Monday, March 16, 2009

Dora the...What, Now?

So, Mattel and Nickelodeon thought they'd create a new, tween version of Nick's popular Dora the Explorer character, to keep the interest of older girls in the Dora phenom while still appealing to the nursery-school set with the classic version of the character.

But some people aren't happy about the new Dora:
NEW YORK (AP) -- When toy maker Mattel, working with Nickelodeon, announced earlier this month that a "tween" version of Nick's beloved "Dora the Explorer" cartoon character would be unveiled in the fall, the response was overwhelming ... overwhelmingly negative.
Dora the streetwalker. A sexed-up version of a children's icon. A poor example for kids.
Those were just some of the terms tossed around the blogosphere after Mattel released a silhouette of the "new" Dora, whose image was drastically changed from the endearing tomboy look Dora fans grew to love, with her bowl-cut hairdo, T-shirt and red shorts. This new Dora appeared to have long flowing hair, and was wearing what seemed a scanty skirt, emphasizing her long, shapely legs.
"Did Mattel turn Dora the Explorer into a Tramp?" read one headline from The Huffington Post.
But not so fast.
Mattel and Nickelodeon both say there are two major misconceptions about the new Dora, which is not replacing the "Dora the Explorer" cartoon, but will be a new interactive doll aimed at the 5- to 8-year-old, or tween market.
"People care so deeply about this brand and this character," Leigh Anne Brodsky, president of Nickelodeon Viacom Consumer Products, says. "The Dora that we all know and love is not going away."
"I think there was just a misconception in terms of where we were going with this," Gina Sirard, vice president of marketing at Mattel, says. "Pretty much the moms who are petitioning aging Dora up certainly don't understand. ... I think they're going to be pleasantly happy once this is available in October, and once they understand this certainly isn't what they are conjuring up."
Part of the confusion stemmed from the silhouette that was released, which made Dora look more like a Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan than a young girl. For the record, the doll does not wear a short dress, but a tunic and leggings. And while she looks older (she's supposed to be about 10), with longer jewelry and longer hair, she doesn't have makeup and seems pretty much like a 10-year-old girl.

My girls' reactions to this were mixed. Kitten, the oldest, thought they were trying to push a "too-old" look for the children the toy is aimed at; my youngest, Hatchick, who is ten, thought the new doll looked pretty. Bookgirl, in the middle, was ambivalent about it.
My thoughts are mixed, too. I can see how, if only a silhouette were released, moms might think that the doll was going to be a Bratz doll wannabe--a truly jarring change for the innocent and childlike Dora. Then, too, I'm wondering when the 5 to 8 year-old crowd started being called "tweens," since to me a five-year-old is a young child and an 8-year-old still a little too young to be a "tween." The "tween" definition is getting pushed on to younger and younger girls; but are five-year-olds really too jaded to enjoy the original Dora anymore?
Perhaps most concerning to me is how slender this new iteration is. My husband jokingly remarked that the new Dora had lost her baby fat, but given the young age of the girls these toys are aimed at, do we really need yet another reinforcement of the ideal for girls of tiny slender arms and legs and a dainty, elflike shape?
However, I do think that this isn't a "Bratzification" sort of look, and I have sympathy with the fact that for moms whose daughters have outgrown Dora there's not a whole lot out there in terms of popular, positive female characters for girls. Still, though, wouldn't this be an opportunity to create such a character, instead of taking a character aimed at younger children and making such a dramatic change to her appearance?
Again, I recognize that the company wants to capitalize on the popularity of the original "Dora." But we've gone sequel-crazy, lately, with so many movies, TV shows, and other popular culture offerings turning into an endless parade of "the new, improved, you used to love way back when." Instead of challenging people to grow, move on, and risk trying new things, our culture seems to be stuck in a mode of offering the same old, same old, dressed up to look new, or different, or even just...older.
Why couldn't Dora have had an older sister or cousin join the show's cast, perhaps? A doll aimed at the older set could easily have risen from just a few "guest appearances" of a slightly older female relative who joins a few of Dora's adventures. It would have been an opportunity to show a ten-year-old who loves and appreciates her little sister or cousin, and who demonstrates to the older girls out there that it can be "cool" to hang out with one's younger relatives on occasion. Dora could have admired her older relative, too, and shown the enthusaism and affection younger girls often have for a big sister or older cousin who spends time with them.
By making this new doll an "older Dora," though, the opportunity to do any of those things was missed--and the older girls whom the doll is aimed at will probably still not like her, as she's still "Dora," a character they associate with earlier days--and a monkey, and a fox named Swiper, and other aspects of the children's show which are being deleted from the older girl's adventures. Instead of the "Dora the Explorer," this new girl is a Dora they don't know and have no reason to be fond of; I have a feeling this toy will be bypassed by its target market, who will be too busy looking at the latest toy offerings from the High School Musical franchise to care what an older Dora is doing these days.


freddy said...

We were just talking the other day about the stagnation of our society. Everywhere you go, it's sequel, re-imagined, or new versions. Got my hair cut the other day and I thought they were playing "America's Top Forty" from the 80's, but the songs sounded a little weird. Every single one was a re-do of an 80's tune. Shopping for b-day gifts for our 2 year old I saw Smurfs! (remember those little blue commies?) Wow! And new at the theaters -- another Witch Mountain movie.

Welcome to the new millenia. We've run out of ideas.

Scott W. said...

However, I do think that this isn't a "Bratzification" sort of look

No it isn't, but it is a Japanimafication of it. Anime is a style that recently has been choking out all other styles (along with our imagination) like kudzu.

Natalie said...

I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing to bring back toys from our own childhoods. However that period of time may compare to now, I can at least say that I played with my Cabbage Patch dolls, Barbies, and Strawberry Shortcakes until I was about 12. Now kids are outgrowing Dora at age 5? A friend of mine's daughter had her first "boyfriend" at the ripe old age of 12. Maybe it's less about bringing back old favorites and more about the nature of the stuff that's actually new. Although I certainly don't disagree that we're less imaginative today than times past, we have to recognize that oldies can still be goodies. I'm not sure it's fair to disparage bringing back old toys while encouraging the use of classic literature and game play.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Dora DOES have an older cousin, btw-- Alicia, Diego's wild-life rescuing big sister!

I still think it's unlikely that a 5-10 year old will WANT to play with "Older Dora"-- Dora is essentially a toddler/pre-school show.

No self-respecting 8 year old will admit to liking it, even if she secretly does. (Heck, I still remember the humiliation in grade 4 when I admitted Sesame Street was still my favorite show....)

This is going to be a major marketing blunder... as if Sesame Street tried to develop a "Pre-teen Zoe" doll and expected it to sell!

Btw--if she moves to the City, what happens to Boots?

LarryD said...

Kinda like Rugrats All-Growed Up. And that wasn't exactly a barn-burning success.