Nick’s preschool icon gets a new cast of friends and a new setting for her adventures with Dora and Friends: Into the City, premiering Aug. 18. By Tom McLean.
It’s been 14 years since Dora the Explorer first hit the airwaves for Nickelodeon and was a huge hit with poppets and parents alike.
Despite having never lost its popularity, Dora is getting a new animated preschool series offering a different take on the character, aging her slightly and sending her to a new setting for Dora and Friends: Into the City. The new show debuts Aug. 18 at 8 p.m. on Nick and is created by original series co-creators Chris Gifford and Valerie Walsh Valdes.
“The big difference is that Dora has moved from the magical rainforest into a city, so she now has human friends and they go on adventures around the city,” says Valdes. “But also, this is a city that has portals into other worlds, so it still has some of that magical realism in the show, but it feels very different because it’s a little more grounded in reality. I also think it’s a departure because we don’t often see Dora acting as a peer.”
Despite having aged Dora a few years, the show remains targeted at preschoolers and introduces a new group of friends for Dora to interact with. The new cast of characters includes Pablo, a boy Valdes describes as a little goofy but curious and up for any adventure; the sporty Alana, who volunteers at an animal shelter; musical prodigy Emma, whose shy- ness vanishes when she takes the stage; Naiya, who is interested in history, culture and myths; and Kate, a creative girl who likes to make up stories and put on plays.
“It’s a really nice balance between all these girls,” says Valdes. “They have really different personalities and we’re trying to make character-driven stories, so you get to know these other girls and it’s not just about Dora.”
Carrying a Tune
The new show, the first season of which will be comprised of 20 half-hour episodes, also has a large musical aspect with anywhere from four to 13 original songs in each episode.
“When Chris and I were coming up with this reiteration, we had both been really inspired by what we saw in the Dora live show when that was going around the country,” says Valdes. “The kids just loved it and it was their version of a Broadway musical, so we’ve tried to incorporate that into this series.”
Though the series retains the 2D style of the original series, the producers sought a richer and more textured look for the show to give it the authentic feel of a city.
The series is being produced at Nickelodeon, with the animation work split between Saerom in Korea, which animated the original Dora the Explorer series; and Snipple in the Philippines. “Part of that is this is such a big show,” says Valdes. “We have, like I said, music numbers, so just imagine animating a number of kids singing and dancing. It’s really a major production.”
Despite having created the character with Gifford, Valdes says she feels a lot of pressure from fans to get the new show right.
“It feels like a completely different show to us, and a very difficult to wrangle show because she’s such a beloved character,” she says. “We’ve had so many people say, ‘You’re going to take care of her, right?’ And we say, ‘Yes, we promise,’ but when you have a lot of eyes watching you, the pressure is on.”
Produced at ShadowMachine with animation services by Big Star in Korea, the cast came together surprisingly easily. “There’s no other way we got them except we asked them,” says Bob-Waksberg.
Bob-Waksberg says Netflix has been very supportive and hands-off. “It’s always, ‘How can we make this more the show you want to make?’ It’s never, ‘It’s too weird for us!’”
That kind of freedom can be a little intimidating, he admits. “It’s scary to think if audiences reject this, I can’t hide behind the old, ‘Oh, I had to water it down for the network,’” he says. “This is really the show I wanted to make and if they don’t like it then they don’t like me! It’s terrifying in the best possible way.”
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