It's rigidly formatted and highly repetitive - you've seen one and you've truly seen 'em all - yet the series is fun and reasonably educational for the right kids at the right age. That's certainly true of my daughter: English is actually her second language after Japanese, and the wife and I have found Dora, along with a few standard-bearers like Sesame Street, a useful tool to encourage her to learn English at just a step or two behind her native Japanese.
The DVD, distributed by Paramount, retails for $16.99 but at present is a Target stores exclusive, though available elsewhere from private dealers at exorbitant prices.
In the highlighted episode, from 2010, young bilingual Latina Dora (voiced by Caitlin Sanchez and in earlier episodes by Kathleen Herles, but definitely not Regan Mizrahi as stated in Nickelodeon's official press release) and her ballet class are about to perform a recital and go on stage when - horrors! - it's discovered that all the ballet slippers were accidentally left back at the dancing school. Dora and her monkey pal, Boots (Regan Mizrahi in two shows, Harrison Chad in the others), volunteer to retrieve them.
Along the way, Dora consults a map, finds important tools kept in her trusty backpack, and like nearly all Dora the Explorer shows must navigate through, over, or around three major landmarks before reaching her final destination.
Dora the Explorer is intended as an audience-participation show. Dora directly addresses the viewer, politely asking for their assistance all along the way, helping her count, dance, jump, and point the way to the next landmark, and to occasionally scream, "Swiper, No Swiping" at the wily if easily-defeated fox ("Aw, man!") constantly trying to steal their valuables.
The three other episodes, "Dora, La Músico" (2001), "The Super Silly Fiesta" (2002) and "Surprise" (2000) have different particulars but are formatted the same way. Audience participation is key to Dora's success; it's not a show to watch passively. The show works best when kids aren't self-conscious or aware of the mechanical formatting. My three-year-old has a grand old time shouting at the TV, pointing Dora and Boots in the right direction, and (especially) advising them to consult the map whenever they get lost.
The obvious intention of the show is to help teach children how to count, remember tasks in a particular order and the like, with even a little dancing and whatnot to get kids off the sofa and their arms and legs moving for a bit. Each episode incorporates a fair amount of Spanish as well as English, which in my three-year-old's case has helped her understand nouns and verbs can have different names in other cultures yet share the same meaning. That's not only improved her English skills in a Japanese-speaking environment, but it's also made her extremely interested in learning other languages, an invaluable skill in this shrinking world of ours.
Video & Audio
The four shows, each about 23 1/2 minutes, are presented in full-frame format - a bit of a disappointment as I'd assumed the newest one would have been 16:9 widescreen. Nevertheless they look just fine (though the episode from 2000 is a bit rougher around the edges), while the Dolby Digital stereo (English only) is up to current broadcast standards. The region 1 disc is closed-captioned, but that's it, and there are no Extra Features.
I suspect there's a fairly small viewing window for something like Dora the Explorer to really connect with its targeted audience; too young or too old and it's not going to play. But, for my three-year-old at least, Dora's Ballet Adventure is perfect "edutainment." Recommended.