Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Nickelodeon misses the mark with new Dora reboot

I have to complement Nickelodeon for reaching out to me to discuss my recent post DORA GIVES BOOTS THE BOOT which was critical of the cable network's upcoming spinoff of Dora the Explorer. This new Dora & Friends television series will debut on Monday, August 18 @ 8pm on Nickelodeon. This new spin on the Dora character takes her away from the jungle and her animal friends to live in the fictional Latin American city of Playa Verde where she is now a tween going on urban adventures with a group of classmates.  In my previous post which was based upon Nickelodeon's marketing of the show,  I was critical of what appeared to be introducing themes to the program like fashion, make-overs, shopping and popularity that didn't seem appropriate to portray to an audience of preschoolers; but admitted that I hadn't seen the show yet to make any final judgments.  Nickelodeon graciously sent me several episodes of Dora & Friends to view in advance of the series' August 18th premiere.  After viewing the shows, I have to say that those issues mentioned in my original post aren't a concern to me now and really were not reflected in any of the episodes I viewed.  That being said, I still believe that Nickelodeon really missed the mark with this television series. In trying to cater to both a preschool audience and older elementary school kids the final product isn't really suitable for either.

When the episodes of Dora & Friends arrived my wife and I screened them first to make sure they were content appropriate for our 5 year old twins to watch and we felt they were fine. Than we let the kids watch them to get their reaction.  Our kids are at a unique age that for the last few years they have been enjoying the Dora the Explorer shows as preschoolers but are now entering kindergarten this fall and while they still enjoy Dora's adventures with Boots, Swiper and the gang I can foresee them getting a little old for those stories and characters soon.  My wife and I felt that the new Dora & Friends episodes were of decent entertainment value for our kids but really didn't provide the structured educational elements that are of value to preschoolers that Dora the Explorer presented.  Our kids aren't at the preschool age that the show is being marketed to but seem to be a better fit for the show than the audience it is target to.

Instead of educational programming, I'd categorize Dora & Friends as entertainment in the same category as the Disney Channel's popular shows Sophia the First and Doc McStuffins.  Parents can trust these shows to have content that isn't violent or crude and feel comfortable with their children spending some time in front of the television watching them.  They may include some life lessons but teaching isn't a principal element of the story telling.  Trying to match Disney's creations with a revamped Dora is a worthy goal; but by trying to maintain the preschool elements of the original Dora the Explorer and combine them with a tween focused story that is more entertainment value than substance misses the marks for both of these ambitious objectives.  In my opinion, Nickelodeon should have aimed the new Dora series for kindergarten and elementary school aged audiences as a step up from Dora the Explorer to maintain fan and parent loyalty with the brand as children aged out of the interest level for the original series.

Dora & Friends just doesn't seem to be a good fit for preschoolers but it has a number of preschool elements to detract from it being of interest to older children where it would probably be a better fit for their viewing.  Nickelodeon in trying to persuade me that Dora & Friends was a good fit for preschoolers noted that the show was "tested with preschoolers", I guess my question is was it tested with preschoolers' parents?  As I mentioned earlier, Dora & Friends is an entertaining show that I am sure preschoolers would be entertained by but it lacks the structured reinforced educational elements of Dora the Explorer that parents of preschoolers appreciate and that help preschoolers learn.

The following is a synopsis and some critiques of one of the episodes of Dora & Friends my family watched together titled "Doggie Day"

While trying to shoot a video to help her friend Alana promote the animal shelter's Doggie Adoption Day, Dora's video camera mysteriously becomes enchanted.  When she points her magic camera at one of the shelter's dogs, Cusco, he breaks out in a song about being separated from his brothers.  Dora and Pablo head out to help Cusco reunite with his family.

Once again I'll point out that this new show doesn't have the structure of the original Dora.  There is no map that the audience follows throughout the show to know exactly what is going on.  The show does incorporate a map app on Dora's smart phone but it isn't as detailed as in the Explorer series and I wonder how appropriate is it to be introducing the necessity of technology as an issue for preschoolers.  My wife and I go out of our way to balance our kids use of tech so they are also playing outdoors and reading books instead of playing on the ipad or watching tv all day.  I really don't want my 5 year olds asking for a smart phone because Dora has one...which has happened since they watched these episodes of Dora & Friends.

I appreciate Spanish language being included in this series, but it really isn't that helpful compared to the original Dora.  In Dora the Explorer she would say what a Spanish word meant in English and encourage the audience to use it in the right context along with her.  In Dora & Friends they just start talking or singing in Spanish with no explanation of what they are saying in English.  This is fine if your family speaks Spanish but if not this really leaves you in a lurch.  Since Dora is an ambassador of latino culture to many non-Spanish speaking families this really seems a detraction from that role.

While the show is lacking in the formal educational elements it also missed out on some informal teachable moments.  For example, the kids run across a city street without looking for cars before crossing.  It could have been a nice teachable moment for them to remind their audience that you always need to stop and look before crossing a street.  The show also featured a maze where the characters try to find their way out of a temple by identifying shapes as they progress and the audience helps them pick which way to go by answering questions.  This part of the show was too short not providing the repetition that is important for preschool students but another problem was that my kindergarten aged children found it too simplistic.

Now I know I've pointed out a few negatives but there were some positives to the "Doggie Day" episode as well.  It had a nice message regarding taking care of your pets and finding homes for strays and abandoned animals.  There was a funny scene where a pack of cats chased a puppy and Dora's friend around town that had my kids giggling.  The show had a very catchy song with a nice theme called "Together All For One." 

By having entertaining stories aimed at a kindergarten and elementary school aged audience with educational elements aimed at preschoolers that show just doesn't work for either age group.  My kids did seem to enjoy watching the show and told me they liked it when I asked them but when I offered to let them watch it again they responded no and asked if they could go play in the other room.  Not the most glowing of endorsements.

Dora the Explorer really was an endearing part of my children's preschool years.  We watched the shows on Nickelodeon together, took the DVDs on long vacation car rides, the kids have spent hours playing with the toy sets, and I've read numerous bed time stories from books featuring Dora, Swiper, Boots and the gang. In my opinion the original series contained numerous aspects that helped with the educational development of my children during their preschool years and entertained them while they learned. In regard to this new series, I would let my children at their current age watch Dora & Friends for its amusement or entertainment on a rainy day, when letting them watch tv as a treat, or if I need to distract them while getting some work or chores done around the house, but it wouldn't be for the educational value we felt the kids got from watching Dora the Explorer.  If my children were a few years younger and just starting their preschool years, I wouldn't have them watch Dora & Friends even though that is the targeted age group for the show.  That may be a little blunt but that is just my honest opinion.

Dora & Friends according to Nickelodeon will air 20 half-hour episodes in its first season featuring the iconic character Dora living in a city, attending school and at the center of a peer group that works together to give back to the community -- having both real life and magical adventures along the way.  Created by Chris Gifford and Valerie Walsh Valdes (Dora the Explorer, Go, Diego Go!) the series will regularly air weekdays during the preschool block on Nickelodeon.  The Dora the Explorer series, which after 14 years remains the most-watched preschool show on television, will continue to air as well. Nickelodeon has also teamed up with Fisher-Price to expand the Dora franchise with interactive dolls, playsets and accessories that will hit the market beginning in August.  Additionally, Nickelodeon has signed more than 130 new licensees across apparel, publishing, home goods, electronics, and specialty categories with products set to launch this fall and into early 2015.

Click here to visit the NickJr website for more information about Dora & Friends.  What are your thoughts on the new Dora television series and characters?  Leave a post, tweet with us at @Geeky_Dad or e-mail thegeekdaddy [at] yahoo [dot] com with your thoughts.

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