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, ice skating, ballet and more. Despite its colorful premise and the appearance of a few classic characters, Dora In Wonderland nonetheless falls right in line with most everything before it...except this time, it's twice as long.
Needless to say, most kids will enjoy it (mine included). And it does have its moments: Dora In Wonderland cherry-picks parts of Lewis Carroll's original with reasonably good results, from el zorro Swiper's turn as the Knave of Hearts to the inspired casting of Mel Brooks as The Mad Hatter. Predictably, though, the main plot is watered down to an episodic, neatly-tied lesson about sharing and friendship almost identical to Ice Skating Spectacular (and, I'm willing to bet. the other new episodes I haven't seen yet). I'll admit that the majority of Carroll's original would terrify the average preschooler---or at least their parents---but they could have used a little more imagination here. As it stands, Dora In Wonderland occasionally puts its familiar stamp to good use...but, for the most part, this is just business as usual.
Originally aired as a two-part episode back in March, the 43-minute Dora In Wonderland arrives on DVD paired with "Book Explorers", a hold-over from Season 7 (2012) that includes a few characters seen during the main feature. I'll admit that my daughter seemed to like this one a little more, and it's not hard to see why: there's more variety on display, especially considering its shorter running time. Essentially, a quick trip to the library turns into an adventure about finding magical items inside books like Peter Pan and The Wizard of Oz...and though it still follows Dora's basic formula, this is a nice little romp that kids can watch more than once. However, the DVD's total running time is just over 60 minutes, which makes this one more of a "try before you buy" disc for all but the most determined Dora disciples.
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 good quality overall...especially during the main feature, which exhibits excellent image detail, strong colors and only a few hints of interlacing. 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. The bonus episode "Book Explorers" was similarly pleasing for the most part, though a handful of scenes exhibited a flatter, less vivid color palette that didn't seem intentional. Overall, though, this is head and shoulders above "vintage" 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 both of these episodes.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the menu interface is basic, colorful and easy to navigate. Several chapter breaks and a static promo ad are also present. 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 extras have been included, aside from Paper Doll
insert cards for all kinds of dress-up fun. Since my man card has long since been revoked, I'm sure we'll get to those soon enough.
Dora In Wonderland plays out a lot like Ice Skating Spectacular, but that's hardly surprising: this has always been a formulaic, repetitive series. But there are still a few songs and surprises along the way that help to break up some of its less impressive moments, at least enough for Dora fans to enjoy a few times. Unfortunately, the lack of long-term replay value and bonus features doesn't make this a keeper, as 60 minutes of content for $15 doesn't exactly scream "blind buy" material. Unless you're desperate for a last-minute gift, give this one a weekend spin instead. Rent It.
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.