Movies + TV

Strange Trips

Dora the Explorer is one of the most bizarre cartoons on TV today.

@2001 Viacom International Inc.

Dora Marquez, the titular animated heroine of the children’s series Dora the Explorer, has so many admirable traits. She’s friendly, optimistic, fiercely independent, and smart, and her haircut is cute. I can understand the appeal of a show centered on this character. But I’ve watched a handful of Dora episodes (which is a handful more than anyone over the age of four should ever watch), and there’s no denying that this is one of the most bizarre cartoons on TV today. To wit:

Dora explores the forest without any parental supervision.

When I was seven, I wasn’t even allowed to play in the front yard by myself. But here Dora is, traipsing around the forest on her own. Does she ever tell her parents where she’s going? When she cuts school to chill with her animal crew, do her parents just dismiss it, thinking, Well, she is an exploradora? She has a talking map and a magic backpack—two things that were unavailable to me when I was seven—but that’s really no excuse. The world that she lives in is 10 times crazier than ours. Dinosaurs still exist, bulls walk upright. This is not the kind of environment that a little girl should be exploring solo.

Dora is naively trusting.

Dora is precocious and outgoing. She’s never met a woodland creature that she didn’t want to talk to. In other words, ella habla con alguien. Dora believes that everyone—be they little red fish or little blue bird—is basically good. On one hand, this is a wonderful quality and I, being the jaded adult that I am, wish it were possible to recapture some of that innocence. But her trusting nature is also kind of dangerous. I don’t think educational shows should teach kids to be afraid of every stranger that they meet, but these shows should advocate caution, right? Dora, however, is liable to take a ride in an unfamiliar octopus’s submarine or accept a mysterious crab king’s offer to kick it in his sandcastle, no questions asked.

Dora’s best friend is a monkey who wears red boots.

Dora’s BFF is a monkey. This makes sense. If a monkey lived nearby, I would certainly befriend him and, like Dora, would probably put all of my human friendships on the backburner to hang out with him as much as possible. But this monkey wears boots, which is unnatural and creepy. Let’s just be realistic here: if you saw a monkey in the forest, walking around in boots, would you grab his little primate hand and go on an adventure with him? No. You would scream and run in the opposite direction.

Dora’s backpack has a very peculiar digestive system.

Dora’s magic, anthropomorphized backpack Backpack will provide her with whatever she needs to accomplish a task. If she needs to fill something up with water, there will be a bucket inside of Backpack. But because this show is all about viewer participation and problem solving, Backpack will present a few other items to the audience along with the bucket, like a ball or maracas, and then ask which is the most appropriate for any given situation. After the correct object is chosen, the leftovers float back into Backpack and it says, “Muy bien. Yum, yum, yum, yum, yum. ¡Delicioso!” So, does this mean that Backpack just ate those other items? Is all of the space inside of Backpack its stomach? And if it is a stomach, does that mean that everything that floats out is actually being regurgitated? Backpack’s mouth is on the front of the bag, but all of the items float in and out of the flap that’s on top of the bag, so does that mean that Backpack ingests food through its head? What is going on here?

This show is so loud.

Dora is enthusiastic about stuff. I get that. But does she have to shout all the time? OK, so if Swiper the fox is swiping things, you’re going to need to raise your voice. But even when Dora is whispering, she’s yelling. Then again, I’ve watched my two-year-old cousin watching the show, and he doesn’t seem to have a problem with the volume. It might just go back to that saying: If Dora the Explorer is too loud, then you’re too old.

Dora’s innocent interest in exploration has become an unhealthy obsession.

We should all probably take a lesson from Dora and try to learn more about the world around us, spend some time out in nature, and help local animals solve their problems. But when does a healthy fascination with exploration become mania? After 12 years, perhaps? Dora the Explorer has been on the air since 2000! You may have watched this show when you were in preschool (maybe even when you were a little bit older than that), but I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that you’ve long since stopped or are, at the very least, not as fanatical about it as you once were. And while you’ve undoubtedly moved on to shows with adult themes and situations, Dora is still walking around that forest, apparently having made it her life’s work. Sure, her calf muscles are, by this point, rock hard—but at what cost? She’s like the Captain Ahab of animated children’s programming, her insatiable need to explore paradoxically blinding her to so many of the world’s wonders.

Dora will ask a question and then remain eerily silent for eight seconds.

The long, awkward pause is common in these sorts of educational kiddie shows that encourage viewer interaction. The cartoon protagonist breaks the fourth wall by asking the audience some question that’s meant to engage their precious, unsullied young minds, then quietly waits for a moment, giving children enough time to shout their response at the TV screen. But Dora’s pauses are unsettling. “What was your favorite part of the trip?” she inquires at the end of every episode. The chipper background music stops abruptly. Dora stands there silently beside her monkey consort, boring holes into you with those huge brown eyes. Her body is frozen, her mouth an inscrutable straight line. This lasts for eight of the longest seconds that you will ever experience, and just when you think things couldn’t be any stranger, she blinks her gigantic, soul-piercing eyes a single time, to make sure that your bones are thoroughly chilled. Dora is such a perceptive character, but for some reason she doesn’t understand how creepy sustained eye contact can be. Or maybe she totally understands this and the subtext here is that she’s a sinister little girl who isn’t happy unless she’s haunting everyone’s dreams. Who can say?! ♦

40 Comments

  • Celiabow March 6th, 2012 11:07 PM

    I’m glad someone else thought about Dora the Explorer when this month’s theme was announced as Exploration

    • Gabby March 12th, 2012 9:49 PM

      Why is it that a monkey in boots is weird but a fox in a bandanna is perfectly acceptable? And why was Swiper always around to find them? No one else finds this creepy?

  • kaylafay March 6th, 2012 11:11 PM

    Though I realize this is joking, Dora the Explorer is a huge accomplishment on the part of the media. Before it came along, there were no shows portraying Latino/a children, or at least not in prominent roles. Also, she uses Spanish, which goes against the idea that only English should be spoken in America. She does not portray any of the stereotypes or caricatures of Latino people and has still become a huge success on television. When so many shows are about white children, one like this should be celebrated!

    • all-art-is-quite-useless March 7th, 2012 3:33 PM

      You’ve totally hit the nail on the head here! Before I read your comment I was debating whether I should write something like you wrote here (but probably less eloquently), or to inform Rookie of some British kids’ TV shows that are… let’s just say they’re a bit crazy. So I’ll do the second here:

      I don’t know if any of these have been broadcast abroad, but here’s The Queen’s Nose (technically not pre-school but, whatever), about various kids with problems in their lives who find this magic coin, which grants you a wish when you rub the Queen’s nose. I found the opening credits, its trippy:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SAvqX_uBq04

      Rosie and Jim, two dolls that live on a barge, who are really alive, but their owner, this old guy who drives the barge, doesn’t know (sounding creepy yet?), and they go on adventures to the places he takes his barge http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwYP6eesX9E

      Tot’s TV, three puppet children; Tilly, Tom and Tiny; live in a cottage together in the countryside with a donkey. Oh, by the way, Tilly speaks fluent french, and only french. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_q4jYMgE9I&feature=related

      In The Night Garden, basically its set in this kid’s dream world- I think – which is a sunny forest where a bunch of friendly characters live, all presided over by a slightly creepy narrator.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6TBAedCx

    • Carol March 7th, 2012 9:34 PM

      @kaylafay: Fantastic observation :-)

  • jenjencm March 6th, 2012 11:12 PM

    This article is hilarious!EVERYONE HAS TO GO ON YOUTUBE AND SEARCH WASSABI PRODUCTIONS ROLANDO THE EXPLORER!!!!!The vid is what Dora the Explorer would be like in real life except it’s Rolando.

  • fairy_grrrl March 6th, 2012 11:17 PM

    Hahah this made me die laughing…you have some great points. I never thought about any of this even after I stopped watching it.

  • Toria Crux March 6th, 2012 11:20 PM

    Heh, this is awesome!!! And so true… o.O

  • Ruby B. March 6th, 2012 11:23 PM

    I must say, I wasn’t actually expecting an article about Dora when I saw the picture. I’m happily surprised.

  • Kathryn March 6th, 2012 11:38 PM

    BACKPACK
    BACKPACK
    BACKPACK
    BACKPACK
    YEEEAHHH

    I’m the map I’m the map I’m the map I’m the map I’m the map I’m the map I’m the map I’m the map I’m the map I’M THE MAAAAP.

    Those have got to be the least creative songs I have ever heard… hahah.

  • chelsear March 6th, 2012 11:48 PM

    This is hilarious. I laughed aloud as I read it.

    xo
    http://couturecultureblog.blogspot.com

  • queserasera March 6th, 2012 11:53 PM

    “Dora will ask a question and then remain eerily silent for eight seconds.” hahahhaha, that is absolutely GOLD. Dora creeped me out, but Diego is scarier.

    http://mercurialmanic.blogspot.com/

  • Killjoy March 7th, 2012 12:11 AM

    I used to freak out and hide whenever Swiper the fox came on.

  • Adrienne March 7th, 2012 12:14 AM

    Hahaha love this! Kids shows are just so funny, except Teletubbies which give me nightmares.

    Anyways, I absolutely recommend watching this SNL parody of Dora called Maraka! WATCH IT. NOW. IT’S HILARIOUS.

    http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/tv-funhouse-maraka/84996/

    http://theaverageasiangirl.blogspot.com

  • Susann March 7th, 2012 12:36 AM

    I’m glad you came up with Dora for this month’s theme! In Germany, she “teaches” English instead of Spanish, haha.

    http://fashioninpepperland.blogspot.com

  • OnPlanetAlaina March 7th, 2012 12:42 AM

    I was nine when my little brother was four, and I remember how mesmerized he was by Dora. I, on the other hand, being forced to watch it with him, would make snide remarks, just like this article. “How can ‘Swiper No Swiping!’ stop him???” My brother would nod ferociously, and squeak out a rebellious, “YEAH!” all the while he only had eyes for Dora. And hell, her adventures were pretty ridiculously entertaining.

  • monkeyfoofoo March 7th, 2012 12:46 AM

    when I lived in south america and I was a kid I used to ride the public bus by myself. I haven’t watched this show but all of these children have huge heads.

  • ivoire March 7th, 2012 1:06 AM

    Oh god laughed so hard. I love how Rookie just throws in a random but still topic-related article. Last part was the best.

    • shjaron March 7th, 2012 6:00 PM

      “I love how Rookie just throws in a random but still topic-related article.” EXACTLY.

  • marineo March 7th, 2012 1:17 AM

    “She’s like the Captain Ahab of animated children’s programming, her insatiable need to explore paradoxically blinding her to so many of the world’s wonders.”

    this was quite possibly the most hilarious rookie article ever XD

  • mayaautumn March 7th, 2012 2:57 AM

    hahaa! i’ve just remembered that I used to get up at 6 just to watch Dora (when I was 5, mind)! Brilliant article:)
    Also, a week or so ago i did a post on my blog about expeditions in my house (basically the same as exploration) if you want to have a look here’s the link:
    http://cottonmixblog.blogspot.com/2012/02/i-like-going-on-expeditions-around-my.html
    x

  • ellaronnie March 7th, 2012 8:56 AM

    I’ve never been a big fan of Dora’s, the one thing I did like was her socks. I mean, they’re pretty darn cute!

    http://imaginenonsense.blogspot.com/

  • isabellehungryghost March 7th, 2012 9:55 AM

    I was always wondering while watching dora. why she was looking so unamerican when she was teaching german kids english? i always thought about immigation, especially in germany (xD). but, whohooo! I never thought about the weirdness teaching american kids english, so, ha, spanish is the answer.

  • I.ila March 7th, 2012 11:17 AM

    The first time I watched Dora, I cried because swiper stole some train tracks. Then I made my dad record it.
    BOINGY BOINGY BOINGY BING WE TAUGHT THE GIANT ROCKS TO SING!!!!!!!

  • Sarah_Colee March 7th, 2012 11:46 AM

    This post is hilarious! I used to love Dora The Explorer when I was younger; but when I grew up I realised how peculiar it was that she was allowed to roam around by herself at such a young age. Although, I give her 10 bonus points for teaching me how to say about 3 words in Spanish. As soon as I found out that this month’s theme was ‘Exploration’, this program immediately entered my mind!

    niftythrifts.blogspot.com

  • isadora March 7th, 2012 1:09 PM

    I’ve heard all kinds of jokes because of my name and this show. No me gusta.

  • sabrina March 7th, 2012 1:20 PM

    The questions with the pauses are so weird! I’ve looked after a few children who love watching Dora and not one of them answer those questions. There’s just an awkward 8 second silence in the room :L

  • Ginny March 7th, 2012 4:07 PM

    The best Dora episode was when this huge chicken laid a PYRAMID of eggs and I LOST IT. So weird, though.

  • moonchild March 7th, 2012 4:26 PM

    OH MY GOD. MY FAMILY FRIEND DREW DORA. LIKE THE ORIGINAL. SO I KNOW THE GIRL THAT DORA WAS BASED ON (his niece)

    haha yeah. just felt like sharing.

    Gwen
    http://under-a-bridge.blogspot.com/

    • moonchild March 7th, 2012 4:26 PM

      when I said like the original, I meant he drew the original… :)

  • Abby March 7th, 2012 5:51 PM

    Seriously, I could have WRITTEN THIS ARTICLE. I talk about this stuff ALL THE TIME. When I babysit, I’m constantly looking in wonder at the tv, complaining about how weird the show is, and the four year old is looking at me like “WTF??”
    Also, I like how all Dora has to do to keep the fox from stealing her stuff is be all, “Swiper, NO SWIPING!” and he’s just like, “Aww, MAN!!!” If I ever get mugged, I’m just going to be like, “Mugger, NO MUGGING!!!”

  • shjaron March 7th, 2012 5:58 PM

    Hahahahaha. This is the greatest article. Thank you for sharing! God knows I watched this show when I was undeniably older than four.

  • Mirae March 7th, 2012 6:50 PM

    I have to admit, I couldn’t stop smiling while reading this! It’s so perfectly said and explains how some children cartoons are actually really…really..scary. I mean, monkey in RED boots? Talking backpack that eats things that one should not put in her/his belly?

    Who are you, Dora? Who are you?

  • MissKnowItAll March 7th, 2012 7:27 PM

    I actually want a monkey (boots or not)

  • ThePuNkR0ckeR March 7th, 2012 10:13 PM

    Anaheed?
    Can you answer this? I sent a submission of an article about Dora with pretty much EXCATLY the same things…I don’t want to offend Amber. But really?

    • Tavi March 7th, 2012 11:46 PM

      Amber pitched this story back in early February and we assigned it to her.

      • Anaheed March 8th, 2012 2:50 AM

        Yes, what Tavi said. We get lots of pitches about overlapping topics, and generally our own staffers get assigned things before anyone else. That said, please keep pitching stuff to us, because we use plenty of material from readers, too.

      • ThePuNkR0ckeR March 8th, 2012 6:46 PM

        Ok!! Sorry :/

  • KinuKinu March 7th, 2012 10:18 PM

    this is hilarious…my brother watches Dora and when Im feeling nostalgic I’ll go watch it and this pretty much sums it all up
    on the subject of her monkey buddy,I cried when the chimp said NO in the plant of the apes prequel.If i saw a monkey wearing red boots,i would run away and never speak again.

    My brother also watches Diego( cousin of Dora)and there’s this one episode where he tells his audience to walk like a gorilla on all fours.His spine is stick straight while his hands are like palms-down on the ground.this pretty much impossible.

    freaky shows for kids.It’s kinda funny how I JUST now realize these things.

  • Pickles March 12th, 2012 2:51 AM

    Oh lordy, I think I stopped breathing while I was reading this. I actually went into a fit of giggles while you were describing the backpack eating the items through the top of its’ head.