March 8, 2009 -- Dora the Explorer is growing up, with a new, mature look that has some parents up in arms.
Mattel and Nickelodeon have announced that the educational cartoon character, a favorite of the pre-school set, will become a tween next fall, and will have a new electronic fashion doll line to match the new look.
"As tweenage Dora, our heroine has moved to the big city, attends middle school and has a whole new fashionable look," the companies announced in a February release titled "Dora Grows Up!"
"Girls really identify with Dora and we knew that girls would love to have their friend Dora grow up with them, and experience the new things that they were going through themselves," wrote Gina Sirard, vice president of marketing for Mattel.
While Dora's look will not be revealed until next fall, the companies released a silhouette of the newly aged character, who's trading in her signature tomboy shorts and short bob for longer locks and a short skirt.
That new look has divided the playground -- while the more mature character has some parents scratching their heads in disbelief, other parents and children said they liked the new look.
"Oh, Dora goes wild," said one parent at a park with her children in Westport, Conn. yesterday when shown the new silhouette. "I'm not thrilled. No. I don't like it at all."
One group of parents has started an online petition protesting the change. "What next? Dora the cheerleader? Dora the fashionista with stylish purse and stilettos?" the petition reads. "We can expect it all, because that's what passes as 'tween' in the toy department these days."
Other children's characters have gone through similar makeovers. Last fall, Strawberry Shortcake ditched her 1980's classic bloomers and red curls for a slick, modern makeover.
Jane Buckingham, president of the Intelligence Group, a marketing and research firm focused on kids, says that the change is likely part of a strategy to keep the Dora character popular as her audience ages, while tapping into the multi-billion dollar tween market.
"A character like Dora who was very successful five, eight years ago today isn't as relevant, and they have to make her a little more current to stay successful," Buckingham says.
Mattel and Nickelodeon say Dora will stay true to her roots and maintain her educational values through mystery-solving, while remaining "innovative, diverse, wholesome, bi-lingual and entertaining."
"I think because she has a slightly different look, we shouldn't yet assume she'll have a totally different character," Buckingham says.