Hey again, Arnold.
We’ve breached the last quarter of the 2010’s this year, and yet 90’s-00’s nostalgia is still running rampant. I’m not complaining, of course, since that was my “era”, if you will, regarding stuff I watched on TV. And thanks to the Internet giving a voice to jaded millennials like me a chance to watch and rewatch anything we like and drown ourselves in nostalgia, this also leads to the rising of demand for revivals of these things. Magic School Bus, Ducktales, and Samurai Jack all coming out this year and to much acclaim. Samurai Jack, in particular, was highly anticipated as a long-awaited conclusion to hanging plot threads left in the previous four seasons and, aside from a few polarizing choices, was ultimately pretty satisfying for those who had been clamoring for it.
Hey Arnold: The Jungle Movie comes to us in a similar way, but instead of a full-fledged final season like Jack, we have a movie as a series finale that had been in the works when the show was wrapping up back in 2002. The only thing that kept it from coming out then was the major underperformance of the show’s first theatrical film, which soured Nickelodeon’s taste for anything more with the show. However, thanks in no small part to the aforementioned ability of the now fully functioning Internet to get voices of fans out into the world, Nick saw a valid strategy to bank on returning audiences, and thus the movie returned to development.
However, seeing as this is meant to be a closing chapter to many of the show’s ongoing storylines, a brief recap for the uninitiated or just people who didn’t have time to rewatch the show before this movie:
Arnold Shortman, a boy most known for his football-shaped head lives with his Grandparents in a boarding house deep in the suburbs of Hillwood (an amalgamation of Seattle, Portland, and Brooklyn, according to the show’s creator Craig Bartlett), and attends school at PS 118. Both places, as well as the entire city, are filled to the brim with colorful and entertaining characters such as Arnold’s best friend Gerald, pre-madonna Rhonda, bully Harold, smart kid Phoebe, and many others, but one stand out is Helga, who has a short fuse on top of tons of other issues, but deep down holds a deep and longing affection for Arnold, though not always expressed in the most healthy ways. She harasses him and messes with his many crushes, but desires to truly show her feelings to him one day.
Also of note, though relatively minor in the show overall, is the topic of Arnold’s parents. In the Season 3 episode, “Parents Day”, a parental-themed school event triggers Arnold’s anxiety of their absence, and finally gets some much-needed explanations about them from his grandpa. Turns out they were adventurous explorers who did much to help the people of a Central American country called San Lorenzo. After a while, they returned to raise Arnold in Hillwood but soon received word from their friend Eduardo that their help was once again needed. They left Arnold with the old folks, flew off, and were never heard from again. Arnold is naturally awed and heartbroken but also realizes his grandparents have been just as good parents to him this whole time, adding to one of the show’s themes, that of the importance of family, conventional or not.
This isn’t touched on much until Season 5 (and what became the series finale), “The Journal”. On the anniversary of his folks’ last departure, Arnold commits to hiding away their things to keep himself from dwelling on them being gone, but soon finds a journal written by his father, Miles, that sheds light on his work with Eduardo and Arnold’s mother Stella. Specifically, their adventures helping the enigmatic Green-Eyed People of San Lorenzo and defending their treasures from local river pirate La Sombra. It also shows us the birth of Arnold, which took place during a volcanic eruption that quite the moment he was born. And, just as before, the couple takes off by the end, leaving to help the Green Eyed People fight an epidemic of sleeping sickness. In the present, Arnold is content finally having something to explain who his parents were, but finds a map in the final seconds of the episode to invigorate him to search for answers himself.
And finally, that brings us to this movie.
Arnold has another one of his vivid flying dreams, but this time sets his plane down on an island. He combs through the journal, following footprints to a massive temple in order to search for his parents. He enters, seeing their silhouettes but being unable to touch them. Just as he’s able to talk to them, the shadow of their bi-plane and Eduardo appears to carry them off to another mission. Arnold finally has solid footing to find them, but he fears they may leave as soon as he does. And then a heart shape opens up in his chest as light shines through, waking him up gasping for breath. He checks his charts and research, wondering if he’ll ever really find them.
Making his way downstairs to greet his roommates and grandparents (and weirdly feed his pet pig Abner bacon), Arnold makes his way to his last day of 5th grade with Gerald. Helga and Phoebe also get on their way, leaving behind Helga’s dad and his Going-Out-Of-Business Beeper store (for you youngins, “beepers” what were used before cell phones became tiny internet rectangles), in one of the more blatant reminders of how dated this show is. The two pairs soon collide, initiating their usual rapport as they enter the building. The day comes and goes, with their teacher Mr. Simmons telling the class about a contest to be the most humanitarian, with the prize being a trip to San Lorenzo, which perks Arnold’s ear. He and Gerald sign up, but with only a week to submit something. Arnold’s key feature has always been being generous and a voice of reason in his community, so this is a chance to reacquaint the audience with this aspect. However, it also shows he is just as committed to winning this prize for his own ends. They decide to go with making a house for homeless crimefighter Monkey Man, which they do so with ease, but only manage to irritate the other homeless people around him, who tear down the house before their eyes.
Arnold wallows in despair that this chance has slipped him by, but bumps into Helga. She throws the typical barbs and shade but melts when he tells her what he’s really looking for. So she plans to get the whole city together (along with her own stalker-y resources) in order to convince the group sponsoring the contest that he alone is worth a win. They surprise him with a party on his roof and a video montage calling back some deep cut references like Stoop Kid, Lockjaw the Turtle, Dino Spumoni, Pigeon Man, and many more rewards to longtime fans who held in there and got this made. And it’s minor, but even Mai Hyunh, daughter of Mr. Hyunh from the fan favorite episode “Arnold’s Christmas”, makes a voiceless cameo. Anyway, Arnold is moved to tears, throws Helga some much-needed love, they win the contest, all is well. But a sinister laughing figure views the footage and notices Arnold’s head shape. Hmm…
Arnold’s passport arrives and prepares for his trip while getting warnings from his grandpa, as well as getting the family…stapler to remind him of home. The kids get ready for the plane at the airport, where Helga gets a surprise visit from perfectionist sister Olga, who will be joining them as a student teacher chaperone much to Helga’s dismay (along with the usual ignoring by her dad in favor of her sister). Arriving is easy enough, but Arnold hopes to track down Eduardo during the downtime. He makes it to his address but finds the place ransacked and abandoned, while Abner (who Grandpa snuck in with the luggage), worryingly eyes a torn photo of Eduardo and Arnold’s parents. They make it back in time for the boat to the rainforest and meet…Eduardo? Yep, turns out he’ll be escorting them there, and Arnold gets a chance to connect with him about his folks. He also gives him an artifact from the Green Eyed People that glows, indicating he is “the chosen one”. Eduardo tells him they two will go search for them together later, but tells him to keep it a secret.
This immediately dismays Gerald, who is wary of Arnold keeping a secret from him, and makes what could have been a heartfelt confession from Helga into an awkward and frustrating confrontation. Things are becoming entangled and complicated now that Arnold is finally thinking about what he wants. And sure, he’s done a lot of good and earned respect and admiration from everyone he knows, but his own desires are starting to cloud his judgment.This isn’t helped by another ship arriving, seemingly pirates trying to take out Eduardo. The boat gets away to safety by going through choppy rapids but is wrecked. Everyone becomes furious with Arnold, but they soon arrive at a campsite. It’s there “Eduardo” reveals he is actually…La Sombra (DUN DUN DUUUUUUNNNN), and the contest was all a ploy to lure Arnold out in order to use him to get to the Green-Eyed People and the sacred artifact, the Corazon (Spanish for “heart”).
This doesn’t help Arnold’s already plummeting approval rating with the group, but Helga sees his crying over not being able to find his parents and once again dedicates herself to save him. She cobbles together a plan with Gerald and Phoebe, who distracts and incapacitate the guards while Helga rescues Arnold and flees the camp with him and Gerald. Using the map and the artifact La Sombra left him, the three make a path to the Green Eyes, not knowing they’re being tracked by Sombra, who himself doesn’t know that Phoebe is using Rhonda’s cellphone and the remaining beepers to send an SOS to Helga and Olga’s parents while forming a break out plan utilizing every kid’s quirk and personality trait, especially Curly. Maybe a bit too much Curly. Arnold’s grandparents and Helga’s parents arrive soon after, the former having been alerted by Abner.
Meanwhile, Arnold, Gerald, and Helga manage to traverse a vast array of booby traps with Sombra’s crew right on their heels, though he elects to sacrifice his men to the traps, highlighting the large gap in morality in comparison to Arnold. The kids finally arrive at an entryway, where they are surrounded by green-eyed kids who worship Arnold (not too far off from how Helga does, oddly). They’re taken to their hidden city, where they find every adult has succumbed to the sleeping sickness Arnold’s parents came back to cure. But an engraved prophecy shows that only Arnold can unlock the Corazon, which will activate a mechanism in the city which will distribute the rest of the cure to the sleeping adults.
This is right on cue for La Sombra to finally arrive and kidnap Arnold AND the case containing the Corazon, which Arnold unlocks with help from his artifact, but his rescued by the REAL Eduardo. After a quick struggle, Sombra is poisoned and falls off a cliff (which he had to have seen coming, being a villain and all), but not before the Corazon falls in first. Defeated, Eduardo leads Arnold and his friends back to the city, where Helga gives up her locket (which she noticed had the same size and shape of the Corazon) to activate the machine to dispense the cure, fulfilling his destiny and save the Green Eyes…and his parents, who had succumbed to the sleeping sickness ten years before. A tearful reunion is had, Arnold and Helga kiss, the kids and adults return home, and Arnold gets to spend the rest of his summer with his parents. A new school year begins with relationships changed and started, but the story of our favorite Football-head continues. The End.
This has got to be the longest single thing I have ever covered, and with the most emotional baggage for myself and likely many others. Hey Arnold is a show that’s sort of sat in the back of my mind since it stopped airing, and it’s only in rewatching some of it in order to get ready for this that I really learned how good it really was. Its relaxed but emotional tone is something that’s only been replicated this decade in Steven Universe as far as I can tell, but there are things about the show that just aren’t seen that much anymore outside of SU, with topics ranging from gambling addictions to war refugees to adult literacy and abusive relationships. And it’s melancholic to engaged musical range kept people watching every step of the way.
Being an epic series finale movie, it would make sense for this to not be typical of the show’s usual suburban setting, but it preserves plenty of the essentials, such as the strong sense of community between Arnold and all the people he’s helped, while also being just as through at keeping Arnold a fallible human being throughout by keeping the focus on his one true desire, being reunited with his parents. Though it’s schmaltzy and relatively played out, the main theme of this story is love versus desire. Arnold, La Sombra, and even Helga all have something they wish to get, sometimes even at the cost of others. Arnold wants to find his parents but jeopardizes his friends’ safety to do so. La Sombra wants the Corazon and easily lets his henchmen die for this. Helga has pined after Arnold for the majority of her life but gone to concerning lengths to do so, and so on and so on. But in the end, selfless love for others, even those you’ve just met, wins the day.
Craig Bartlett has mentioned that he would like this movie to begin a new series for Arnold and his friends, and the 90’s kid in me would certainly want that on some level, even with the many inevitable design changes that come with making a show in the current decade. But at the same time, I wonder how that would go. Certain revivals have only lasted so long being exactly how they are remembered, such as Futurama’s two extra seasons, or had to change everything good about them to stay alive, such as the current iteration of the Powerpuff Girls. And then you have to wonder who would watch it either way. If a new season comes out of this, I’ll be right there waiting by the TV like I did before, but if this is how we leave things in Hillwood, I’ll be more than satisfied.
Although really, no send off for Eduardo?