While Harriet the Spy was successful financially, it wasn’t critically acclaimed by viewers or critics. One of the highlights of the movie was the pilot of Nickelodeon’s upcoming cartoon. That cartoon was Hey Arnold which debuted on October 7, 1996.

The show was about a young 9-year-old boy named Arnold who lives his everyday life with his grandparents at their boarding house. He goes to school everyday and hangs out with his best friend Gerald Johanssen as well as a bunch of other kids. They consist of Helga Pataki, a girl who constantly teases Arnold, but deep down, she loves him, her best friend Phoebe Hyerdahl, Stinky Peterson, a kid who has a Southern accent despite being born in the city, Harold Berman, a fat, dumb, tough bully with a kind heart, Sid, the hyperactive kid, Eugene, the clutsy, yet optamistic kid, and many more.

Each episode has our characters go through what a typical kid goes through, similar to what Doug was. However, unlike Doug, the setting of Hey Arnold takes place in the city as oppose to a small town. In fact, looking back at all the previous shows from Nickelodeon, Hey Arnold is one of the first shows that takes place in the city as oppose to a small town or a suburban neighborhood. It gives a slight change of setting which makes the show quite unique in its own right. “I try not to be specific, since it’s an amalgam of large northern cities I have loved, including Seattle (my hometown), Portland (where I went to art school) and Brooklyn (the bridge, the brownstones, the subway). It’s a fictitious, unnamed city”, Craig Bartlett said in a 1998 interview with Kim Burk.

Not only were we focused on the kids, but we were also focused on the adults. While Doug and Rugrats did focus on some of the adult characters, Hey Arnold developed them a whole lot more. The boarders were all unique, different, and complex. You have Ernie Potts, a very short man with a big temper who works as a demolition man, Oskar Kokashka and his wife Susie who are a bickering couple due to Oskar being a freeloader to his overworked, unappreciated wife. She had tried to leave him several times, but Oskar has such a charm to him that Susie continues to try to make things work. Mr. Hyunh, the Vietmanese man who moved to America during the Vietnam War and loves having a simplistic life working at a restaurant. He gains more depth around the Christmas Special. Then there’s Coach Wittenberg and his wife Tish who constantly compete on who is the better coach. Similar to Oskar and Susie, while they do bicker the majority of the time, they still love each other. Then you have the best adults in the entire show, Arnold’s grandparents. They’re weird, give odd advice, tell funny stories about their youth, and still remain loving to Arnold.

My absolute favorite in all of them would have to be Helga. Her life is absoulety tragic, especially for a kid’s cartoon. She’s raised by parents who don’t give her any attention, she’s overshadowed by her perfect older sister Olga, and she’s pretty much left to fend for herself. Her father Big Bob is a beeper salesman and owns a store called Big Bob’s Beepers. For you kids and young teens who are reading this and don’t know what a beeper is, it’s basically a device that you carry around in your pocket and whenever someone is trying to reach you, the machine beeps and you call them back. Her mother Miriam constantly sleeps a lot in the kitchen table. She has had an interesting past and pretty much lost all hope in herself since Big Bob is a huge blowhard and controls everything. There’s even rumors that she’s a heavy alcoholic, but we’ve never seen her drink, so that’s up for debate. While Helga has a really dysfunctional family, she’s still has a soft side to her which is brought out in her love for poetry, writing, and her love for Arnold. However, she doesn’t have the strength to tell Arnold how she really feels about him, which is one of the main plots of the show.

“That’s Helga’s deal: she’s acting out her anger. Her home life sucks. Bob and Miriam ignore her.  Big Bob cares about winning, selling tons of beepers, getting rich, football, golf, alien abduction conspiracies, his Lincoln, his Humvee, and Olga’s collection of awards. Miriam tries not to care about anything — she’s unrealized potential personified. Miriam’s got an interesting past, but doesn’t see anything particularly interesting in her future. Bob’s such a blowhard, Miriam has lost the will to assert herself. Don’t count her out, though. Miriam has a few tricks up her sleeve. Compared to Olga, she feels like some kind of graceless little ugly duckling. So she’s developed this tough, brittle exterior as the meanest, most cynical kid in the fourth grade. How could she love Arnold, the nicest guy in school? It’s her secret: she’s got a soft, gooey, poetic, romantic interior. You’d think that a kid as smart and self-aware as Helga would realize that she should just tell Arnold and deal with it, but she still believes that if her secret got out, she’d die of embarrassment. But let’s give the girl a break: she’s nine. She’ll learn someday (but not yet)”, replies Bartlett.

My second favorite is definitely Arnold. While not as tragic as Helga is, his story can be sad at times. His parents were doctors who resided in a South America village called San Lorenzo. They treated the illnesses of an unknown civilization called The Green Eyed People. While going on their last exhibition, they disappeared, never to be heard from again. It’s such a sad thing to consider for such a happy, optimistic guy. But that’s what made him so interesting. Yes, he had the same optimism and imagination that Doug Funnie had, but Arnold was fleshed out a whole lot more. You can also say the same for all his friends and neighbors. They’re interesting, they’re memorable, they’re compelling, and they’re unique. Something that Nickelodeon hasn’t done in their Nicktoons at that point.

As mentioned previously, the show was created by Craig Bartlett. Before creating Hey Arnold, he animated the Penny cartoons for Pee-wee’s Playhouse in the 80’s. He had replaced Nick Park, the co-creator of the Wallace and Gromit series and Chicken Run as the animator.

Around that time, he created Arnold.  “I created Arnold when I first moved to LA, ten years ago (1988). I was still doing clay animation on glass (the Penny cartoons from Pee-wee’s Playhouse) so I designed him out of clay. I cut out the football shape from a big sheet of clay, set the eyes wide apart, gave him the huge hair and tiny hat, and that was that”. He had created three animated shorts of Arnold that would be shown on Sesame Street. I remember when I was five when I saw Arnold for the first time. It hadn’t left my mind ever since and seeing it again for this review brought back happy memories for me.

During his time working as a writer for Rugrats, Bartlett and five of the writers worked together to create animation projects for Nickelodeon. While showing the Penny cartoons to the Nickelodeon execs, intending to make a TV series about her, they liked the character of Arnold more. However, they wanted Arnold to be traditionally animated as oppose to claymation. Bartlett decided to give Arnold a cel shaded look.

Unlike many shows at the time or even today, they casted real life kids to do the voices for the characters. Craig Bartlett wanted to bring in realism to the show that an adult couldn’t do. The only downside of that is is that the kids were getting older and their voices were changing throughout the show’s run, so they had to be replaced. In fact, for the voice of Arnold, they casted four different boys throughout the eight year run. It was the first show in Nickelodeon to have such a young cast voicing kids. Not since the Fox Kids cartoon Peter Pan and the Pirates had done this casting decision.

There were two Hey Arnold movies in the works that Craig had wanted to release: a TV movie and a feature length film. The TV movie was simply called Arnold Saves The Neighborhood. It was about Arnold and his neighbors learning that their neighborhood is being shut down by a corporate businessman who wishes to make a mall out of it. Arnold and his friends try to stop at nothing to prevent him from doing so. The feature film was called The Jungle Movie. It concludes the series having Arnold win a contest to travel to any place around the world he chooses. After finding his father’s journal in the episode “The Journal”, he decides to travel to San Lorenzo to find his long lost parents. His entire class comes along and throughout the journey, they tackle in numerous adventures, find the missing Green Eyed People, and go against the evil La Sombra, a villian who wants to stop at nothing to steal a sacred relic from the Green Eyed People. In this movie, all the questions that people had been wanting to know were going to be revealed: what happened to Arnold’s parents, the relationship between Arnold and Helga, and Arnold’s last name.

The Nickelodeon execs wanted Craig to switch the two movies and have Hey Arnold: The Movie as the feature film. We’ll discuss about the movie another time, but I’m going to give you a bit of a spoiler of how it turns out: it sucks!!! It did so poorly on the box office that Craig’s proposal to release The Jungle Movie was declined. It has not been released since and that’s a crime against humanity.

But there’s still hope. According to an interview on February 9, 2012, Craig Bartlett is still interested in getting the movie and if we sign a petition to get The Jungle Movie released, then it’ll spark interest to the Nickelodeon execs that they want to see a closure to Hey Arnold. To learn more info on it or if you want to sign it, check out the site here and see if we can see the movie we’ve been wanting to see for over a decade. Please help with this cause.

Save The Hey Arnold movie 2, the Jungle movie

The show lasted for 5 seasons ending its run on June 8, 2004. Overall, the show is unique, funny, has lovable characters, has memorable moments, and great animation. The show was praised for many things when it first came out and it put Craig Bartlett on the map as a well known animator and writer. Manic Expression’s That Long Haired Creepy Guy even did a segment on his series Looking Back in Annoyance comparing Hey Arnold to the Peanuts cartoon. When seeing it, I had no idea how similar the two shows. If you want to know what I’m talking about, check it out. It’s very fascinating.

Craig Bartlett even wanted to do a spinoff of Helga and her family simply called The Pataki’s. It was show about Helga, now aged 16, going through a depressing time of her life. Arnold now lives with his parents and has now moved to another city with them, their friends have now separated and hang out with other people, and Big Bob and Miriam are still neglecting Helga after Olga gets married and starts to have a family. Helga constantly writes depressing poems and letters to Arnold about how she still loves him, but never mails them to him. It was supposed to be a show originally for Nick at Nite, but the execs refused to release it due to it being too “dark”, “depressing”, and “moody”.

Afterwords, Craig left Nickelodeon and did a pilot for Cartoon Network called Party Wagon. The pilot was only shown one time and was declined to be a full length TV show. Around that time, he became a story editor for Jim Henson programs such as Sid the Science Kid. In 2008, he created a new TV show called Dinosaur Train. It’s about a baby T-Rex named Buddy who gets adopted by a Pteradon family which contains Mr. and Mrs. Pteradon and their children Tiny, Don, and Shiny. He learns about other dinosaur species when he rides in the Dinosaur Train.

It’s still regarded as not only one of the best Nickelodeon shows that has ever been released, but one of the best cartoons of all time. It still holds up very well and I highly recommend checking it out.

That’s all for now. Tune in next time as we have three different voice actors from Hey Arnold interviewed by Kevin and myself.

Hope to see you around Old School Lane soon.

-Patricia

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