Carmen Sandiego (character)

Carmen Isabela Sandiego
First appearance Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?
Created by Brøderbund Software (Gene Portwood, Mark Iscaro, Dane Bigham and Lauren Elliott)[1]
Portrayed by Rita Moreno (Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?)[2]
Mari Devon (voice)
Christiane Crawford (voice)
Nickname(s) "The Lady in Red"
"The World's Greatest Thief"
"The Miss of Misdemeanor"
Species Human
Gender Female
Occupation Ringleader of V.I.L.E. (current)
A.C.M.E. detective (former)
Family None known (Malcolm Avalon may be her father in the Earth series)
Spouse(s) None
Nationality Latin American / Californian

Carmen Sandiego is a fictional character featured in a long-running edutainment series of the same name. As a criminal mastermind and the elusive nemesis of the ACME Detective Agency, Sandiego is the principal villain of the series and head of ACME's rival organization V.I.L.E. She is an important part of the series, which originally focused on teaching geography and history (although the series later extended to mathematics and English). The character later appeared in a series of books and many other licensed products. Most of her crimes involve spectacular and often impossible cases of theft. Her full name, according to Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? Treasures of Knowledge, is Carmen Isabela Sandiego.

Carmen Sandiego writer David Siefkin first thought to base his game’s titular character on Carmen Miranda, a Portuguese-Brazilian singer and actress who found mainstream success in America in the mid-20th century. Miranda was known for being one of the first artists to bring the sound of Brazilian (and, by extension, Latin American) music to the U.S., a distinction that both made the artist famous and sometimes resentful of her place in the pop cultural canon. Even though Siefkin left the Carmen Sandiego project before it was released, the character’s identity as a Latina woman has been a consistent and integral part of her all throughout the three decades that she’s been around.[3]

Character overview

There are numerous discrepancies in the various media depicting Carmen Sandiego and there are no official rules establishing a correct canon. However, the following seems to have remained consistent throughout all Carmen Sandiego media created since around the mid-1990s:


In all canons, ACME Headquarters is located in San Francisco and the leader of ACME is called "The Chief". Carmen was a brilliant agent for the ACME Detective Agency until she left and formed the Villains' International League of Evil (V.I.L.E.). V.I.L.E. seeks to commit incredible thefts and/or cause chaos in other ways while ACME tries to thwart them and capture their agents. In the computer games, the thefts of the minor henchmen are almost always meant to keep ACME occupied before Carmen herself pulls off the real crime, usually something monumental and significant to the theme of the game. Carmen is incredibly, at times almost supernaturally, elusive and her permanent capture would be ACME's "holy grail"

She was voiced by Rita Moreno in Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego? This animated television series reveals a unique backstory about Carmen Sandiego. According to this canon, Carmen Sandiego was an orphan raised at the Golden Gate Girls' School in San Francisco. The Chief gave her a home at the ACME Detective Agency and, by age seventeen, she solved more cases than any other ACME agent. However, she then disappeared and turned to a life of crime. Her partner when she was at ACME was a Japanese man named Suhara, who left ACME after she did and appears to now be retired. Unlike in most of the rest of the series, the reason for Carmen leaving ACME is not specifically stated, although it is speculated by Suhara ("Déjà Vu"). In the latter seasons of the show, Carmen began to be portrayed as more of an anti-hero than a proper villainess, even teaming up with the show's protagonists to defeat criminals more unscrupulous than herself on several occasions. Additionally, it was made clear that she makes a point of refusing to steal something if the theft will cause anybody harm—a vow she frequently breaks outside this canon.

The Earth series gave the franchise a timeline, with the mid-1990s (the time the show was produced) being the present. According to this timeline, Carmen joined ACME in 1985, placing her birth in approximately 1968. Her birthday is on March 1 ("The Scavenger Hunt"). In the two-part finale, Carmen Sandiego attempts to rob millionaire Malcolm Avalon of a statue but finds a portrait of someone who she believes is her mother based on a locket she owns and sparks the possibility that Avalon might be her father. Avalon refuses to believe that she is his daughter due to her propensity of being a thief and that he believes his daughter died in a hotel fire along with her mother in San Francisco. However, later on in the episodes he accepts the possibility that she might be his daughter. Before finding out the ultimate truth, Avalon falls from a roof during a battle with former ACME agent Lee Jordan, and has selective amnesia of the events that have transpired. At the end of the final episode, Carmen hires a hypnotist in order to remember what happened the day of the fire. It is discovered she picked the locket off the ground, but cannot recall if it was because she dropped it, or if she found it while the hotel was burning. The finale ends with her saying, "But maybe there are just some things we aren't meant to know for sure."

CommonSenseMedia explains: "Carmen breaks the law at every turn, but her thefts are somehow forgivable in light of the fact that she does it more for the challenge and the thrill of it than for any personal gain, and her main concern is always the preservation of the artifacts. In fact, she even concerns herself with the kid detectives’ well-being and is known to step in on their behalf when there’s danger."[4] DVDTalk explains: "Carmen, bless her heart, is a thief only in the sense of her love of a mental contest; she's not out to hurt anybody, often leaving valuables behind, and, in one episode, attempting to save Ivy from harm. The teens, then, give their brains a workout with every adventure, obviously taking great delight in solving Carmen's geography riddles."[5] According to the episode "Hot Ice", Carmen has been gone from ACME for 10 years, 3 months and 7 days.

Unlike in most of the rest of the franchise, the reason for Carmen leaving ACME is not specifically stated in the Earth series, although it was speculated by Suhara ("Déjà Vu"). In the episode "Hot Ice", Carmen points out she didn't have all the high-tech hardware Zack and Ivy have back when she was an ACME detective. In the episode "Retribution, Part 1" a scene shown in flashback shows how justified she was. This is further enforced in another episode, where Carmen is dared to try something without any of her high-tech equipment. She agrees to this, and actually pulls it off, hijacking the Orient Express with only conventional tools. Carmen is sometimes depicted as genuinely liking Zack and Ivy, and enjoying the ongoing battle of wits she has with them to the point where she will often congratulate the two for their successes regarding them as worthy opponents. Carmen thievery skills are highly complex as she as managed to steal the Mona Lisa's smile, technology to steal musical talent and even the entire beach of Kaimu Beach in Hawaii. Despite her nature as a thief, Carmen does have her nice moments. In one episode, Carmen eludes every ACME Detective at once, the detectives find that she has left them all a doll of herself that teases that it is the only Carmen that they'll catch, and wishes a Merry Christmas as a Christmas gift. In the episode "Trick or Treat" Zack and Ivy find Carmen's Halloween party, they see Sara Bellum handing out candy to trick-or-treaters, on Carmen's orders so her theft wasn't going to wreck the holiday for children. Although a villainess Carmen operates on her own brand of morals, such as being a thief in the strictest sense of the word and not killing Zack and Ivy despite gaining many opportunities to do so. She has even saved the Chef's life when he was suffering a viral malfunction and did not want to lose him and only had Manny "kidnap" him so she could get to play chess with him like they did every Christmas when she was an ACME agent.

The six Carmen Sandiego games produced from 1996 through 1999 (Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, Where in the U.S.A. is Carmen Sandiego?, Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego? (Carmen Sandiego's Great Chase Through Time), Carmen Sandiego Word Detective, Carmen Sandiego Math Detective and Carmen Sandiego's ThinkQuick Challenge) seem to form a loose canon as they feature some of the same characters. However, characters as well as some other elements often appear differently between the games due to the use of different animation styles. It is only in Word Detective and Math Detective that substantial information about Carmen is given. In this universe, Carmen's partner when she was at ACME was Chase Devineaux and one of the last cases they worked on together involved the mythical "Prometheus Rock." Although Chase and Carmen apprehended the thieves responsible for stealing it, the rock itself was not found. When Carmen left ACME, Chase was forced to leave ACME as well since he had worked so closely with her. However, Chase began working with ACME again to stop Carmen's plan to steal language with the Babbel-On Machine, as depicted in Carmen Sandiego Word Detective. In Carmen Sandiego Math Detective, the whereabouts of the Prometheus Rock became all too clear when Carmen tried to use it to make herself all-powerful, although her plans were thwarted by Agent 9 (the player) and Chase. As of Carmen Sandiego's ThinkQuick Challenge, Chase is again working for ACME.

In the Carmen Sandiego Treasures of Knowledge canon, Carmen Isabella[6] Sandiego was a child prodigy, who won a substantial amount of money on a game show called It's a Wise Child (a reference to J. D. Salinger's Glass family in Franny and Zooey and many of his short stories) when she was ten years old. She used the money to travel extensively around the world until she was twelve. Her partner when she was at ACME was Jules Argent, who still works for ACME and appears to be in her early twenties. Jules specifically notes that Carmen never talked about her childhood, and aside from the mention of her winning the aforementioned game show, no details of it are given. (Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Treasures of Knowledge) The game show Carmen wins may be a reference to the game shows the character herself starred in.[7]


Carmen Sandiego has nearly always been created through animation techniques, either with various forms of computer graphics or with traditional animation. The television version of Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego? is, to date, the only time the character has officially been portrayed in live action, aside from photographs in early game manuals.[8]

Carmen Sandiego's voice was heard for the first time on the Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? Deluxe Edition video game during her trial after she is captured. Her voice was featured regularly in the World game show, though only during the phone tap skit. Carmen had little personality on the World show, aside from being constantly exasperated by her crooks' incompetence, and no voice artist was credited. However, later performers maintained the distinctive slightly dusky voice she was given on World.

In the Earth series, Carmen had a much larger role and was voiced by Academy Award-winning actress Rita Moreno.[9] Moreno would again voice the character for the game Carmen Sandiego Junior Detective and the planetarium films Where in the Universe is Carmen Sandiego? and Where in the Universe is Carmen Sandiego? II. In the video games Carmen Sandiego Word Detective and Carmen Sandiego Math Detective, Mari Devon took on the title role, opposite Pat Fraley as Chase Devineaux. Most recently, her voice was provided by Christiane Crawford for Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Treasures of Knowledge and Carmen Sandiego: The Secret of the Stolen Drums.

On Time, her only live-action appearance, Carmen also had little personality and was generally portrayed as a straight villain. Furthermore, her face was never fully visible and all images of her were posterized, giving her a stylized, unreal look. Although the actress playing her was not directly credited, it has been confirmed that she was played by actresses Janine LaManna in the first season, and then Brenda Burke in the second season. LaManna and Burke also portrayed minor characters, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Eleanor Roosevelt.[10]

Efforts were made at least once, in 2006, to produce a film featuring the character, possibly starring Sandra Bullock as the titular thief.[11] In 2011 or 2012, there was talk that Jennifer Lopez would play the titular thief.

Cultural impact

Despite being loosely based on Brazilian singer and actress Carmen Miranda, Carmen Sandiego is commonly considered to be of Hispanic descent. According to Frances Martel of The Mary Sue, this has been considered an important part of her identity, as she has had a major "cultural impact [on] Latin Canadian girls" in particular.[12] Martel further states that "Sandiego has a particular impact on girls...because she was a symbol of cultural rebellion. She is the first major American pop culture example of a mischievous yet beloved hero who also happens to be both a woman and a [Hispanic] American."[12] Julie M. Rodriguez of Care2 said: "There are so few examples of what a competent, successful Latina woman looks like in the media – and it’s wonderful to realize that, even in the infancy of the video game industry, there was at least one game working to remedy that problem".[13]


Carmen Sandiego is almost always portrayed as a woman with a red trench coat, a matching fedora (though often portrayed similar to a sombrero cordobes), and long brown hair, although her hair color was given to be "auburn" or "black" in some of the earliest games. Her hat is often shown leaving her face in shadow and obscuring her eyes. When her eyes are visible, they are usually brown, although they were blue in Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego? and in Carmen Sandiego Math Detective. In many appearances she also wears gray or black leather gloves.

In the original Brøderbund games and in all the TV shows, she wore a yellow or orange dress under her trench coat, with a matching stripe on her fedora, and red high-heeled shoes (best recognized in this outfit). She also seemed to have a flair for elegance, often wearing jewelry. However, in the games created under The Learning Company, her appearance was retooled so that she wore a grayish black catsuit under her trench coat, with the stripe on her fedora changed to match, and more practical footwear.

In the canon depicted in the animated television series Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego?, her hair is black, rather than the usual brown, as are her normally gray gloves. Her hat band on Earth is orange, matching a turtle neck and skirt she wears under her trench coat in this series. Frances Martel of The Mary Sue described her as having a "keen but conservative fashion sense".[12]

Other notes


The character has had mostly positive reception. GameDaily elected Sandiego as the 21st "evil mastermind" in video games of all time,[15] and also included her among "the smartest video game babes".[16] In 2011, Complex ranked her as third on the list of "most diabolical video game she-villains",[17] and in 2012, they ranked her as the 27th coolest video game villain of all time[18] as well as the tenth on their "The Most Evil Women In Video Games" list.[19] In 2013, they placed Sandiego eleventh in a list of "12 Old School Video Game Characters Who Were Style Icons".[20] GamePro also included the character on its list of "The 47 Most Diabolical Video-Game Villains of All Time", placing her 44th.[21] She was included in GameSpot's "All Time Greatest Video Game Villain" contest and lost to Sweet Tooth in "Round 1b".[22] The same site included her in their "The Ten Best Female Characters".[23] IGN placed Carmen Sandiego 62nd on their list of "The Top 100 Videogame Villains", saying she "is one tricky end boss".[24] In 2012, GamesRadar included her on their "Mediocre Game Babes" article and in 2013 they ranked her as the 71st best villain in their "Top 100" list.[25][26]


  1. Martin, Douglas (2000-07-30). "Raymond Portwood Jr., Computer Game Pioneer, Dies at 66". The New York Times. Retrieved August 25, 2010.
  2. "'Educating Rita". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved October 2, 2010.
  3. Carmen Sandiego, the world’s most iconic Latina super villain, is back
  4. "Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? TV Review". Retrieved August 18, 2014.
  5. "Where On Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? : DVD Talk Review of the DVD Video". Retrieved August 18, 2014.
  6. "Top 100 videogame villains". IGN. Retrieved May 13, 2010.
  7. "Carmen Sandiego: Secret of the Stolen Drums". IGN. Retrieved October 2, 2010.
  9. Mangan, Jennifer (1994-05-04). "'Educating Rita". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved October 2, 2010.
  10. Van Luling, Todd (2016-08-16). "My 20-Year Quest To Find Carmen Sandiego". The Huffington Post. Retrieved August 16, 2016.
  11. Cox, Dan (1997-12-03). "Bullock on road to Sandiego—Entertainment News, Film News, Media". Variety. Retrieved December 16, 2011.
  12. 1 2 3 "Carmen Sandiego: CEO, Intellectual, Positive Latina Role Model". The Mary Sue. 2012-02-28. Retrieved November 7, 2013.
  13. "Carmen Sandiego: America's Most Positive Latina Role Model? | Care2 Causes". Retrieved November 7, 2013.
  14. "Screenshot from ''Where in Space is Carmen Sandiego?''". Retrieved January 15, 2013.
  15. "Top 25 Evil Masterminds of All Time". GameDaily. Archived from the original on December 9, 2008. Retrieved July 26, 2013.
  16. "Babe of the Week: Brainy Babes". GameDaily. Archived from the original on March 17, 2009. Retrieved July 26, 2013.
  17. "3. Carmen Sandiego, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Series — Bad Girls Club: The 25 Most Diabolical Video Game She-Villains". Complex. June 30, 2011. Retrieved July 8, 2013.
  18. "26. Carmen Sandiego — The 50 Coolest Video Game Villains of All Time". Complex. November 1, 2012. Retrieved January 15, 2013.
  19. Welch, Hanuman (March 23, 2012). "10 Of The Most Evil Women In Video Games". Complex. Retrieved July 22, 2013.
  20. Welch, Hanuman (May 23, 2013). "12 Old School Video Game Characters Who Were Style Icons". Complex. Retrieved July 22, 2013.
  21. Sterbakov, Hugh (March 5, 2008). "The 47 Most Diabolical Video-Game Villains of All Time". GamePro. Archived from the original on October 3, 2008. Retrieved May 6, 2013.
  22. "All Time Greatest Video Game Villain". GameSpot. Retrieved April 20, 2013.
  23. "The Ten Best Female Characters". GameSpot. Archived from the original on August 28, 2003. Retrieved January 24, 2014.
  24. "Carmen Sandiego is number 62". IGN. Retrieved April 20, 2013.
  25. Antista, Chris (June 23, 2012). "Mediocre Game Babes". GamesRadar. Retrieved July 25, 2013.
  26. "100 best villains in video games". GamesRadar. May 17, 2013. Retrieved July 8, 2013.

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