Isabela Moner will be stealing hearts this weekend as she brings a beloved animated character to life in Dora and the Lost City of Gold. Dora and her cousin Diego, played by Jeff Wahlberg, are aged up in the film and must contend with the horrors of high school as well as the puzzles of the original Dora the Explorer. The two young stars chatted with Screen Rant about their family dynamic, pride at representing the Latino community onscreen, and hope for future sequels.
Congratulations on the film. I took my stepdaughter, and she was smiling from ear to ear. She's a big Dora fan. She wishes that she could meet you guys both today.
Isabela Moner: How old is she?
Four. She loved it. But I gotta ask. Dora faces one of the biggest challenges in this film: it’s high school. She explores high school. How has Dora’s mindset changed at all, if it has? She still brings the positivity.
Jeff Wahlberg: Yeah, boy, does she bring the positivity.
Isabela Moner: I think that it’s foreign territory. I mean, she refers to the people who go there as “the indigenous people.” And just is really studying them as a culture rather than as something… I don't know. I really don't know. It's a funny dynamic, though. I'm here for it.
Jeff Wahlberg: Yeah. We see Dora and Diego when they're six years old, and they're pretty much inseparable. And then Diego moves to the city, moves to Los Angeles, and Dora stays behind and grows up in the jungle, and they reunite when they're 16. And the Diego she remembers is kind of shoved away deep down inside. He's still there, but he's trying to try to just fit in in high school.
Isabela Moner: To put it in metaphorical times, he ate the candy bar that Dora saved. So he ate his childhood a long time ago.
Jeff Wahlberg: Right! Okay, yeah. The one that they split.
Isabela Moner: The one that they split before they left.
Speaking of Dora and Diego, can you talk to me about their relationship when they are in high school? It’s a lot different from when they were six.
Isabela Moner: It's like… You have an older brother? Older sibling? Okay, well, I feel like my relationship with Diego is like my older brother and I’s relationship. We're just like the loud sibling that always wants to have fun, and the older sibling is like, “No, we can't do that. I'm grumpy all the time.” It's like that, I think.
Jeff Wahlberg: Yeah, I think Diego has a really cool arc in the movie. He is in high school and sometimes just wants to go with the flow to just make him life less miserable. Because high school is high school, and teenagers are moldable in a lot of ways. But when Dora comes and is just so unapologetically herself, she ruins all that and really helps him find his truth and get in touch with who he really is.
Also, as actors, what did you guys take away from playing these roles? Because there are tons of lessons, not just for kids, but for adults as well. But what did you guys as actors take away from playing these roles?
Isabela Moner: I learned that I can handle a lot more and go through a lot more than I think I was capable of doing. This movie alone, the fact that James Bobin trusted me to carry it and just really be on set every day working and giving it my all is just an honor and a pleasure. And I'm really just proud of myself for doing it.
Jeff Wahlberg: Yeah. For me, I mean, this is a show I used to watch when I was a little kid. My childhood best friend actually came out to Australia and visited with us for a couple weeks and was on set with us. And in a lot of ways, I just felt like it was weird, just getting in touch with my inner child. Everyone has an inner child, you know. Going back to high school in this movie and having my childhood best friend come just felt like everything just made sense to me. And it was nice to get in touch with that inner child. You don't always get to do that, especially living in a big city like Los Angeles, where I live. That was cool.
It's very cool to see a lot of representation on the screen, as well. And I mean, let's be honest, Dora’s been on for 20 years, roughly. I guess it was just waiting for the right people to play the roles. But what does it mean to you guys to play these iconic roles, that mean so much to so many?
Isabela Moner: Well, she's a year older than me, so I grew up with Dora basically. I grew up watching her, and my little brother and I, every day before school, we'd watch it. I thought it was really important to do justice to the original character, but also expand on it, because we are bringing it to life and making it 3D. So, that was really fun.
Jeff Wahlberg: I think, for me, it gives me such a warm fuzzy feeling inside. We recently had a screening in Miami, which is a very, very Latino market. It's where I grew up. And I just remember seeing like a lot of little kids that look like they could be my little siblings, right? I just remember that really touching me in a special way that I wasn't expecting. I was just like, “Man, this is awesome.” Representation; it's just important to see people who look like you on screen.
Isabela Moner: We have a whole cast full of them, too.
Exactly. And it doesn't shy away from it. My little stepdaughter, she's half-Ecuadorian, so she turned to me and was like, “Do you know Spanish?” I was like, “No, I gotta like learn now.” Another question I had is when you're in the sun costume, there's a great dance sequence. What was your favorite dance move? And was that all improv?
Isabela Moner: No. There was like a whole choreography, because at the end of the movie we do that but at a higher, more elevated level.
Jeff Wahlberg: It comes back around, and we're all doing it at the same time.
Isabela Moner: Yeah, but during the scene, I thought it was Dora just mimicking the dances that she knows. We all pull out the Soulja Boy or, like, the dab. You know, we all do that stuff that we know that we grew up with.
Jeff Wahlberg: The Soulja Boy? Is this 2007?
Isabela Moner: Y2K! We're referencing a Y2K show. But Dora mocks the animals that she was surrounded by when she was a kid, so it only makes sense.
Jeff Wahlberg: She’s doing what she knows. You can’t knock her for it.
Isabela Moner: Yeah! Poor girl.
How difficult was that final dance scene? It feels like a big almost Bollywood-style type of type of scene. Exactly how difficult was that to get all those moves down? It seems like you guys are pretty natural with dancing, though.
Jeff Wahlberg: It was difficult, but it was more fun than anything. I think, physically, it was really demanding. I remember being really sore after that. But me and Isabela always say, “There's nothing like dancing in unison with 200 other people,” because that's how many people we had. It just gives you this the high that you can’t explain. It was a life highlight, honestly.
Going forward, this can almost be like an Indiana Jones for a lot of young kids out there – their version of it. Where would you like to see the characters explore next?
Jeff Wahlberg: That’s a good question. We've been throwing around stuff.
Isabela Moner: Japan, Brazil. I don’t know, college? That would be funny.
Dora Explores College. Dora Explores Fraternities. That would be a whole other thing.
Isabela Moner: That would be funny.
What did you guys learn on set from Michael and Eva? Because they loved you guys So what did you guys learn from them?
Jeff Wahlberg: I think, for me, they are such talented improvisers. And being around other talented improvisers is so… You learn so much just watching them work. And they're all real friends in real life, and it’s fun to be around them.
Isabela Moner: Yeah, Eva was really, really multitasking the whole time.
Jeff Wahlberg: She had just had a baby.
Isabela Moner: Yeah, so she was breastfeeding and memorizing her lines at the same time. It was crazy to see that.
There's so much that people can take away from this, whether you're a kid or an adult, whether it be inclusion or just being who you are. What are you hoping audiences take away from Dora?
Isabela Moner: I hope that people take that positivity that she has and that willingness to be herself in every situation, and just use it in real life. Because instead of this culture where it's cool to be by yourself and completely solo and not care about anything, I think seeing a movie like this is really, really important. Not just for kids like adults can still learn from that.
Jeff Wahlberg: Well said.
I think I learned a lot from it too. And I was curious how they were going to do the talking map and backpack, but it all worked out. I loved it.
Jeff Wahlberg: They did it in such a clever way.
It was so smart. Thank you, guys, so much for your time. Great job.
- Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019) release date: Aug 09, 2019