(CNN) — Dora the Explorer holds a special place in the hearts of millions of people around the globe, whether they grew up watching the plucky, multilingual world traveler’s adventures in learning or enjoyed seeing their children do the same. She’s become a backpack-laden icon — one that the actors in the cast of the new film “Dora and the Lost City of Gold” knew had to be treated with respect.
“Dora meant a lot to me growing up, because I grew up with her,” actress Isabela Moner told CNN at the movie’s Los Angeles premiere. Moner plays the lead in the new film, which ages the character up from her 7-year-old animated iteration to a teenager finding her place in the world, and was born in 2001, a year after the series first debuted on Nickelodeon.
“I had the haircut and everything,” she laughed. “I felt like it was a big part of my life as a multicultural person as well, so to be in a movie like this is amazing.” Moner, whose mother was born in Peru, said she was also thrilled to celebrate the Dora’s place in the pop pantheon as an early role model for Latinx children and share the screen with an A-list assortment of actors of Latino descent, including Eva Longoria, Michael Pena, Benicio del Toro, Danny Trejo and Eugenio Derbez.
Moner said she felt it was important to capture Dora’s “unshakeable positivity and excitement for life” in her portrayal.
“I really think that was something really precious,” she added.
Longoria, who plays Dora’s previously little-referenced mother in the film, said she felt “so much responsibility” when it came to translating an aged-up Dora to live-action, big-screen life.
“When I heard they were doing the Dora movie, I was like, ‘Oh, that could really go wrong,'” she laughed. “And when I read the script, it was perfect: it was like ‘Tomb Raider’ meets ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ with a Latina lead. It was just all authentic to the world that was built through the cartoon. And to see her navigate the jungle of high school, that was brilliant, as opposed to the jungle-jungle…She’s just intelligent and fearless and smart and really is true to herself, which is the message of the movie: be yourself.”
What Longoria hadn’t realized, she admitted, was Dora’s global reach. The character doesn’t just solve puzzles in English and Spanish, she learned.
“When I was announced that I was going to be the mom of Dora, all my friends called me — but from London, from Germany, and I was like, ‘Wait, what?'” she said. “I didn’t know she was a global icon. I thought she was an icon for our [Latin] community.”
Longoria also said the movie offers many pleasures for the Dora-obsessed.
“There’s also a nod to the cartoon,” she offered. “There’s an animated section if you want to get your fix of like, ‘Yeah, that’s Dora. That’s how we remember her first.'”
For actor Joey Vieira, who plays Nico in the film, the original Dora series carried a more personal meaning. “I come from a multilingual family, so I also grew up not speaking the language, because my parents don’t speak English,” he said. “So in my community I spoke Portuguese at home and Spanish with all my friends. I’m assuming a lot of people can relate to this: we have to grow up really quickly, because we become the translators for the family as well. That was me when I was 5, when I was 6, when I was 7, and I was still learning the language as well.”
Vieira said the Dora phenomenon was something that struck a chord that still resonates with him. “A lot of us have had that experience coming here and trying to make a better life for ourselves,” he said. “I also have an 8-year-old son and I also made sure that he spoke Spanish, he spoke Portuguese, and Dora was a great way to get that language in front of him. He had every single video.”
“To see it come to life was just very exciting,” said Q’Orianka Kilcher, who portrays the film’s Inca Princess Kawillaka and also has treasured memories of watching Dora as a child. “It’s such a great moment in time because I feel like, we need a positive role model out there for the young ones. And to me Dora really represents celebrating all of our uniqueness and being different and that’s something to celebrate.”
A more recent fan is Madelyn Miranda, who makes her film debut as the young 6-year-old Dora, much closer to the age of the TV original. “I watched her when I was little,” said Miranda. “I even had a Dora birthday and there was a big pinata, and I didn’t want to hit her because I loved her so much.”
Miranda maintains a great deal of admiration for the character.
“She taught me how to speak Spanish, and she’s so independent and brave and she loves exploring just like me. I like going to different places,” Miranda said.
The life lesson the young actress says she took from Dora: “[Kids] should be independent and brave and do whatever they want, and don’t let anyone else tell them what to do.”
It’s a message Moner said she believes has worked for her as she’s built her career.
“Hollywood is a jungle of its own, right?” she laughed.
“Dora and the Lost City of Gold” debuts in theaters August 9.
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