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'Dora and Friends: Into the City' review: Dora grows up

Dora the Explorer goes urban and grown up (to age 10!) in 'Dora and Friends: Into the City'
Dora the Explorer gets a little older, Map becomes a smartphone app, and her new series has propulsive music
Much has changed in the new Dora the Explorer series, but there's a good emphasis on problem-solving

Time marches on for everyone, even cartoon characters, apparently.

"Dora and Friends: Into the City" is the new animated series spun off from the long-running hit "Dora the Explorer" and premieres Monday on Nickelodeon. Any parent who has gotten misty-eyed stumbling across clothes their kids no longer fit into will surely have ambivalent feelings upon seeing little Dora all grown up.

In the new series, Dora, who was the most adventurous 7-year-old on TV, is now a 10-year-old, which means she has entered the so-called "tween" demographic. And though she hasn't turned surly yet, changes abound. She's grown her hair out and wears earrings and a magical charm bracelet now. She's ditched her ever-faithful backpack in favor of a camcorder (also magical) and her trusty guide Map has become an app on her smartphone, which also has FaceTime. This Dora is no Luddite.

The former explorer has left behind the fantastical wilderness of her youth and lives in the fictional city of Playa Verde along with an agreeably diverse group of new human friends. But going urban and growing up sadly means some of the most colorful supporting characters from "Dora the Explorer" are nowhere to be seen in the new series. Gone are Boots the monkey, Benny the bull, Isa the iguana, Big Red Chicken, Grumpy Old Troll and that pesky fox, Swiper. There are still some talking animals to be found, but their presence is always carefully explained and somehow contained. In the big city there’s little room for the commonplace weirdness of "Dora the Explorer's" landscape.

That's not to say all of the changes are unwelcome. The new "Dora" series has become nearly wall-to-wall music, giving a Latin-influenced accompaniment to the on-screen action makes the episode fly by. It certainly makes for a propulsive change from the often-drowsy pace of the old "Explorer" episodes.

And there's a lot of good that remains, including an emphasis on problem-solving and bilingual language-building that has made "Dora" a safe choice for toddler viewing since it debuted in 2000.

Parents may question why Dora has to grow up at all -- Bart Simpson has somehow remained 10 years old for 25 years – but luckily her spirit remains intact. And purists can still find new episodes of "Dora the Explorer" on Nick Jr. through at least January of next year.

Ultimately, as much as we want Dora to stay the same, she can change as much as her core audience wants her to. And when introduced to this more mature Dora, one hard-core 3-year-old fan soaked it up without a pause. And the next day she asked for more by name: " 'Dora in the City,' please!"

Can't argue with that.

Follow me on Twitter: @patrickkevinday

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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