Dora Turns Ten
VWV: Our lead character. We first started developing this as a live-action show. We thought it would be people in puppet suits. And that was due to budget. But when we were given an animation budget that changed everything. Our main character could be in every scene. We could go to strawberry mountains and have rainbow waterfalls and chocolate lakes. So it afforded us not only Dora, but also the world. It made the show much more magical. We wanted to tap into that magical realism that is in Latin American literature and the show being animated has allowed us to do that.
RD: Now that Dora is a major role model, how does it feel to have to craft and maintain that role model status?
VWV: From the get-go, Chris and I both knew that if you're going to put something on TV you're going to be teaching. Even if you don't call it an educational show you're teaching, especially for this age group, because they don't have critical thinking skills. So you have to be very, very aware of that. There is a standards and practices department, but I think we're even tougher on ourselves. Chris and our other creator Eric [Weiner] had pre-schoolers at the time and even things I didn't think of they would think of. You have that character there climbing up the boxes and that's a debatable behavior. So there was that part that was in the forefront of our consciousness.
Then when we made her Latina there was another layer that came in. So we had to portray the culture authentically. So we have had a dozen cultural consultants over the years who police our scripts to make sure that we're portraying the culture responsibly and in a positive way.
And now we're talking about making Dora more pro-social as a character. She will be working with charity initiatives. She'll be working with a pre-kindergarten program.
VWV: On the one hand, I find it really flattering. I love the SNL takeoff. We can laugh at ourselves. Then on the other hand, there is the stuff of questionable nature. Because she is so beloved by kids, when you cross a certain line that's when it gets uncomfortable for us. But for the most part three year olds aren't watching Saturday Night Live or John Stewart. But we love that. We feel like we're in the loop. We're the little pre-school show that gets to play with the cool kids.
RD: Is it uncomfortable when she gets used in the immigration debate?
VWV: Absolutely. Kids are going to see mom and dad opening up the paper and see that picture [of her bruised and bloody] and they're going to say what happened to Dora? I know that my daughter would probably cry if she saw that, because she is so in love with Dora.
Dora has been put out there to promote multiculturalism and bilingualism and then to be pulled into a political debate, when she isn't a political character, seems inappropriate. I don't think it helps the cause of acceptance.
RD: How do you feel about the show's impact on bilingual education?
VWV: Once we made her Latina we debated on whether or not to introduce Spanish. We heard that if you introduce a second language before the age of six, the ability to become fluent is much greater and the ability to acquire more languages is much greater. So for someone who is monolingual, who struggled through high school Spanish, I thought that explains it. We have to include Spanish.
My daughter who is two and a half is completely fluent in Spanish and English. It's incredible the sponge-like nature of their brains. She can also watch Dora in French and follow along. Promoting bilingualism in this new millennium with the global economy is crucial. I think that could be her legacy. In the U.S., I think that could be her contribution — promoting bilingualism.
Rick DeMott is the director of content for Animation World Network, VFXWorld and AWNtv. Additionally, he's the creator of the movie review site, Rick's Flicks Picks, which was named one of the 100 best movie blogs by The Daily Reviewer. He has written for TV series, such as Discovery Kids' Growing Up Creepie and Cartoon Network's Pet Alien, the animation history book Animation Art, and the humor, absurdist and surrealist website Unloosen. Previously, he held various production and management positions in the entertainment industry.