7 Reasons Why One ‘Hey Arnold!’ Movie Worked and The Other One Didn’t – Film Reviews

I am a huge fan of Hey Arnold!, it’s one of my favourite Nickelodeon series. It probably would be my favourite if Avatar: The Last Airbender did not come out. I enjoy it so much I could probably do a ‘Top 10 Episodes’ list and I would really struggle to narrow it down to my ten favourites. But one of my favourite episodes was ‘The Journal’. It was a follow-up to the episode ‘Parents’ Day’, and both worked to establish what Arnold’s parents were like and what had happened to them prior to Arnold ending up in the Boarding House under the care of his grandparents. Fans were genuinely interested to see where it would go, especially considering that the episode ended on a cliff-hanger of Arnold finding a map in his father’s journal. The plan was that Nickelodeon was going to release two films, a made-for-TV movie and The Jungle Movie, which would go to cinemas and would follow on from ‘The Journal’. However, their plans changed, Nickelodeon got cold feet and swapped them round. Now the made-for-TV movie would go to cinemas and the other one would either go straight to video or would get a TV broadcast, before they gave up on the jungle film entirely and just released the made-for-TV film which became Hey Arnold! The Movie. And well, it’s not very good if I’m honest.

This was one of the last times Nickelodeon would put on their films in cinemas – they were definitely on the decline. It hadn’t helped that it had followed on from a lot of really good Nickelodeon films. Nickelodeon are actually one of those companies that are really good at transferring their TV shows into films, or at least they were. Say what you like about them, but they definitely did a better job than Disney did with transferring their TV shows into films, and in most cases vice versa. You can see this when comparing films like Recess: School’s Out—which was a major success and did a great job—vs. Doug’s 1st Movie, which is awful. Now, I will say in the Hey Arnold! movie’s defence, it is not the worst Nickelodeon film based on one of their TV shows. That would definitely go to Rugrats: Go Wild, which really struggled to mix the tone of The Wild Thornberrys with Rugrats and is one of the strangest crossovers I have ever seen. Seriously, you got Bruce Willis in to play Spike and it’s incredibly dull. But there are some good points to the Hey Arnold!! movie: it does have some genuinely good jokes, there’s a decent running plot at the beginning of the film, and it’s still got some of the Hey Arnold! charm in it but it all loses it very quickly. I think it was kind of around the 20-minute mark I realised this film was really starting to lose its identity.

Now, The Jungle Movie was always petitioned for years, and show creator Craig Bartlett was trying to convince Nickelodeon to give it a chance for nearly 10 years. There were fan outcries; everyone wanted to see it, especially considering Bartlett had detailed what his plans for the film were. And to be honest, despite being part the community trying to get the film made, I had given up hope the longest time it was ever going to come out. Now, fortunately, Nickelodeon looked on at the nostalgia bandwagon that’s been dominating film and television in the past decade and deciding to capitalise on it by finally giving Bartlett the go ahead to make the movie. And when I saw it, it was fantastic. Sure, there are some cons to the jungle film – it’s still rather absurdist at times and some of the redesigns of the characters are not great. Especially Gerald, I don’t know what they did with Gerald’s design but they kind of made him short and pudgier, and I don’t get why; I always felt that making him tall in Arnold was a good decision since it made him seem like kind of the slightly older but cooler kid that we all knew at school. There are a few other redesigns I wasn’t a fan of. Stinky’s redesign is a bit weird and doesn’t entirely work as well – I think they lost a bit of his character by making him not look so lanky. Those are minor nit-picks but they’re aside from the point.

I was considering doing a comparison between these films and what I found interesting was that these two films actually succeed and fail for almost the exact same reasons, and that’s why this will basically act as a review of both films. These are 7 reasons why The Jungle Movie worked but Hey Arnold!: The Movie failed miserably:

1. Use of characters

The Jungle Movie is excellent with its use of characters. It actually finds a decent excuse to have all the characters travel with Arnold to the fictional South American nation of San Lorenzo. And everyone kind of gets something to do, even if it is a small achievement. Again, this is mostly the Helga, Arnold and Gerald show again, but it’s not entirely surprising. Some characters feel a bit underused – we didn’t see much of the members of the boarding house , but that’s mainly down to the fact that the actors that play some of the roles were not coming back, such as Oscar’s voice actor and Mr. Wynn’s voice actor. But while I’m on it, I actually thought the re-casting of some of the voice actors worked well. Some of them weren’t even immediately obvious, though again there are a couple of exceptions where you could tell, yeah, they didn’t bring back the same voice actor and this new one does not fit. They even managed to get a bit of fan service in at the beginning with a highlight reel of showing Arnold’s good deeds throughout the series, which meant we got cameos from one-off characters like Stoop Kid and Pigeon Man. The point was, they made good use of their cast.

Hey Arnold! The Movie really doesn’t; it’s just Arnold, Helga and Gerald that really get much to do. Arnold’s grandfather and the people in the boarding house get a minor subplot which does not really go anywhere, and a lot of times turn to Helga’s dad of all people who’s really a minor character in almost anything he’s in. This is probably one of the times he’s been most used, and it’s when you’re in that scenario that you realise why he’s a minor character in most episodes. Most of the cast are really under-utilised and not really brought in for the film. It’s really surprising considering that this was the one time that they had the entire cast and all their voice actors. The show had only just stopped airing. Bottom line is the characters are used in a more satisfactory way for fans in The Jungle Movie and the original movie fails miserably at it. It’s probably one of the biggest weaknesses. You have this very likeable, very diverse cast and we only really concentrate on three of them. That’s also not to talk about the one-off characters which are pretty much limited to other celebrity cameos and the villains. Now, The Jungle Movie doesn’t really have any apart from the main villain The Sombre, being played by Alfred Melena, but in the Hey Arnold! movie, they had quite a few one-off characters, including the mortician who is played by Christopher Lloyd and a sort-of pseudo spy character played by Jennifer Jason Lee. But again, they get barely anything to do – Christopher Lloyd’s part is so short you can practically hear him running out of the recording studio to cash in his pay-check.

2. Stakes

Now, the stakes are pretty high in both films – the plot of the Hey Arnold! movie revolves around a businessman named Scheck wanting to tear down the neighbourhood that Arnold lives in with all his friends and family to build a new shopping centre, with really ludicrous motivations for why that get established later down the line. Hey Arnold! The Jungle Movie involves Arnold winning a contest thanks to his friends, and his whole class travelling to San Lorenzo as an end-of-year trip and him wanting to use the opportunity to follow his father’s map in order to find the location of his parents.

Okay, here’s where they diverge a bit. Both of these films seem like they are kind of personal, but the fact of the matter is that it’s a lot more personal in The Jungle Movie. This has been directly tied into things that have been built up throughout the show and directly tie into Arnold’s character. In the original movie, yeah, we don’t want to see the locations that we have grown in love with destroyed but the set just feels somehow less relevant, especially considering that a decent investigation would just reveal that everything about this is really shady. It doesn’t really handle those stakes. In fact, the film actually has to keep reminding you that the neighbourhood is going to be torn down – they talk about it constantly. The Jungle Movie actually lets the stakes speak for themselves. There is a lot more going into this and, more to the point, it’s not as predictable of a film. You really can predict virtually everything about Hey Arnold! The Movie including how it’s going to go; the motivations behind certain characters; the mysteries involved, including who the deep voice on the phone that’s giving Arnold all the information he needs is. In The Jungle Movie, I really had no idea where it was going, and as a result, it kept my interests a lot more.

3. The Villains

Now, the villains in both of these are very different. In the Hey Arnold! movie, the villain is Scheck played by Paul Sorvino of Goodfellas fame, and in The Jungle Movie, it’s Lasombra, played by Alfred Molina. You’d think you’d be able to do more subtly villainous things with the character of an American businessman with ill intentions compared to a South American cartel leader, but it’s actually the other way around – Lasombra is way more interesting of a villain. For a start, we didn’t know that much about him. He had been built up slightly in The Journal as someone who was after the riches of the secretive green-eyed people, but we didn’t know that much about him. We didn’t even know what he looked like. The film finally answered many of those questions, and not only do they make a genuinely interesting and devious villain, they also managed to make him somewhat humorous. I don’t think that was possible. Now, his motivations may be a lot simpler since it’s just pure greed and revenge, but man did you know where you stood with him. Compare that to Scheck, he’s a really dull villain. In fact, he’s not really in the film all that much, being pretty absent for most of the first and second act and only really has a prominent role in the third act. Despite the fact they got Paul Sorvino to play him, he’s downright uninteresting – he doesn’t really get any humorous moments, he doesn’t have much nuance to him, and his motivations are weak as hell. Also, you kind of know what his motivations are when Arnold’s grandfather goes into the backstory of the neighbourhood. Seriously, I barely remember anything about Scheck; he’s honestly one of the worst parts of that film and is a waste of a talented actor who’s clearly giving his all.

4. The Animation

Okay, this seems a bit unfair comparing a 2002 film to a 2017 film, but I hate the animation in Hey Arnold! The Movie. Honestly, it’s my biggest complaint. This was a time when you had to do a lot more to transfer television characters to the cinema. We saw that with the two Rugrats films which did a very good job transferring the Rugrats cast of characters and their world to cinemas. I don’t know what happened with the Hey Arnold! movie but I don’t they did a very good job considering that the majority of the time they were making a TV film and then were suddenly tasked with making a cinema release. There’s a lot I don’t like about it – it doesn’t seem as expressive as the TV show but, more to the point, the colours are washed out as all hell. Hey Arnold! as a TV show actually has a brilliant use of colour in its animation. They actually are very good at setting the tone through slight animation changes that are only noticeable on a re-watch. The Hey Arnold! movie has like one tone and filter and they seem to use it throughout the entire film. As a result, everything looks really dark and bleak. Compare that with Hey Arnold! The Jungle Movie, it’s bursting with colour. Again, this was made for television, but even then, it looks like it had a lot more love and care put into it. I think this is as a product of deadlines. The Jungle Movie was a passion project – they had time to iron out each of the aspects of every single scene, so that probably affected it.

5. Humour

The humour in Hey Arnold! The Movie isn’t that great. It didn’t help that if you were watching a lot of kid’s TV around that time, they were in tons of trailers for it and showed off pretty much all the jokes, including the weird Incredible Hulk parody. As a result, there were not many good jokes left by the time we all got round to watching it. And even if you went in blind, the funny jokes are few and far between. Hey Arnold! really is praised for its excellent slice of life in tackling a tough subject, but it also should be stated that it has excellent humour and some very funny characters. It seems absent in Hey Arnold! The Movie; there’s not that many great moments. I think one of the funniest moments was Eugene trying to break into song at the beginning of the film which at the time was actually quite funny but now, considering how often that joke’s been done as a massive middle finger to Disney, it’s lost all sense of charm. The Jungle Movie certainly has way more laughs, and while some of them are directed a bit too much at fans, there’s also some genuinely good ones in there as well that anyone can enjoy. I particularly found a joke around Wi-Fi incredibly hilarious when I first saw it. And surprisingly, the villain gets some of the most humorous moments yet, again, they still manage to make him intimidating.

6. How they Handled The Over-The-Top Nature

Both of these films are going to jump the shark from what is a slice-of-life show, but there’s a difference in how they handled it. Again, The Jungle Movie built this up and still feels like it somewhat within the realms of reality. Hey Arnold! The Movie goes for a weird spy-thriller edge like it’s trying to be Men In Black and James Bond all in one in the second half, which feels weird and out of place. It almost feels like one of the fantasies that the characters would have in Doug turned into a full-length movie. I don’t think anyone expected this when they heard there was going to be a Hey Arnold movie. Again, this was kind of a product of the time where the idea was that if you were transferring a TV show into a film, you had to raise the stakes exponentially and do things that were really out there, something that I think a lot of TV shows turned into films now know not to do. The Jungle Movie, again, all feels like it’s in place. Plus, it’s building off ‘The Journal’ which also introduced some of these over-the-top elements, and while they don’t entirely work in that episode, it’s written so well you almost don’t care. Same goes with The Jungle Movie. Because Hey Arnold! The Movie doesn’t have the best writing in the world, the over-the-top elements stick out exponentially.

7. The Endings

The Hey Arnold! movie does not have an ending! Seriously, yeah, there is a technical ending to it but the film just kind of stops, before throwing a massive middle finger to the fans and just resetting everything back to normal. Again, compare this with the Rugrats film and The Wild Thornberrys movies. While things were mostly back to the status quo, there were also brand new things introduced for the shows going forward and there were fundamental changes – Dill was introduced as Tommy’s little brother in the first Rugrats film, for example, so he would be a main-stay character going forwards. The ending of the Hey Arnold! movie means nothing has changed; it’s almost as if it never needed to happen. Compare it with The Jungle Movie and it’s a brilliant conclusion to the series. They could easily make a new season of Hey Arnold! on Nickelodeon built off this and it would still work but as far as I’m concerned, this is the ending, let’s stick with it. And in all honesty, there were two ways this film was going to end. They went with the one I thought wasn’t going to work and somehow made it work. Everyone was happy with how it turned out. And that reason more than anything else is why I really love The Jungle Movie over Hey Arnold! The Movie. Again, I repeat, Hey Arnold! The Movie is not the worst film ever; it’s not even the worst Nickelodeon movie, but comparing it with The Jungle Movie, the 2017 film is what we were meant to have all along. I’m glad it exists and is pride-of-place on my DVD shelf.
Calvin – Nerd Consultant

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The Next Axia10th July 2024
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