Valerie Walsh Valdes, the NYC co-creator of Dora the Explorer discusses her inspiration for creating an older Dora and the new show "Dora and Friends: Into the City", plus Fatima Ptacek, a Queens kid who voices Dora, gives us the inside scoop on the older character.
Introducing the newest addition to Nickelodeon’s preschool lineup: Dora and Friends: Into the City
After 14 years, Dora the Explorer is growing up. While she may have traded her magical rainforest for a big city and friends like Boots and Backpack for a group of human companions, don’t worry—the 10-year-old Latina heroine you’ll meet in the new animated preschool series Dora and Friends: Into the City is the same friendly, curious, and clever Dora she’s always been, just a little more involved in her community.
“We think of it as ‘Dora Plus,’” says Valerie Walsh Valdes, co-creator of the new series as well as the original Dora the Explorer. “She’s the same kid with the adventurous spirit, but she’s exploring a new city and she’s a peer rather than a big sister type of person the way she was in ‘Dora the Explorer.’”
Valdes, a mom of two who lives in Manhattan, says she and co-creator Chris Gifford came up with the new series based on parent feedback and their own experiences as parents. “One thing we had heard from parents was that they loved Dora the Explorer but they also liked the idea of her having human friends,” Valdes says. “So we got thinking about who Dora would be if she was a little older, and we were inspired by the ideas of community service and giving back. But doing it in a magical rainforest was a little hard, so we transported her to a city with different neighborhoods and communities where there are a lot of opportunities to showcase Dora as a big kid who wants to be part of everything around her.”
Meet Dora's New Friends
Alana, an athletic, confident soccer player and animal lover
Emma, an accomplished musician with a drive to be the best
Kate, an avid reader who is dramatic and artistic
Naiya, a smart girl who excels at math and science
Pablo, a smart, playful, energetic athlete and explorer
Scenes & Themes
Dora’s city, Playa Verde, is fictional, Valdes says, but it is similar in some ways to New York City. “It has more of a Latin American feel, but there are definitely similarities in terms of the opportunities it gives [the characters] and the surprises around every corner.” Ten-year-old Dora uses Map App on her smartphone and a magical charm bracelet to navigate the city and her adventures, which always involve helping others—whether it’s rescuing a lost stuffed monkey to a little boy in the hospital or returning a ring to an ancient Mayan Princess (via a magic portal, of course).
In addition to community service, Dora developing social skills is a prominent theme in the show. Valdes says she was inspired to focus on the latter theme after watching her now-6-year-old daughter go through the preschool years. “She went from sitting in a sandbox ignoring the kid next to her to going to kindergarten and having to make friends and navigate relationships,” Valdes says. “That’s a big part of preschool development. Those skills can last you your whole life—being a good friend and caring about your community. Our goal is to get it in early and inspire our audience to participate in giving back.”
With these changes comes a new cast of characters. Boots, Benny the Bull, and Swiper have been replaced by a group of human friends, each of whom has a unique personality but all of whom share Dora’s passion for learning and exploring.
Music & Language
Queens native Fatima Ptacek, 13,
has been the familiar voice of Dora for the last four years.
While Dora’s audience learns to navigate new situations such as starting school and making new friends, they’ll still be learning Spanish along the way—something Fatima Ptacek is happy about. The 13-year-old Queens resident has been the voice of Dora the Explorer for the past four years and will also voice the heroine in Dora and Friends. Fatima grew up speaking Spanish at home and learned English when she started school. As an older Dora, she’ll help her viewers graduate from basic Spanish vocabulary words to phrases that may be a little more useful in everyday life.
The show’s soundtrack helps reinforce this language education. “It is a music-driven show,” says Valdes, who describes the soundtrack as catchy Latin pop. “We’re trying to make the kind of music you want to keep dancing to. I’ll play it for my kids, and an hour later they can’t get it out of their heads.”
An ‘Even Cooler’ Dora
When asked how she feels about voicing an older Dora, Fatima says, “I think it’s totally awesome. She’s a little closer to my age, which is a plus because now I can identify with her even more than I did before. It’s still the iconic Dora, but she’s even cooler than she was before.”
Voicing Dora comes easily, Fatima says, because she and the character have so much in common. “I’m a really adventurous person, I go headfirst into things and I find a solution as I go, and Dora does the same thing,” she says. “She really cares about people, and even if she doesn’t have a solution she’ll work with her friends to find one. She’s extraordinarily loyal and will sacrifice anything for her friends.”
Even though Dora is older in this series, Valdes says the creators have been careful that she doesn’t come across as “teacherly,” and that it doesn’t feel like she’s talking down or preaching to her viewers. “I think one of the things kids have always loved about Dora is that she talks to them like they’re best friends,” Valdes says. “And having a friend who is a great example can be a powerful teacher in itself.”
Fatima says she admires the way Dora collaborates with her friends on community service projects. “There’s this notion that doing good things is not cool—I don’t know where it comes from, but Dora shows that it’s awesome.”
Dora and Friends: Into the City! Trailer from Elizabeth Cain on Vimeo.
Dora and Friends: Into the City premieres Aug. 18 at 8pm on Nickelodeon. The series will regularly air weekdays during the preschool block on Nickelodeon. You can continue to catch new episodes of Dora the Explorer on Nickelodeon. Check your local listings for show times.