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What Are You Doing for Your 10th Birthday, Dora? Right! The Same Thing You Always Do!

I must admit that I have no idea what target audience will truly appreciate Dora’s Big Birthday Adventure, the upcoming double-length special celebrating the 10th anniversary of Nickelodeon’s enduringly popular Latino moppet. Because the show makes no attempt to appeal outside of its narrow demographic, the kids who first turned Dora the Explorer into a hit a decade ago are now way too old to be caught dead watching the show, even if they have the excuse of a younger sibling. At best, all the parents I’ve spoken to say they tolerate the show and can appreciate it, but none of them like watching it either. The kids watching it today might appreciate Dora having a birthday, but I’m not sure they’d fully appreciate the fact that their TV playmate is so much older than they are. So, I’m forced to conclude that the real target audience for Dora’s Big Birthday Adventure is really Nickelodeon executives and the creators of the show, giving themselves a not-entirely-unwarranted pat on the back for their creation’s longevity. Even so, I have a hard time believing that those executives can sit through an entire regular episode of Dora without fidgeting or perpetually checking the timecode, let alone a double-length one like Big Birthday Adventure.

However, that idea sparks off a free association in my head that Nickelodeon executive board meetings are conducted like Dora the Explorer episodes (“So do YOU know the increase in the 4-6 demographic in the Nielsen ratings?…………..RIGHT! It was 16% over the prior year period!”), which is probably only the third time Dora the Explorer has ever managed to truly entertain me (the first being the hilarious parody of it on Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends and the second being Dora attempting to explain Inception).

It will come as no surprise that Dora’s Big Birthday Adventure is pretty much the same as every other episode of Dora the Explorer, since the show’s relentless sameness is pivotal to the show’s appeal to its target audience. Dora’s about to celebrate her birthday (her actual age is never mentioned in the show), but gets thrown into Wizzleworld instead of home by accident. To get home in time for her birthday, she has to travel through the usual 3 obstacles to get a magic wishing crystal to the head Wizzle while dodging the wicked La Bruja and her pair of flying monkeys who want the wishing crystal for themselves. The only notable change between this new anniversary episode is its reliance on guest stars from earlier episodes of the show, like the Snow Princess and a band of pirate pigs, as well as Dora’s cousin and fellow show headliner Diego and his sister Alicia. This provides a convenient way to pad the show to its extended length without really needing to do anything too original. Guest stars include Hector Elizondo as the Wishing Wizzle, Rosie Perez as La Bruja, and John Leguizamo as both Flying Monkeys. Only Leguizamo manages to make much of an impression, with Elizondo and Perez being handed roles that are depressingly straitjacketed by the show’s usual unimaginative scripting.

Dora the Explorer‘s lack of imagination or anything remotely appealing to an adult is still quite off-putting to me, and those criticisms are magnified by the sense that it manages to make kids feel like they’re achieving something by setting the bar disgracefully low. It’s still a TV show that would really rather be a video game, and to be honest, I would probably find it less objectionable if it were. The fact that Dora‘s lasted as long as it has does warrant some kind of commemoration, but I can’t imagine very many people other than the show’s creators really getting all that excited about it. I’m also baffled at why they’d run the special in prime-time at all, putting it past the proper bedtime for its demographic.

But hey, the show’s obviously not for me, and I still picked up a few Spanish words and phrases while watching (even if I can’t remember any of them right now). Happy birthday anyway, Dora. Now get out of the way so I can watch The Backyardigans, Yo Gabba Gabba!, or Sesame Street with the kid of my choice instead.

Dora’s Big Birthday Adventure premieres on Sunday, August 15, 2010, at 8:00 PM (Eastern/Pacific) on Nickelodeon.

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