deconstructing Dora the Explorer

I live in a world of rain forests, tall mountains and loud rivers.  I am surrounded by animals on bikes, magic sticks and am always looking to help out the king’s mommy.  My best friend is a monkey.  Or sometimes I am a monkey and my best friend is a little girl.  I am also stopping a sneaky fox from stealing my stuff.

Yes, my daughter is obsessed with Dora the Explorer.  She lives in a Dora world, it seems, the show a key to unlocking her imaginary world.  This also coincided with a stay at grandma and grandpa’s house.  They had DVR, which meant several new Doras per day, as I recorded every Dora on every possible Nickelodeon network (she got to watch more TV than usual on vacation).  It meant she mixed and matched the characters.  It meant grandma and grandpa spent hours in the a dark garage following a toddler with a flashlight on the watch for that sneaky fox.

At the same time, I am reading The Magic Mountain, by Thomas Mann.  Don’t ask me why.  It is much too difficult a book for a sleep deprived dad.  But I am reading it nonetheless and it is essentially a tale of myth and tradition and it hearkens me back to all the Joseph Campbell (the inspiration for Star Wars more or less, though that is not his most serious side) I read on my first parental leave, to thinking about stories and religion and mystery.

And I realized that I always choose the Dora episodes that key into a fairy tale or have some element of quest to them.  Forget going to her endless silly parties.  My daughter sees her explore a pyramid or transform a dragon into a prince or plant a magic stick in a hill and watch the barren wasteland return to life.

The show actually seems deeply immersed in classic myth and fairy tales and seems to do it thoughtfully, and I wonder if it is just that they have good writers who subconsciously know the power of these motifs, or whether they consciously mine classic storytelling traditions when they put together their plots.

I mean, come on, if Swiper the Fox is not a trickster, Kokopelli-like figure, what is he?  He is Chaos.  He means no harm but throws our heroes off their quest (much like the scarecrow in Bob the Builder, but what is that about … a scarecrow among machines?!?).  Of course, every plot needs a challenge, an antangonist, but Swiper even looks like Kokopelli, and he straddles the line between most kids shows – either pure good and evil or no bad guy at all.

Hmmm, perhaps I better stop now.  You know, before I get carried away …