Dora Turns Ten
On the event of Dora's 10th anniversary, I took the opportunity to talk with one of the show's creators, Valerie Walsh Valdes, about the origins of the show and its place in TV history.
Rick DeMott: Where did the impetus for Dora the Explorer come from?
Valerie Walsh Valdes: I was working at Nickelodeon, along with Chris Gifford, doing development with outside creators, when our exec there wanted to develop something in-house, because Blue's Clue had been developed in-house. So it was kind of like a homework assignment.
Chris and I came up with similar ideas. We both wanted to make an interactive story-driven show, sort of like a CD-Rom. So we paired together and our first formal idea was called The Knock-Arounds. It started with a boy and his mother and then when we developed it the boy changed to a girl, because we thought it would be great if there was a strong girl character out there for pre-schoolers. We were then given the greenlight for her to be animated, because before this it had been a live-action show. We were going to work with motion capture. So we made the pilot and then the network said, "What if she were Latina?" And we said, "Oh may God, that's a curveball." So we went out and found people who could help us do that. So that's how Dora the Explorer was born.
RD: What were some of the influences you had in the various stages of developing it?
VWV: Early on we were thinking of breaking the fourth wall. That had a history in kids' TV with Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Rogers' and more recently with Blue's Clues, which was like a game show where the host had the kids find clues with him. We use to call her the Indiana Jones of the pre-school set. That was very influential in her character and the kind of journey she went on, because we called it the hero's journey. We wanted it to be big quests, but for pre-schoolers. So finding your lost toy is a huge crisis when you're three years old like finding the lost ark is when you're 30 years old.
RD: Swiper, as the wily fox, seems straight out of folklore.
VWV: It was. If you're telling a dramatic story there has to be a villain. We wanted to have someone that can dupe the kid, but not terrify them. So we looked at Swiper as the fox in the hen house. He's got a little bit of an edge to him, but he's not eating the eggs, he just wants to play. He's the archetype of the trickster. We even had him before Dora was a girl. He's probably our oldest surviving character.
RD: Dora never seems phased by anything the villains do on the show and it seems to go to the core of the show's lesson of working together. Was that something that was there from the beginning?