Here’s Why ‘Dora the Explorer’ is a Universal Icon

Dora Feature BELatina
Photo Credit ew.com

Dora the Explorer is yet again topic of conversation after so many years is pretty incredible. Her worldwide impact is proof that Dora the Explorer has been one of our most prominent universal icons of modern TV history. 

First, let’s talk about what the not-so-young Dora has brought to us in Dora and the Lost City of Gold. 

Dora and the Lost City of Gold has already earned over 80 million dollars, meaning that our Dora still got it. In this movie, Dora is taken into one of her more adrenaline-filled adventures. We are told she is going to be sent to a regular high school with her cousin, Diego, after having had been living in the jungle. Meanwhile, her parents were going to continue exploring the ruins of the jungle. However, the conflict of the storyline began when she was kidnapped during a class field trip alongside Diego. She saw herself stranded in a fictional lost Incan city named Parapata and that’s when the “como on vamonos, everybody let’s go” type of adventure begins. 

Dora Explorer BELatina
Photo credit indiewire.com

Seeing Dora all grown-up and facing real danger is personally a bit emotional for me. I remember watching Dora the Explorer as a little girl. She made me laugh, think, but most importantly, she made me feel represented. 

Of course, when I was younger I didn’t conceptualize it exactly that way. I just knew it was different. I started realizing how impactful that show was as I got older. I did, however, remember feeling pleasantly surprised when I heard her speaking Spanish. 

When Dora first came on, I was about 10 years old, but I was still forced to watch it since my younger sister took a liking to it. It really didn’t bother me, though. See, before Dora the Explorer, nothing like that had existed. Prior to this show, I was used to either watching cartoons in English (which I barely understood because I was still trying to learn English) or watching cartoons in Spanish that some Hispanic networks would show over the weekend. I also didn’t remember a show before Dora the Explorer that represented the Latinx community. Having a TV character who looked like me and people around me just felt nice. There’s no other way to put it. And that’s exactly what the creators were aiming for when they decided to give Dora the Explorer a shot.

However, the world almost didn’t get Dora the Explorer. The creators of the show had originally wanted a cartoon show where an animal was the main character.

One of the show’s creators, Chris Gifford, confirmed that the cartoon that they initially created was based on a skunk named Stinky. Gifford and two others ended up deviating from a cartoon whose lead was an animal and decided it was best to go with a young girl. Even then, they knew they wanted this young girl to go on adventures and somehow ask its audience for help. However, this young girl was set to be white at first. It wasn’t until the creative head at Nickelodeon, Brown Johnson, decided that was the wrong move. Johnson had gone to a conference which highlighted the fact that there was no cartoon character during that time was Latinx. This blew her mind because prime TV had over 80 recognizable characters, yet none represented the growing community of Latinx people in the United States. That is when she took the decision upon herself and made sure that this young girl was going to be Latinx and not white. Thus, the birth of our beloved cartoon character we’ve grown to love. 

This move to create a Latinx cartoon character couldn’t have come at a more opportune moment, either. 

During the time the show was being built, Pat Buchanan was running for president and he wasn’t the friendliest of the candidates, to say the least. While he was campaigning, he managed to promote hateful and discrimination-filled rhetoric. As part of his despicable rhetoric, Buchanan denounced the validity of Spanish-speaking Americans. He blatantly stated that neither he nor his supporters wanted Spanish speakers in the United States. We surely dodged a bullet with that one. 

With that in mind, the founders of Dora the Explorer felt even more empowered to bring Dora out to the public. This is when they knew that they needed in incorporate bilingualism as one of her main features. By doing this, they hoped to encourage the normalization of bilingualism among their audience. The only issue with this was that none of the creators knew how to speak Spanish.

Dora BELatina
Photo Credit deadline.com

In order to succeed in their mission, they hired Spanish-speaking consultants. One of those consultants was Carlos Cortes, a professor from the University of California. Trying to further expand a show that was being created with heart and care, Cortes advised the creators not to assign any particular Latinx culture on Dora. He felt it was necessary for Dora to be as relatable as possible to all Latinx cultures. So, they all moved forward with his suggestion, hence making Dora acultural. 

Dora the Explorer first aired in August of the year 2000 and gained popularity shortly after. As Dora continued to grow, so did her audience. To solidify her influence, Dora pushed through TV borders and became a household name at an international level. Her demand was so great that she ended up being adapted in about 300 languages around the world. Regardless of where she was airing, the show still maintained its goal to promote bilingualism. It wasn’t long before her iconic bob hair cut, purple backpack, and pink shirt was recognizable enough to be imprinted into TV history. 

It’s good to know that Dora has been breaking barriers since her inception and it seems like she’s still pushing through with the might of her educational force. 

Some of that might is showcased in the small details (but of grand value) within Dora and the Lost City of Gold. The location where the movie is filmed is one of these types of details I’m talking about. Although the movie is set to take place in a fictional Incan city, the actual location used to film in was the Amazon Rainforest. This location wasn’t chosen by chance, either. The producers of the movie knew it was vital to shine some light on the Amazon since it’s been suffering quite a bit recently. It also gave them the opportunity to provide the world with much-needed knowledge on the Andean history. 

Another thing that has been extremely notable in Dora and the Lost City of Gold is its cast. With this movie, the Latinx community got the rare chance to see a cast where all the leads are of Latinx descent. 

Dora Explorer Cast
Photo Credit us.hola.com

Dora’s parents are played by Michael Peña and Eva Longoria, while the most important character, our beloved Dora, is played by Isabela Moner. To continue this wonderful trend of Latinx cast members we have Dora’s cousin, Diego, who is acted out by Jeffrey Wahlberg. The movie also cast Eugenio Derbez, who is given the role of the family friend, Alejandro Gutierrez. Even Boots and Swiper are played by Latinx cast members. These roles were given to Danny Trejo and Benicio Del Toro, respectively. 

Perhaps such a cast wouldn’t have been able to exist just 10 years ago, but like Black Panther, the producers knew it needed to happen. Having an all minority-lead cast is a way to validate the fact that some parts of the world and America are moving forward. Even if it seems like the progress feels like it happens at an extremely slow pace. 

But overall, the most significant point within Dora and the Lost City of Gold is its continued impact on children. This is especially true for children who feel like they look different or feel self-conscious because they speak another language. Ultimately, Dora and the Lost City of Gold proves that you can be different and still succeed, despite any negative narrative that may be circling around. 

Mexican actor Eugenio Derbez, who was also an executive producer on the film, told NPR, “I think Dora is an icon for kids, especially now that Latinos are being so, let’s say, harassed by this administration.” 

Dora Explorer Lost BELatina
Photo Credit azcentral.com

I agree with Mr. Derbez. Dora is definitely an icon, but not just for kids. She can also be an icon for anyone who needs to feel represented. That’s been her job for over 20 years and I think she’s pretty damn good at it.