Nickelodeon/Viacom has announced that they are working in conjunction with Mattel to give Dora the Explorer a new, more grown up image this fall. (Full press release linked in my post title.) A preview silhouette reveals a slimmer, taller Dora with longer hair and a short skirt. While it's certainly not the first time a cartoon character has aged -- All Growed Up, the Rugrats spin-off series featuring the characters as teens, is one example -- it is, however, perhaps the first time that a character familiar to the preschool set has simultaneously aged and become a target for an immersive online experience marketed at older girls. The upcoming "Dora Links" doll can be plugged into the computer in order to access a brand-new interactive online world. The press release explains that girls can "customize their doll and watch as she magically transforms right before their eyes. For example, by changing Dora’s hair length, jewelry, and eye color on screen, the Dora doll magically changes as well." The online content will also give kids a chance to "explore Dora’s world, talk to the characters, earn currency, and help Dora solve mysteries which will be uploaded on a regular basis." As they play, the doll's speech will correspond with what they're doing on the website. In addition, the doll will also feature a "magical alert system that lets the doll know when new mysteries are being uploaded to the Dora site. Even when the child is away from the computer playing with the doll, she will let girls know what new things are happening in the online world." (Just as a side note: it's amusing to me that the press release, presumably something only adults would read, keeps harping on the "magic" of the doll when it's fairly obvious that her interactivity probably has everything to do with a USB cable and a wi-fi connection.)
Although the online interactivity seems like it could be engaging for kids, I have to say I'm hesitant about the stylish, older Dora. Although my exposure to the show has been rather limited, I've always appreciated that the character is a bit of a tomboy and doesn't really seem to fit into the stereotypical girly-girl mold. She seemed like a good alternative to Barbie, Bratz dolls, and Disney princesses. I hope that even though the character will become more fashionable, she'll remain as curious about the world. I'll also be interested to see how kids react to the change. My four year-old niece loves the show now and I'm not sure how she'll react to seeing a more grown-up character claiming to be Dora. I can picture her crinkling up her little face and insisting, "But that's not Dorasplora!" I'm also wondering who exactly will be interested in the fashion doll and the online content associated with it. Will kids who may have enjoyed Dora as a preschooler but have since grown out of her be lured back in now that the character is older and hipper? This whole venture seems like a bit of a gamble. They risk alienating their original target audience while trying to reach out to kids who may still view Dora as babyish despite her new look.