Can Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie Bring Back That Timeless Magic?

hey arnold

1990s nostalgia is an at all-time high right now, with classic franchises returning to the forefront of pop culture. Reboots of The Powerpuff Girls and Teen Titans are massive successes, while modern updates of other older shows (like Rocko’s Modern Life ) will launch in the next year. My favorite show of the era, Hey Arnold! is coming back with a new made-for-television movie, Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie, which brings the whole gang to the depths of the rainforest in the search for Arnold and his parents.

Player.One spoke with series creator Craig Bartlett and the voice of Helga, Francesca Smith, at New York Comic Con about how the show’s timeless spirit, appeasing past and future fans and if there’s more Arnold in the works.

Congratulations on bringing back Hey Arnold! What’s it like coming back to the show after all these years?

Craig Bartlett: “What a huge process. I kind of flirted the idea with Nickelodeon for a decade before it got real. Russell Hicks (former Nickelodeon president) came to run the Burbank studio and he had a great interest in reviving the 90s stuff. There was a ton of fan interest to bring back the show and the people who grew up watching 90s content, went to school, graduated college and who are now working at Nick wanted to bring back the show. It took a few years to get it into production, but now we’ve been working on it for two years.”

A lot of animated television reboots from my childhood, like Teen Titans GO! and The Powerpuff Girls , tend to focus on entertaining a younger demographic. Will Hey Arnold! do the same?

CB: “Nickelodeon is still a network for kids ages six to eleven, so figuring out who this show was meant for was important for the reboot. (Nick) really doesn’t want me to let go of the fact that we’re serving an audience that may not know the show. The movie is trying to reintroduce the characters we all know and love again, while also keeping the main themes that made kids fall in love with it in the first place, like Arnold and Helga’s relationship, Gerald and Arnold being best friends and Helga and Phoebe, which the movie’s all about. We also need to make sure that people who grew up on the show and are now adults get all their boxes checked.”

Is it hard writing a joke a child can understand and one that an adult won’t get bored with?

Francesca Smith: “Reflecting back on the script, I can see how well that line was navigated. It’s so easy to just slip-off that balance beam, trying to entertain an 8-year-old and their parents while also making sure all the threads of the narrative don’t rehash stuff we already know. You’ve got to be welcoming to all those people that don’t know these characters.”

CB: “The show always tried to do that though, but this time we were more aware than ever. When trying to be funny, we always tried to make something for the kids while also trying not to be torture for the parents to have to sit through. We are making this project where we have this huge awareness of the history of the legacy and how it affects fans.”

FS: “The cool thing is, having that team of executive and creators who grew up watching the show, add a valuable layer of perspective. For us, having lived through it, we have myopia, or spots we can’t really be objective about. When you have that fan perspective right on the creative team, it really helps out and we were really lucky to have it.”

The media landscape has changed so much since Hey Arnold! was first on, with kids tending to watch short form YouTube content instead of longer shows. How long is the Hey Arnold! Jungle Movie?

CB: “Two hours (laughs). Think of it more as an event rather than a movie. You go make some popcorn, sit down on the couch and just relax.”

So, it’s not planned as a jumping off point for a series?

CB: “We would love to make a full series, but it isn’t planned. The kids are starting sixth grade at the end of our movie. So if there’s an interest into ‘what would that be like?’ then it’s completely possible.”

FS: “All the narrative seeds are there, they are planted. The movie answers a lot of questions but also raises new ones that could be answered rather nicely.”

How do you deal with the massive gap in time from the series end to today? Were the kids cryogenically frozen?

FS: (Laughs) “You’ll have to tune in to find out.”

Life has changed so much since Hey Arnold! was first on the air, Arnold lived in a brownstone and played stickball. Kids today are completely locked to their cellphones, did you bring the gang to the jungle so modern audiences could relate to the story better?

CB: “We brought them to the jungle because that’s where Arnold’s personal narrative had taken him. He’s been looking for his parents, but the movie conveniently starts in the city and then takes us somewhere new. All of the kids will be taken out of their comfort zone. The show was always supposed to capture a bit of nostalgia. Even when we were making it in the 90s, we’d use to say ‘remember when you were a kid and you’d get on your bikes and your mom would say to be home for dinner?’ That’s all the parental guidance we had. We went, ‘let’s create a cool aspirational lifestyle for these kids that doesn’t truly exist,’ even back then.”

FS: “You’re right about that sense of playing stickball in the street is kind of a timeless narrative that doesn’t feel particularly linked to the present moment or any particular era. It’s something that’s just a little dream-like, generically nostalgic. By going to the jungle, another dreamy, out-of-time place. What’s so amazing is I never had that experience, along with a fair share of kid’s from the 90s who watched the show, were still really drawn to and nostalgic for that thing, even if they never had that experience.”         

Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie premieres on Nickelodeon on Nov. 24.

Join the Discussion