Dora's maker Chris Gifford on the process of creating the much-loved cartoon character and the reason for her popularity
More than a decade ago, Chris Gifford looked at his two children — seven-year-old Katie and five-year-old Henry — and saw traces of an adventure-loving Latino girl called Dora Marquez and her loyal companion, the monkey Boots (Bujji for Tamil viewers) in them.
Then on, he and his team, Valerie Walsh, Rick Velleu and Eric Weiner, have managed to create a journey to cherish for the millions of children hooked to the educative series, ‘Dora the Explorer', which allows for wonderful interaction between children and the characters on telly.
Ask Chris if he ever imagined that a tiny girl and her monkey friend would capture audiences worldwide the way they have, and he says: “I never dreamt it would be as popular, but we knew we had a good show on our hands.”
From the beginning, the makers meant the show to be educative, and that it should be a participatory exercise. “Every episode is a learning opportunity that takes children on an extraordinary journey. And, it provides children a chance to help Dora get to her final destination. As for being educative, the show was designed along with educational consultants. The recent episodes are more challenging,” says Chris about the show beamed on Nick India in English, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu.
We, in India, are still seeing the first couple of seasons of the show, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. So, has Dora changed over the years? Has her universe grown, and is she reflective of the changing world scenario?
“No, she's essentially remained the same girl pretty much in her own fantasy world. However, we've taken her to different locations; we've introduced classic literature on the show… The characters are the same, but the storytelling has evolved. It is more layered now,” says Chris.
And, Dora has not taken it upon herself to set right the world. She sticks to her innocent world, building bridges, helping people, and indulging in the innocent pursuits of the world.
Dora's character has strong Latin-American influences, because Chris and his team wanted her to cut across language and geographical boundaries. “I chose a Latin-American character because the community is under-represented,” adds Chris.
Keeping the innocence
So, how easy is it as creator to allow Dora to retain a level of innocence without sounding naïve, and smart without being precocious? “Really difficult. Dora's character is smart, but we wanted her to continue to think like a child, and we retained that even in her voice,” says Chris. Also, the stories are shown to a pilot audience to ensure they never stray from that path.
What does Chris attribute Dora's popularity to? “The empathetic nature of her character, and the fact that the show deals with universal feelings,” says Dora's maker, who hopes to keep her adventures going till kids want to watch her.
As for the kids who partly inspired the show, Katie and Henry, both teenagers now, still sit down with their dad to catch some special episodes. “They are very nice about it,” laughs the happy father.