NEW YORK—Sunday was a special day for Daniela Narvaez, 3, as she got a chance to meet the person who brings the TV character of her fancy to life.
She has been watching “Dora the Explorer,” an educational animated children series produced by Nickelodeon, for two years already. Now she was about to meet Fátima Ptacek, the 13-year-old girl who is the voice of Dora.
Ptacek visited the Children’s Museum of Manhattan to promote her new show “Dora and Friends: Into the City,” a spinoff series featuring an older Dora–about 10 instead of 7–exploring urban adventures instead of her usual rainforest setting. Three girlfriends and a boy replace Boots the monkey and other animals as her companions.
Yet Dora is more than entertainment. Launching in 2000, the show was among the first to offer interactive education, as Dora stops to asks her preschool audience questions and gives a moment for them to answer before continuing her explorations. A Latina herself, Dora also mixes in Spanish words, even phrases, and introduces other cultures.
An older Dora was first unveiled in 2009 by Nickelodeon in partnership with Mattel. Yet parents sent protest letters, thinking the new design would replace the Dora their children got used to. Mattel explained Dora was not to be replaced and the pre-teen character represents a new doll line for slightly older girls. A special episode called “Explorer Girls” accompanied the product line.
In a 2009 Daily Finance article, Julie Tilsner, a writer on parenting, predicted the new Dora would have her own TV show, but Nickelodeon wasn’t on board at first according to Valerie Walsh Valdes, Queens-born co-creator of Dora, together with New York-raised Chris Gifford.
Inspired by the “Explorer Girls,” they proposed a show around the tween character, but to no avail. Then, three years later, the company resurrected the idea.
With over 170 episodes aired, making up new stories for Dora is a gigantesque task. “Writing is the hardest part,” Walsh said. Moreover, each series is infused with curriculum designed by education consultants, guided by the theory of multiple intelligences put forward by psychologist Howard Gardner. “Some people are better at math, some people are better at science, some people are musically gifted,” Walsh explained. Each episode is also pre-screened for feedback to least 75 children.
For Ptacek, also from Queens, the new role means an additional workload, but she doesn’t complain. “It doesn’t feel like work. It’s just like a fun, playtime kind of thing,” she said. It also allows her to use her natural voice, instead of the high-pitch one for the 7-year-old Dora.
The urban setting may drain a bit of magic permeating Dora’s world, yet not all of it, Walsh said. Instead of a magical backpack, she now has a glossy magic bracelet. The city should make her more relatable too.
“Lots of the kids who grow up in the city understand what she’s going through,” Ptacek said. “I think kids love to be able to say, ‘Oh I’m like Dora in this way.'”
“Dora and Friends” will premier on August 18, 8 p.m. (EST), on Nickelodeon. So far, 20 episodes are being produced.
Correction: The article was updated to reflect that the show is pre-screened to at least 75 children. Also, exact time of the premier of “Dora and Friends” was added and the spelling of the name of Ms. Valerie Walsh Valdes was corrected.