The Lasting Impact Of 'Dora The Explorer'

Aug 10, 2019
Originally published on August 10, 2019 11:54 am
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SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Dora the Explorer is one of the most recognized Latinx characters on TV. She debuted on Nickelodeon almost 20 years ago. And this weekend, Dora is moving to the big screen in "Dora And The Lost City Of Gold."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DORA AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD")

EVA LONGORIA: (As Elena) And you can track our coordinates on your map.

ISABELA MONER: (As Dora) But it's not the same. I'm an explorer like you.

PFEIFFER: Antonia Cereijido from NPR's Latino USA tells the story behind this children's show's lasting impact.

ANTONIA CEREIJIDO, BYLINE: Before Dora was an explorer who traversed the world with her backpack and map, she was...

CHRIS GIFFORD: Stinky, I think? Was a skunk?

CEREIJIDO: This is Chris Gifford, one of the show's creators. In the late '90s, he and two others were tasked with brainstorming the next hit on Nick Junior. And they had many ideas.

GIFFORD: Bunny and the Mommy would go on an adventure together and they'd go to the post office, treasure hunt with kitty cats. We went to a girl pretty quickly.

CEREIJIDO: The final idea was that a young girl would go on adventures and ask the audience of preschoolers at home for help. She brought magic friends along with her, too.

GIFFORD: We had the backpack.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BACKPACK, BACKPACK!")

KATHLEEN HERLES: (As Dora, singing) Backpack, backpack.

GIFFORD: We had the map.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M THE MAP")

MARC WEINER: (As Map, singing) I'm the map, I'm the map.

GIFFORD: We had Swiper the fox.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DORA THE EXPLORER")

HERLES: (As Dora) Swiper, no swiping!

M WEINER: (As Swiper) Aw, man.

CEREIJIDO: Originally, they imagined that the young girl would be white. But months into developing the show, the creative head at Nickelodeon, Brown Johnson, went to a conference where she learned that of the 80 primetime youth characters under the age of 18, not a single one was Latinx. So she came back and declared that the show they were working on would now feature a Latina. Eric Weiner was also a creator on the show.

ERIC WEINER: And at the time, Pat Buchanan was running for president, spewing all this hatred about, we don't want Spanish speakers in our country.

(SOUNDBITE OF PAT BUCHANAN CAMPAIGN AD)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Immigration is out of control. Vote for the third party that puts Americans first. Vote Buchanan for president.

E WEINER: So this idea of not building barriers gave extra meaning and heart and urgency to the mission of the show.

CEREIJIDO: The creators behind Dora set out to empower Latinx kids and normalize bilingualism, but they were all white. And so they brought on consultants like Carlos Cortes. He's a professor from University of California, Riverside. And he helped with cultural sensitivity and helped answer big questions like, where should Dora be from?

CARLOS CORTES: And someone had came up with the idea, we should make her very embedded in one culture - Mexican or Puerto Rican or Cuban or what have you.

CEREIJIDO: But they couldn't agree.

CORTES: I said, look. I think it's important that kids of different Latino backgrounds be able to identify with Dora.

CEREIJIDO: They decided to move forward with a pan-Latina character, not from anywhere in particular. And so finally, Dora the Explorer, with her signature bob and pink shirt, aired on television screens for the first time on August 14, 2000.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DORA THE EXPLORER THEME")

HERLES: (Singing) Dora, Dora, Dora, the explorer. Dora!

CEREIJIDO: Within less than a year, the show became the top commercial hit for preschoolers aged 2 to 5.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DORA THE EXPLORER THEME")

HERLES: (Singing) Let's go. Jump in. Vamanos!

CEREIJIDO: And now almost 20 years after her creation, Dora is being reimagined as a teenager played by Isabela Moner in the live action film. She sets off to find treasure in a fictional lost Inca city called Parapata.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DORA AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD")

EUGENIO DERBEZ: (As Alejandro) All those that seek Parapata shall surely perish.

AMERICO MENDOZA-MORI: Parapata is a name in Quechua which means the rainy hill.

CEREIJIDO: This is Americo Mendoza-Mori. He teaches the Quechua language at the University of Pennsylvania. And just like the cartoon brought on consultants, so did the film. While Dora, the character, continues to be pan-Latina, the film grounds her in an actual geographical location, the Amazon jungle.

MENDOZA-MORI: We also want to use the movie as an opportunity to incorporate many aspects of this and in knowledge.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "DORA AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD")

JEFF WAHLBERG: (As Diego) It's an ancient underground aqueduct. Inca engineers built some of the most elaborate irrigation systems ever devised.

DERBEZ: I think Dora is an icon for kids, especially now that Latinos are being so, let's say, harassed by this administration.

CEREIJIDO: This is Mexican actor Eugenio Derbez, who also served as an executive producer on the film. The original team behind Dora says they never expected anti-immigrant rhetoric to become so central to the American political discourse. Here's Chris Gifford.

GIFFORD: We hope that we had an impact on little kids who saw a character who spoke a different language or had a different skin color than they did. So hopefully, that we made a little impact in that way.

CEREIJIDO: Twenty years later, Dora and her fans are all grown up, but her message of inclusivity hasn't changed. For NPR News, I'm Antonia Cereijido. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.