The Dirty War over Dora the Explorer

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Larry Busacca/Staff

Even the Map may not be able to show the way out of this one. Caitlin Sanchez, the voice of Dora the Explorer, is in a legal tussle with  Nickelodeon. Or rather, her parents are. They claim Nickelodeon pressured them into signing a legal contract that paid Sanchez, who’s now 14, a pittance for her work—including only $40 a day per diem when she was traveling around the country doing promotional events— and then fired her when she tried to negotiate a better deal.

Nickelodeon has volleyed back, claiming in the press that Sanchez has made more than $300,000 over the years she has voiced Dora, and was flown around and put up in fancy hotels at the cost of Viacom, Nick’s parent company. The show claims that Sanchez was removed, as was the young actress before her, because her voice had changed as she grew up, which, silly us, we thought only happened to boys. (See a brief history of children’s television.)

Sanchez’s parents then released an audiotape of a Nick PR person saying that the company was eager to work with Sanchez for the next couple of years and that, you know, she was the voice and face of Dora. Nickelodeon zinged back that that was just for publicity purposes not for production. But wait, Dora the public face of the voice is not Dora the real voice? Is Nickelodeon trying to dupe toddlers with an ersatz Dora?

The whole thing is so ugly and bar-fighty that the only solution might be for Swiper to come in and do away with the lot of them. The hard truth about child actors is that it’s a buyer’s market. There are many, usually with um, very supportive parents, and few opportunities. Plus, their goods are perishable; very rare is the star who has managed the transition to adult star without some seriously grazed knees. (Paging Hillary Duff and Britney Spears!)  It’s hard for an adult actor to accept the dimming of their stardom and the reduced attention and access to perks; imagine the effect on far more impressionable children. (See the top 10 cartoon opening sequences.)

For kids whose role consists of an animated voice it’s worse, because they have no fame on their side. When Miley Cyrus signed on to be Hannah Montana, she was a nobody. A couple of seasons in, she and her advisors could dig their heels in—and did—for more money and more of a share of the residuals and more opportunities to spread her wings. Before this dispute, few people knew who Sanchez was. The Sanchez family have no cards to play but legal ones, which involve a child in a fight she should be kept out of.

Nickelodeon, on the other hand, comes off even worse in this spat. The kids network that’s accused of double-dealing with its most vulnerable employees. Hmmm, what’s that bad smell? Bile? Acid? The foul stench of a company preferring profits over the welfare of children? How on earth did the network let it get this far? As Sanchez’s lawyer, John Balestriere, who clearly has flair for the theatrical, told the New York Post “I used to go up against organized crime families, and this is reminscent of them.” (Watch out for cement boots, Boots!)

The only solace in this whole money-grubbing mess is that the children who watch and love Dora are oblivious of the tawdry goings-on. If only we could all be so lucky.

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