When 9-year-old Alexandria Suarez of Union City prepares her backpack for school, it includes the usual pencils, books, folders, maybe a bagged lunch – and a pair of Crocs shoes, which she said are handy for when school lets out and auditioning for parts begins.
Those comfy Crocs are painted with images of Dora the Explorer, which is not only Alexandria’s favorite television show, but also her job. She has been playing the voice of Backpack for three years.
This month, Nickelodeon is celebrating the 10th anniversary of Dora, the beloved Latina cartoon heroine, with an hour-long primetime TV movie, “Dora’s Big Birthday Adventure.” The film follows Dora, Boots, and of course Alexandria as Backpack, on a whirlwind journey through Magic Storybook Land.
Since launching on Nickelodeon in 2000, Dora the Explorer has emerged as a pop culture phenomenon and is currently the number-one rated preschool show on commercial television to date.
“My ‘backpack’ is always inside of me.” – Alexandria Suarez
Nickelodeon will also premiere a special 12-minute documentary immediately following the movie that explores the series’ cultural and educational impact and features commentary from industry experts, real-life kids, and celebrities including Anderson Cooper, Rosie Perez, Salma Hayek Pinault, Shakira, and Soledad O’Brien.
A helpful, positive ‘pack’
Alexandria will watch the premiere along with her parents and cousins in a hotel during a family vacation to Florida.
“[We’ll be] pretending we’re all celebrities and we’re well-dressed,” said Alexandria, giggling at the thought of being in their pajamas and cuddled up in bed instead of theater chairs.
Although Alexandria didn’t get to hobnob with any of the guest celebrities while filming, she has worked with Leguizamo before and doesn’t seem phased by the glitz and glamour of the Hollywood scene.
She still religiously watches the show, but admits that when she’s watching, she’ll sometimes think about the work that went into producing the colorful, animated adventures.
She’s also become very excited about her role of the helpful, purple pack and its symbolism for kids in real life.
“I think [Backpack’s] important ’cause she’s handy,” said Alexandria. “She’s very helpful; she’s positive. I think that teaches kids to always remember things that are handy.”
Alexandria said she always keeps her own backpack with her as a reminder to be helpful and positive with others.
“My ‘backpack’ is always inside of me,” said Alexandria. “I have some Backpack in my spirit always. Wherever I go, even if I don’t act like Backpack, I still have her in my heart.”
Beyond the backpack
Nickelodeon also is marking the 10th anniversary of Dora the Explorer with a campaign titled “Beyond the Backpack.” Named for Dora’s iconic backpack, the campaign provides parents with tools and resources to help preschoolers have a well-rounded, positive experience as they prepare for kindergarten.
The campaign includes public service announcements, a web site, fundraising activities, and community events.
Alexandria, who will be entering fifth grade in the fall, had some advice for new kindergartners preparing for the adventure of starting school.
“Try your best, never give up, and try to make some friends,” she said. “School is for learning, also it’s kind of fun to learn. [And] if you don’t want to make some friends, at least be nice.”
In addition to voicing the role of “Backpack,” Alexandria has appeared in television series including Law & Order and Saturday Night Live, and recently shot the role of “Teresa” in Tom Selleck’s new TV series, Blue Blood. She was also recently cast in the new film Kings of Bushwick.
Although her career has been expanding, she said playing the helpful, purple Backpack is still her favorite role.
“She’s very close to me,” said Alexandria. “She’s the best friend of the star of a TV show that I’ve watched since I was a baby.”
The premiere of “Dora’s Big Birthday Adventure” will simulcast on Nick Mobile on Sunday, Aug. 15.
New Dora the Explorer content will be updated monthly for preschoolers and their parents at www.doratheexplorer.com.
Lana Rose Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.