Photo from nickalive.blogspot.com
By Louis James Marrone
As kids, many of us often dreamt of adventure. We often fantasized about fighting adult tyranny and saving the world before bedtime. I think that is what made shows like “Codename: Kids Next Door,” “Ed, Edd, n’ Eddy,” and “Recess” so powerful. They perpetuated the idea that, if you were not out having an adventure, then you were wasting daylight. So, with that being said, it may be contradictory for me to say that my favorite of these kinds of shows was “Hey Arnold.” Because, when you really think about it, “Hey Arnold” was the kid-friendly equivalent of “King of The Hill.” It was a very low concept show, with the humor coming more so from the characters and their reactions to various situations.
The show’s final episodes aired in 2004. However, 2002’s “The Journal” was its true finale. The episode acted as a set up for a storyline entailing Arnold finding his parents, who have been lost in the jungle since his infancy.
Finally, after 15 years, Nickelodeon provided some closure, and premiered “Hey Arnold: The Jungle Movie.”
The movie was supposed to come out in 2003 as a theatrical film. However, the movie that actually came out, “Hey Arnold: The Movie,” disappointed in terms of box-office and critical performance. Following this, Nickelodeon was hesitant to make the movie, and thus, it remained in production limbo.
When it comes to reboots like this, I knew that I was going to have to take off the nostalgia goggles and at least try to look at this with an objective viewpoint. So, unsure of what to expect, I sat down, watched the film, and, to be honest, this movie is really good. It is no masterpiece, but it is funny, it is action-packed, its got romance, it has sad moments, and it has really nicely done, lush animation and backgrounds.
It has been a year since Arnold has found a mysterious journal in the boarding house attic. The journal apparently has clues as to the whereabouts of his long lost parents, revealing them to have been lost in the jungles of South America. But sadly, with no means of executing a search, he is left with only questions. That is, until his class enters a humanitarian efforts contest, the grand prize being a free trip to San Lorenzo, where river pirates rule, and danger lurks around each corner of its vast jungles.
Of course, the class wins, and Arnold now has his means of at least searching for his parents. Once there, they meet a tour guide, Eduardo, of whom has connections to Arnold’s parents. Things start off well, but while on a river tour of the jungle, they are attacked by pirates, and as they make their escape, they are left shipwrecked. From there, all sorts of things happen. There is a prophecy, some twists and turns, and even a body count, surprisingly.
It is hard not to admire the ambition of this movie. With a show as low concept and mellow as “Hey Arnold,” it is honestly really interesting to see them take these characters and put them into this cinematic, almost surreal situation. This movie went straight-to-TV, but from a writing standpoint, it feels like a theatrical release. This film knows what it is, yet it strives to be so much more. The stakes are really high, people’s lives are put in danger, and as said before, some even die. It treats its audience maturely and does not talk down to them. But, on that note, to the movie’s credit, it never takes it too far. It still is a family film.
It was refreshing to know what after fifteen years, the show still retains its heart. You do not feel like you have been gone for that for that long; the movie just acts like it has been present all along. Arnold builds this relationship between himself and their supposed tour guide, Eduardo, and it is really well done. The movie gives them time to breathe. It lets them talk. It lets the moment be quiet. There is not loud music or screaming characters barging in and disrupting that. You sit there listening to Eduardo tell Arnold stories of his past with his parents. I love when animation does that. In the world of shows like “Adventure Time” and “Regular Show,” it is rare that you see this kind of energy in mainstream television animation.
The animation in this film is also really nice. “Hey Arnold” always had this very nice and beautiful art style. For the shows earlier seasons, the backgrounds were done with colored pencil, and it allowed for them to have this soft glow to them, along with this lush sense of texture and artistry. One of my main gripes with the initial “Hey Arnold: The Movie” was that it just was not appealing to look at. It looked like the backgrounds were painted with dirty water and tattered brushes/sponges. The colors were all gray and brown and red. It was just a gloomy aesthetic. Here, they have returned to the colored pencil style, although now it is being emulated digitally with the help of photoshop. Even then, it still looks really nice. It does not quite have the same lushness of the original series.
The movie does have a few problems with it though.
While I said that the movie is ambitious, and while that is, for the most part, a good thing, it can sometimes come off as a bit restrained. For example, there is a scene where the kids are all escaping a prison camp in the middle of the jungle. The scene is action packed– a guy literally explodes! But the scene feels a bit held back. The action is there, but it does not quite go far enough. Like, it wants to be more epic, but the budget would not allow it.
With that said, the plot can come off as a little bit fake at times. Without giving too much away, there is a plot twist towards the third act that can come off as a little forced. It involves the nature of the contest that the characters enter. I would argue it works for this, but something about it just feels far too scripted and far too convenient. There is also the famous romance between Arnold and Helga, and there is a scene in the second act where Helga confronts Arnold about this. Again, I am glad it is in the movie, and yeah, I know that it had to be addressed for the thematic reasons, but the way that the scene plays out, it is almost like I am watching a Hallmark channel soap opera. The scene could have benefited from more subtly.
When you scrape it down to its basic form, what makes the movie work is the thematic material. Like I said before, kids want adventure. The plot of this movie is so out there and so high concept. It is just regular kids being put in this larger than life adventure. Kids love that. They want to be able to find an escape from their lives. They want to be able to believe that they can go anywhere, do anything and be anyone. This movies gives them that satisfaction and puts those ideas in their heads.
All in all, “Hey Arnold: The Jungle Movie” is a film that strives to be more than what people are expecting. There is never a point in the film where you feel a sense of cynicism. You get the feeling that this is a labor of love. Because of all of this, “Hey Arnold: The Jungle Movie” is a strong bow to its audience and a delightful adventure that will have you swinging from vine to vine.