Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Dora Reunites With Boots, Backpack & Her Rainforest Friends in a Special Episode on Nickelodeon

It was a little disheartening last year to see Dora the Explorer grow up after all of the hours our family had spent watching her adventures on television as our kids grew through their preschool years.  Just as our kids grew up and moved on through life, Nickelodeon decided it was time to expand upon Dora's adventures through a spin-off television series called Dora & Friends: Into the City.  In this new series Dora gave her best friend Boots the boot and left the rain forest to embark on new adventures in the big city with a brand new group of friends.  Instead of her dependable Backpack and paper Map, Dora now uses a magical charm bracelet and a smartphone to solve puzzles and get out of jams during her adventures.  Instead of cartoonish animal sidekicks like Benny, Isa and Tico, Dora has some human counterparts from her Playa Verde school that include Kate who is fond of drama, music loving Emma, bookworm Naiya, and soccer playing Pablo.  Kids grow up and I can see how it was time for Dora to move on.

As Dora and Friends: Into the City begins its second season, Nickelodeon is incorporating into the show that Dora hasn't forgotten about her old amigos.  Our family had a chance to pre-screen the first of three special episodes that will air throughout the season which reunite Dora with Boots, Backpack and her rainforest friends from Dora the Explorer within the new show before the episode was broadcast on Nickelodeon.  In the episode "Return to the Rainforest", Boots arrives at Dora's new home for a visit.  Unfortunately, he lost Backpack and Map on the way -- so Dora and her new gang of friends head to the rainforest with Boots to search for them.  Turns out Swiper swiped them and it takes Dora's new friends working with Benny, Isa and Tico to get them back.

It was a bit nostalgic watching this episode with my twins that are now first graders who like Dora have grown up and moved past Dora the Explorer but still have cherished memories of enjoying that show during their preschool years.  Our family really enjoyed taking a half hour to go back in time and enjoy an adventure with these beloved characters and see how they've fared as Dora has moved on with her life in the big city.  If your kids grew up watching Dora the Explorer this is a fun episode that provides a nice connection bridging the two series together and to be honest provides some closure to move on from the original show.  You could almost treat this episode as a nice series finale to Dora the Explorer if you wanted to look at it that way.

The problem with Dora & Friends: Into the City is that it doesn't realize who its audience is so in trying to appeal to children from preschool through elementary school it really isn't that appealing to any of these kids. My kids will watch part of a Dora & Friends episode but lose interest because they say it is too babyish while some of the content is obviously too advanced and has too mature of of a pre-teen twist to it to be a good fit for younger preschool viewers.  I've found the last few years from monitoring my children's television viewing that there really is a real gap in quality programming for the kindergarten to third grade age group that Dora & Friends could really fill and be successful with. The brand already has a base of preschoolers and their parents who would readily transition to the show.  Yet the show seems to want to replace Dora the Explorer catering to a preschool audience  trying to hold onto that demographic for as long as they can rather than expand to cater to a new age group.  To be honest, as a parent I just haven't been that impressed with this new series and Dora & Friends isn't a show that my 6 year old twins normally request to see.  It will be interesting to see if this new series follows the lead of its main character and begins to develop into a mature product for a slightly older children's audience or it continues to flounder hanging onto the brand's former glory with the preschool crowd.

Despite my overall criticism of the new Dora series, "Return to the Rainforest" was well done in meshing the two cast of characters together.  My kids enjoyed seeing Boots, Benny, Isa and Tico again and watching them interact with a grown up version of Dora.  They also really enjoyed singing along with Kate, Emma, Naiya, and Pablo.  My daughter also thought it was awesome that one of Dora's new schoolmates was able to sew and used that skill to repair a damaged Backpack with no help from a parent.  So my kids laughed, they sang, they thanked me for sharing this episode of Dora & Friends with them.

This first special, “Return to the Rainforest,” premieres Friday, Sept. 18, at 12:30 p.m. (ET/PT) on Nickelodeon with the remaining episodes rolling out later this year. In the later specials, Dora treks to Rainbow Rock with Boots; saves the show at an enchanted night circus; and even comes to Swiper’s rescue.  It will be interesting to see if the Dora the Explorer characters continue to be charming in the future episodes as they interact with Dora's more mature new friends or if this meshing of the two shows just becomes a bit tired making viewers weary of them. 

It does appear as if the producers at Nickelodeon are tilting the new series towards being geared now towards preschool audiences as Dora and Friends: Into the City! specials will each feature exclusive multiplatform content which includes a big focus on using the NickJr website and the launch of a brand-new Dora app specifically for preschoolers. The Dora Back to the Rainforest app will allow kids to play and learn as they travel to the rainforest to help Dora and Boots find Backpack and return him safely home. Along the way, kids will encounter story elements and characters from all three of the special episodes, earn and collect charms for Dora’s bracelet and play min-games that help Dora and her friends complete their journey. The app will be available soon on iOS and Android.

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