This creepy ‘Dora the Explorer’ review went viral for sexualizing Dora

Sexist reviews are an ongoing problem in the male-dominated world of film criticism, but one Dora the Explorer review just set a new record for sleaziness.

Dora and the Lost City of Gold is a live-action film that recasts Dora as a teenager—a smart move because it’s more accessible to a wider family audience, not just pre-school Dora fans. Actress Isabela Moner was 17 at the time of filming, but it’s clearly a children’s movie, not a young adult story like The Hunger Games. This apparently went over the head of The Hollywood Reporter’s chief critic Todd McCarthy, who wrote an eye-popping review that focused on Dora’s older appearance and “hormones.” He seems to think that Dora wasn’t sexualized enough in this PG-rated film for kids.

McCarthy argues that Dora’s age is “at odds” with the film’s kid-friendly tone, highlighting that while the character is “innocent” and “borderline pubescent,” Moner is “actually 18 and looks it.” In a passage that reveals more about McCarthy’s attitude than about the film itself, he writes:

“The director seems to be trying to keep the hormones at bay, but there are some things you just can’t disguise, perhaps human nature first and foremost. Dora seems committed to projecting a pre-sexualized version of youth, while throbbing unacknowledged beneath the surface is something a bit more real, its presence rigorously ignored.”

Something is clearly “throbbing unacknowledged beneath the surface” here, but it has nothing to do with Dora the Explorer.

The review went viral for all the wrong reasons, with people criticizing the use of words like “throbbing” and “pubescent,” and McCarthy’s comments on Isabela Moner’s age. It’s a textbook example of how underage girls (especially girls of color) are sexualized by adult men. Published in a mainstream outlet, this review illustrates just how widespread the problem is.

Todd McCarthy has been a film critic for around 40 years, first for Variety and then for THR, and his Dora review invites comparisons to some similarly creepy comments by New York Magazine‘s David Edelstein, another long-established critic. Edelstein’s review of the first Harry Potter movie is infamous among female critics for describing “the prepubescent [Emma] Watson” as “absurdly alluring.” (A couple of years later he described the 13-year-old Hermione as “delectable,” and complained after the fifth film that she had grown up to be too pretty.) These movies are aimed at kids, starring underage actors, but despite the lack of sexual content onscreen, they still can’t escape the lascivious gaze of adult male critics. Critics who hold top-tier jobs in the industry, where 68% of reviews are written by men overall, and where Woody Allen and Roman Polanski still receive popular support.

Many people are questioning how THR’s review even got past an editor, which is a good question in more ways than one. At a little over 600 words, it’s the kind of short review whose main job is to help parents decide whether to buy tickets for a family trip to the movies. Instead, McCarthy just describes what Dora and the Lost City of Gold is about, before segueing into commentary about the “hormonal” nature of the teen actors. His general point is that the film is too simple and kid-friendly to make challenging narrative choices, but that criticism is lost among distracting references to Dora’s sexuality.

Aside from the creep factor, McCarthy doesn’t seem to understand what a children’s movie is. Some adult films, like The Babadook, star little kids but are exclusively aimed at adults. Some family movies, like Mary Poppins, star adults (or a cast of adults and kids), but are suitable for young children. Plenty of Disney cartoons focus on a romance between two adults, but there’s no sense that sexuality is “missing” from the narrative, because sex isn’t relevant to the target audience. Dora and the Lost City of Gold, which is based on a TV show for pre-schoolers, clearly falls into the “stars teens and adults but is aimed at kids” category, so the main problem here is Todd McCarthy’s attitude.

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Gavia Baker-Whitelaw

Gavia Baker-Whitelaw

Gavia Baker-Whitelaw is a staff writer at the Daily Dot, covering geek culture and fandom. Specializing in sci-fi movies and superheroes, she also appears as a film and TV critic on BBC radio. Elsewhere, she co-hosts the pop culture podcast Overinvested. Follow her on Twitter: @Hello_Tailor