger due to living in a space where stranger danger was not taught and Dora’s definition of danger being very different from that of her peers. Caregivers can also use her abduction and (ultimate) betrayal as an example to children in their care as to why tools such as safe words and identifying safe adults is very important.
  • Healthy Boundaries
    During the film Dora struggles with the parent/child dynamic after years of her parents allowing her to swing around the jungle and remain fairly independent for most of her childhood. She bucks especially in response to having to move to California and attend public school. Though for different reasons, children in the child welfare system often have different definitions of a typical parent/child relationship from that of caregivers. Sometimes this can be a cultural variant and sometimes this can be due to a child acting as an additional parent in a sibling group. Caregivers can work through discussion points concerning this to build insight on where a child may be coming from when acting “defiant”, when in reality a child believes they have truly been disrespected and is responding in a corresponding manner.
  • Social Skill Building
    Due to many years of Dora’s primary social contacts being her parents and Boots (a monkey) Dora is presented as lacking in social emotional skills needed for interacting with her peers. Some children in the child welfare system come from varied backgrounds with different cultural norms, but most children in care struggle with social emotional skills due to developmental delays and neglect during crucial points in development. Caregivers can use Dora’s examples in the film as ways to discussion social emotions, social skills, and social boundaries for interacting with peers, adults, and strangers.

Cautionary Points:

  • Adults Portrayed As Incompetent
    This portrayal further instills in Dora that her family’s safety rests on her shoulders and cannot trust adults to search for her parents or get back to safety. This can be problematic for children who have not had consistency from caregivers and perhaps have been treated as an “extra parent” in sibling groups. This can specifically create problems in the caregivers home while trying to instill appropriate parent/child boundaries.
  • Several Unrealistic Stunts
    Children may see some stunts done by Dora and friends and attempt to solve their own “ruin puzzles” and such. Caregivers should be mindful of this and prepared to explain to children that Dora and company’s stunts (i.e. – swinging from vines, jumping across ravines, near drowning experiences, dangerous animal interactions, etc.) are fictitious and can end in injury.
  • Use of Hallucinogenic Plants
    During the middle of the film Dora and Alejandro are exposed to a plant that expels hallucinogenic spores, resulting in Alejandro stripping naked and running away into the jungle manically and leaving Dora alone in the jungle. Dora experiences intense hallucinations and is able to speak to cartoon versions of her friends, Backpack, Boots, etc. and takes part in some risky stunts. This could be problematic to children in care due to exposure to substances and caregiver use of substances and could trigger survival behaviors as a response to unresolved trauma.
  • Bullying
    Dora is portrayed as a socially awkward, homeschooled child among her peers and, as a result of her strange behaviors and high intelligence, is bullied by her peers and cousin. This may be hard for children who are bullied. Dora’s Abuelita does a fantastic job of addressing this with Dora, but a warning is still warranted.
  • Dora Is Somewhat Stigmatized Regarding Mental Health
    Especially in the beginning, Dora addresses the audience as she did in the hit TV series. Instead of ignoring this interaction and pause, others in the film react as if Dora is “crazy” or hallucinating. Some of her awkward behaviors are also treated in a similar manner, though never formally addressed via therapy of assessments. Eventually this theme is dropped, but caregivers should take note that children who have had socially awkward experiences due to symptoms of diagnoses (i.e. – responding to internal stimuli) may find this problematic.
  • Moving
    During the film Dora experiences losing her cousin and best friend, Diego, due to him moving from Peru to California. Later, Dora struggles immensely with moving away from her home (the jungle) and having to integrate with the culture of urban and public school life. This can trigger a response for children in care due to the trauma of moving out of the home of origin and into the foster care system as well as the movement between homes in the foster care system.
  • Kidnapping
    Dora and her friends (and later, her parents) are all kidnapped twice, once by a band of thugs and Swiper, and once by an adult who posed as a family friend. Both the perceived loss of Dora’s parents and the actual kidnappings and threats could be seen as highly triggering for children in care that have experienced unsafe adults and human trafficking.
  • Several Suspenseful Moments
    This includes near drownings, quick sand, kidnappings, violent threats of harm, weapons drawn on children, car chases, interactions with dangerous animals, etc.
  • Dora Has Poor Boundaries With Others
    Dora is shown to give over-aggressive hugs, get too far in others’ personal space, trust adults she has never met, and greeting strangers in airports. This can be problematic as children in care sometimes struggle with safe, appropriate boundaries due to developmental delays or poor examples of boundaries.
  • Dora Brings a Knife and Other Unsafe Items to School
    This includes a large knife and a signal flare. This may trigger children who struggle with felt safety or bringing inappropriate items to school.
  • Fart/Poop Humor
    Just throwing this in there as a head’s up as caregivers will probably hear references to the fart jokes for several weeks. If this is a struggle in a caregivers home, you have been sufficiently warned.

Discussion Guide:

  1. Why did Dora follow the museum worker to the restricted section of the museum? Did the museum worker have any qualities that may have made it harder for Dora to determine if she was a trustworthy adult?
    Caregiver Note: Children in care often struggle with deciphering who is a trustworthy adult due to poor experiences during development as well as being tricked by an appearance of authority. The museum worker wore a badge and uniform, indicating that she worked for the museum and would know about where items in the museum would be located.
  2. Why did Dora trust Alejandro after never having met him before her kidnapping? What was his “proof” of identity?
    Caregiver Note: Children in care may or may not have been taught the concept of stranger danger. This can be due to developmental delays, struggles with healthy and secure attachment, and never being given the tools to determine which adults are safe and trustworthy. While many caregivers and children from biological families may have been taught concepts such as having a “code word” for identifying emergency contacts, children in care often do not know of this and will have to have this re-established regularly.
  3. How could Dora and her caregivers come up with ways to indicate an adult is a safe emergency contact?
    Caregiver Note: In this exercise a caregiver may need to prompt the child and help them come up with ideas as to how to identify a safe emergency contact. Include coming up with a “code word” or phrase that is a secret outside of the child, parent, and emergency contact parties. Also discuss strategies like asking the teacher before going off alone with a museum worker, asking hard questions to very someone’s identity, and not giving identifying information to strangers.
  4. What sorts of things could have told Dora that Alejandro and the museum worker were not trustworthy?Caregiver Note: This can be a time to help teach some safety skills. If your child struggles, point out to the child that the adults got Dora alone and away from other adults, did not seem to understand important information Dora and her parents knew readily, and how Alejandro did not appear to be able to protect the children in times of danger.
  5. If you ever find you are approached by an adult who insists your caregiver is in trouble and you need to come with them, how should you respond?
    Caregiver Note: Explain to your child unless the adult is one of the emergency contacts you are about to identify in #6 that they should immediately get away from such an adult and get to a safe adult such as a teacher, police officer, coach, etc. Also explain that if an adult tries to touch or grab at them that they are to scream “FIRE!” and make as much noise to alert others that they need help fast! Even if a child knows an adult is not a “safe adult” they may comply with what the adult says due to fear and panic.
  6. ACTIVITY: Explorer Code Name
    Caregiver Note: Sit down with your child and come up with an explorer code name to give to any adult who may pick up a child in the event of an emergency where you, the caregiver, are unable to be reached for verification. Have your child practice responding to an adult who uses the code name and one who does not know the code name. After this, write down a list of 5 adults that the child will know have the code name and allow them to put this in a safe, but accessible place such as a backpack. Also explain to your child that when they are in places such as school there will also be a list of adults with “explorer code names” that schools will reference before ever calling your child to the office. Make sure if you have any caseworkers in the home that they are aware of these practices so they can reinforce this and also alert other staff (i.e. – transportation staff, other professionals, etc.) in the event another professional must see or transport the child for them.
  7. Dora appears at times to struggle with trusting adults in her life who have shown that they are trustworthy, such as her parents and extended family. How can Dora and her family work together to build a stronger trust?  What can the adults do to allow Dora to be a happy, healthy kid?Caregiver Note: This is important for a caregiver to tune in, as this is how a caregiver can see security and attachment through their child’s eyes and help identify underlying needs children have while in care and may be communicating purely through behavior. Common responses may include listening to Dora, allowing her to pursue her interests, making safe choices, not moving her away, spending time with her, etc. If your child needs help do feel free to prompt them, but try to let them lead this conversation. Make sure you engage in active listening skills and model this for your child by summarizing what they say back to them and making sure you understand what they are saying. Remember, some children may have different vocabulary from your own and you may need to verify you are using the same language as well.
  8. Dora at times appears to struggle with how she communicates with others in the city. What are some ways Dora struggled in building appropriate relationships with others?Caregiver Note: Dora’s struggles should include overaggressive hugs, being overly friendly to strangers, talking over others, going off alone with adults she did not know, leading her classmates into danger, and other actions relating to boundaries. Take this an opportunity to discuss concerning boundaries but how Dora could have better respected boundaries of strangers and peers. For example, Dora was trying to be friendly with others in the airport but should have made it a priority to find her family and take their lead in a new place.
  9. If you were a classmate of Dora’s, how could you be a friend to her even though she’s a little different? How are some ways you could make her feel welcome?Caregiver Note: Children sometimes struggle with “different” and may engage in picking on others rather than trying to find how someone’s uniqueness is valuable. Some possible examples could include patiently explaining to her how the school works, helping her access resources, inviting her to sit with them at lunch, using active listening to understand Dora’s point of view, and not approaching her with a threatening attitude. Discuss strategies as well if your child identified behavior observed from Diego and Sammy in bullying Dora, such as going to a teacher or telling the bully to stop.

ACTIVITY: Parapata Excursion
Caregiver Note: For this activity, have your child create a map and packing list for their “Backpack” to find their own “Parapata”. This can be a literal treasure or a destination they very much want to go to. Also have them include who they want to attend this adventure and draw a “Explorer Team Photo” and “Explorer Passport” to go with their map. Talk with your child about how you would get to “Parapata” across various boundaries on the map. If you are able, then go find “Parapata” at your local park or nature trail for some fun, imaginative family time!

About the Author: Rachael Rathe

Rachael B. Rathe is an East Tennessee native with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology with a Minor in Child & Family Studies from The University of Tennessee Knoxville. She has worked in mental health since 2013 and in foster care/adoptions for a private provider agency since 2014. Rachael was inspired to work in the field after working with children and teens on a volunteer basis 2008 – 2013. Rachael’s ideal self-care day involves snuggling on a couch with her kitties (Tabitha, Fergus, and Rufus) while enjoying a good movie or book. She also enjoys galavanting around conventions concerning all things nerd and geekery.


**Transfiguring Adoption is a nonprofit organization seeking to nurture growth in foster and adoptive families by giving a HOOT about their families. Transfiguring Adoption does not intend for its reviewers nor its review to be professional, medical or legal advice. These reviews and discussion guides are intended to help parents to better be able to connect and understand their children who come from traumatic backgrounds.


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