Hey Arnold! The Movie (2002)

Tracy McLoon

This is The City, so often viewed as anonymous and unfriendly, especially in children's programming, at its best.

Hey Arnold! the Movie

Director: Tuck Tucker
Cast: (voices of) Spencer Klein, Jamil Walker Smith, Francesca Smith, Dan Castallaneta, Paul Sorvino, Tress MacNeille
MPAA rating: PG
Studio: Nickelodeon Movies
First date: 2002
US Release Date: 2002-06-28

Hey Arnold! The Movie paints an ideal urbanscape, where neighbors are friendly and look after one another. Nickelodeon Movies' latest offering, based on Nick's animated tv series, shows that the right mix of individualism and group work can foster positive social change, sneaking in some lessons about historical preservation, as well as tactics (legitimate and less so) useful in achieving said preservation. But Hey Arnold! The Movie is strictly educational. It's also funny and clever.

Young Arnold (voice of Spencer Klein) is upset that his neighborhood is slated for destruction by business tycoon Scheck (Paul Sorvino), owner of FTI, Future Tech Industries. He's labeled the old an "infected area," and vows to replace the longtime residents and small shops with a shiny new shopping mall. Now, anyone who's ever even heard of urban sociologist Jane Jacobs knows, this is a bad, bad idea, leading ultimately to vacant, unsafe streets at times when the big stores aren't open, and a lack of community coherence. And without a sense of community, neighborhoods have no pull in the larger political and social arenas. A healthy, productive neighborhood, according to Jacobs, is one in which people live and work, one whose inhabitants include a range of social and economic statuses.

The characters who populate Hey Arnold!'s neighborhood include Arnold, who lives with his eccentric Grandpa Phil (The Simpsons' Dan Castellaneta) and Grandma Pookie (Tress MacNeille) in the Sunset Arms rooming house, itself is home to a few odd but kindly characters.

Also living in the neighborhood are Arnold's best friend, Gerald (Jamil Walker Smith), his cranky nemesis Helga (Francesca Smith), who also nurtures a secret crush on Arnold (she even has a shrine to him in her attic), and Mr. Green, a nostalgic butcher (James Keane), to name a few. They make up an ethnically, generationally diverse community, a harmonious hotbed of multiculturalism that hasn't been represented since, well, Sesame Street.

Everyone is saddened to learn of the neighborhood's impending demise, except Helga's dad Bob Pataki (Maurice LeMarche), who plans on opening Big Bob's Super Beepers. At first the locals protest, but their voices are faint, especially when compared with the giant television screen erected over the neighborhood: here appears Scheck's face, with his voice booming Orwellian phrases: "Out with the old, in with the new. I have seen the future, and it is FTI." One by one, the neighbors give in, selling their properties until only Arnold's grandfather retains his deed.

Arnold and Gerald decide to take matters into their own hands. They start out with some legal forms of civic action, like holding a "Block-a-palooza" block party to raise local consciousness. But greedy Scheck stymies them by making sure their permit is "lost." Their next step is to research the neighborhood's history: it seems that an important historical event occurred on Arnold's block during the Revolutionary War. It's up to Arnold to find the documentation to prove to the Mayor that his neighborhood is "historic" and so can't be torn down. At first, he and Gerald toe the socially condoned line, going to a government research office. When this fails, they take a more "by any means necessary" approach.

With the help of other citizens, and some clues from an anonymous source called "Deep Voice," Arnold and Gerald race to save the block. They meet some quirky characters along the way: a mysterious urban guerilla named Bridget (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who supplies them with walkie-talkies and other gadgets for their mission; Murray, a world-weary bus driver lamenting his lost love; and a nutty coroner (Christopher Lloyd) who sleeps in the morgue wearing a toe-tag. These odd folks help Arnold and Gerald's mission -- strangers coming out of the woodwork when assistance is needed. This is The City, so often viewed as anonymous and unfriendly, especially in children's programming, at its best.

Hey Arnold! The Movie is also cartooning at its most creative. Not animation at its flashiest or most lifelike, but with a sly use of details -- an eyebrow raised here, a hand motion there -- that makes simple line drawings come alive. As in the television series, the good characters are drawn to be adorable, while the bad ones are sharp-angled and seedy. Arnold and Gerald make a charming odd couple, with Arnold's football-shaped head (he is often called "that football-headed kid), and Gerald's hair height rivaling Marge Simpson's. Scheck, on the other hand, is low-browed and shifty-eyed; his stooge Nick Vermicelli (Castellaneta again) is slouchy, scrawny, and looks just plain dirty.

The animators' careful attention to background imagery and throwaway details -- Nick drools while he sleeps, and a calendar advertising a bail bonds business hangs on his wall, for example -- helps to make the film interesting for adults as well as kids. It is too bad that there aren't other, similarly conscientious projects during the long, hot summer months -- bringing people out of their houses, into the theaters, and maybe even talking with one another about what's going on in the neighborhood.






The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.


John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.


Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.


Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.


Murder Is Most Factorial in 'Eighth Detective'

Mathematician Alex Pavesi's debut novel, The Eighth Detective, posits mathematical rules defining 'detective fiction'.


Eyedress Sets Emotions Against Shoegaze Backdrops on 'Let's Skip to the Wedding'

Eyedress' Let's Skip to the Wedding is a jaggedly dreamy assemblage of sounds that's both temporally compact and imaginatively expansive, all wrapped in vintage shoegaze ephemera.


Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.


Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.


Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".


The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.


The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.


Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.


​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.


John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.