Dora the Explorer is a kiddie cartoon juggernaut that's ruled the (pre)school for almost 15 years. Though the series recently just passed the 200-episode mark and didn't even make the HD switch until last year, it's managed to remain wildly popular with younger audiences and barely tolerated by their parents. It's a loud, colorful, mildly educational, completely implausible, attention-grabbing and downright obnoxious series, but my daughter still loves it and I'm a pretty patient dad. Dora's last two seasons have prompted a flurry of themed DVD releases that feature episodes about gymnastics, roller skating, ballet and more. Ice Skating Spectacular pretty much follows this formula down to the letter: it's a three-episode, $15 collection and only one of 'em has anything to do with ice skating. Lace 'em up, kids!
The title 'toon, though seemingly more ambitious than most Dora adventures, is actually just a standard 23-minute episode from the 2013 season, albeit one with a new title card and a few more song breaks than usual. Unfortunately, the story itself is nothing special: the evil blonde Valley Girl-esqe Ice Witch (named "Jessica", because of course she is) pretty much skates around and sings about how awesome she is before magically zapping away everyone else's ice skates. Naturally, it's up to Dora to save the day by practicing hard and one-upping the blonde Devil in a fierce skating competition as the woodland critters look on. Can she pull off a victory inside of 23 minutes? Si, por supuesto!
Ice Skating Spectacular is definitely more of an entertainment than an educational tool (90-10, at least percentage-wise), which might up the replay value a bit if the story itself were a little more original. Fortunately, the bonus episodes ("Catch That Shape Train" and "Dora and Perrito to the Rescue") settle into a more well-rounded formula; they're also taken from the 2013 season but are easier to stomach on repeated viewings. It's kind of off-putting that this "themed" release doesn't really tie into winter for more than the 23-minute title 'toon, especially since this is just another piecemeal effort instead of a lengthier "volume" collection or (better yet) a complete season set. Though the Dora bug probably doesn't stick with young kids for more than a few years, I doubt parents enjoy getting nickel-and-dimed for collections like these every few months. But will their kids enjoy it? Probably, at least for a few spins.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
After watching God knows how many older Dora collections on DVD from the show's early years, it's nice to see what it looks like in 16x9 widescreen. This 480p transfer is of very good quality overall...especially during the main feature, which exhibits excellent image detail, strong colors and no flagrant digital imperfections. Sure, the animation is still pretty stiff and the character designs aren't very inspired, but this is still a satisfying translation of the source material. I did notice a few small problems on the two bonus episodes (also presented in 16x9), including mild digital combing, a touch of softness and some minor color bleeding. Overall, though, it's head and shoulders above older Dora discs.
DISCLAIMER: These compressed and resized screen captures are strictly decorative and do not represent this title's native 480p resolution.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 and similarly sounds good under the circumstances. Voices and music are relatively crisp and clear without fighting for attention, while a modest amount of channel separation gives many of the song-driven moments a little bit of punch. I'm honestly not sure if these newer episodes were originally produced in 5.1 surround for broadcast on Nickelodeon, but what we get is generally more than enough to get the show's extremely loud point across. Just for the record, optional English Closed Captions have been included during all three episodes.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the menu interface is basic, colorful and easy to navigate. Several chapter breaks and a sea of related ads and warning screens are also provided. This single-disc release is housed in a silly eco-friendly keepcase; also wrapped snugly around the outside is a not-so-eco-friendly matching slipcover. No bonus features have been included.
Though the "main feature" runs for just 23 of this disc's total 69 minutes, Dora's Ice Skating Spectacular should entertain those who have seen and enjoyed the series. This being a collection of more recent episodes, the 16x9 presentation and new style will undoubtedly attract those used to Dora's duller, less vibrant "full screen" roots, though the material pretty much remains the same. This DVD packages offers decent A/V quality and no extras...so if $10-$15 for just over an hour's worth of Dora sounds fair to you, it probably is. Ice Skating Spectacular is worth a look for Dora followers, though it's not worth a purchase unless you've seen and really enjoyed the episodes already. Rent It first.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.