Back in 2002, Nickelodeon aired an hour-long Hey Arnold! special entitled “The Journal” that ended with everyone’s favorite “Football Head” discovering a mysterious map of the fictional Central American country San Lorenzo that would at long last lead Arnold to discovering what happened to his parents. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” and by then production for the beloved animated series had finished leaving a major dangling story thread hanging to the chagrin of viewers. And you thought, Twin Peaks fans had it rough more than 25 years ago with the Season 2 finale. But just like Twin Peaks, which returned thanks to constant and consistent fan enthusiasm over the years, 2017 will see the resolution of that major plotline plus many others with Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie.
Hey Arnold! creator Craig Barlett credits the advent of social media allowing the shared fan community to come together and celebrate their love of the show that enabled The Jungle Movie to finally see the light of day. It also helps that the new administration of Nickelodeon of the last few years actually grew up watching Hey Arnold! during their own childhoods and were completely behind producing the long-awaited Jungle Movie. With support from both the fans and Nickelodeon executives, the magnitude of The Jungle Movie meant that Bartlett had to essentially “start from scratch” and change much of the original plans for the project that were developed years ago. The end result is a movie that Bartlett promises “is more meta than ever and checks every episode box,” but is also a satisfying story in and of itself.
It’s no secret that the last few years have seen an explosion of ’90’s television nostalgia, particularly in children’s entertainment. There’s a tendency to perceive reboots/revivals as simple cash grabs to appeal to consumers of a bygone era, but this is clearly not the case with Arnold. Speaking with some of the original series’ actors at NYCC including- Olivia Hack (Rhonda), Anndi McAfee (Phoebe), and Lane Toran (first voice of Arnold), the significance of Hey Arnold is not lost on them either and they all relished the opportunity to work once more on a show that resonated with an entire generation. “I loved being at Nickelodeon after all these years, because we didn’t know any of the new people,” said McAfee. “So it was really exciting to be in front of them and get into the process of getting into our characters.”
Toran, the very first voice of Arnold who was recast in the original series, already knew he couldn’t do the voice but was delighted to voice a new character named Che who also happens to be the love interest of Olga Pataki. I don’t think the irony of the OG Arnold ending up with Helga’s perfect older sister is oblivious on anyone familiar with the show. According to Toran, fans shouldn’t expect any big moments with Wolfgang, the 5th grade bully Toran also voiced, except as perhaps a small cameo. Based on the slides presented during the panel, eagle-eyed viewers should also be on the lookout for a “Hipster Toran” character based on Toran’s own appearance lurking in the background. While the cast may have recorded individually for The Jungle Movie as opposed to ensemble as they did for the original show, there’s no denying the sense of rekindling that sense of play and fun they all experienced back in the day as kids.
As with any long-running show, it’s not uncommon to witness characters grow and evolve. Just look at how different Homer Simpson’s voice and personality is from that very first season of The Simpsons. With the case of Phoebe, Helga’s shy yet loyal subordinate, the character was a bit of blank slate for voice actress Anndi McAfee. As one of the last actors cast for the show, McAfee initially didn’t have much to go on with Phoebe beyond just being a “best friend” character, but after 5 episodes or so, immediately understood the character. For an extrovert like McAfee, playing the reticent Phoebe is a complete 180 from her own personality. I’m still blown away that Ashley A from Recess and Phoebe are the same voice actress- how scandalous! McAFee described performing Phoebe as a physical process requiring her to hunch her shoulders in order to get into that meek voice. Aside from sporting a new look, McAfee pointed out we have yet to hear Phoebe speak in any of The Jungle Movie promotional material, potentially hinting at some big things in store for little Phoebe.
However, if there’s one character from Hey Arnold you can count on to always show off a new style, it’s the resident fashionista of Hey Arnold!– Rhonda Welling Lloyd. Judging by some of the art showcased during the panel, Rhonda will definitely be out of her comfort zone in the jungles of San Lorenzo.
In today’s celebrity and fame obsessed culture that seems to celebrate people behaving at their worst, Hey Arnold provides the perfect panacea to the cynicism and sarcasm of Generation Me, a sentiment shared by the cast. “I think children’s programming these days has a tendency to be spastic and ADD driven,” said Hack. “The thing with Arnold and why it touched so many people is that it dealt with real life things. So as a child you can watch that and feel like someone is speaking to you and that’s really important. I don’t think we have a lot of shows like that on the air right now.” I emphatically agree with Hack’s description and believe the seeming simplicity and timelessness of the world of Hey Arnold belie the rich complex themes and characters that speak to the human condition that many current animated shows sorely lack. If anything, Hey Arnold has more in common with the magic realism genre associated with Latin American literature than any other animated program currently on the air. A fitting comparison since acclaimed writer Gabriel García Márquez’s magnum opus One Hundred Years of Solitude was a major influence on Hey Arnold! and the subsequent Jungle Movie. Let that be a lesson to parents who think cartoons don’t teach you anything!
According to creator Craig Barlett and the cast, there have been discussions about possibly reviving Hey Arnold! for another season pending the success of The Jungle Movie. Nothing is concrete, of course, but if a 6th season were to happen, Bartlett plans on having Arnold and the gang in the 6th grade. When asked if they would be onboard, McAfee/Hack/Toran had absolutely no hesitation to say yes.
If that’s the case, then Hey Arnold! fans best set their DVRs and save the date when Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie premieres on November 24th on Nickelodeon!
Nickelodeon fans of all ages are getting a Thanksgiving treat this year, as the highly anticipated, brand-new Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie bows Friday, Nov. 24, from 7:00-9:00 p.m. (ET/PT). Featuring a storyline picking up where the original TV series ended in 2004, Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie follows the kids on the field trip of a lifetime, where Arnold and his friends embark on a quest to achieve his dream of finding his missing parents. Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie will premiere as a simulcast on Nickelodeon, TeenNick and Nicktoons.
Co-written and executive produced by the TV series’ original creator Craig Bartlett, Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie features original voice cast members Francesca Marie Smith (The Prince of Egypt) as Helga and Anndi McAfee (Tom and Jerry: The Movie) as Phoebe, alongside dynamic new voice talent Mason Vale Cotton (Mad Men) as Arnold and Benjamin “Lil’ P-Nut” Flores, Jr. (Game Shakers) as Gerald.
Lane Toran (original voice of Arnold) and Jamil Walker Smith (original voice of Gerald) will supplement the returning cast by lending their voices as Che and Paulo, two members of the boat crew in San Lorenzo, and Alfred Molina (Spider-Man 2) stars as resident villain, Lasombra.
Additional voice actors reprising their famed roles include: Justin Shenkarow (Recess) as Harold; Olivia Hack (Family Guy) as Rhonda; Nika Futterman (The Boxtrolls) as Olga; Dan Butler (Frasier) as Mr. Simmons; Dan Castellaneta (The Simpsons) as Grandpa; Tress MacNeille (The Simpsons) as Grandma; Antoinette Stella (Melrose Place, writer) as Stella; Carlos Alazraqui (Happy Feet) as Eduardo; Dom Irrera (Back at the Barnyard) as Ernie; Maurice LaMarche (Futurama) as Bob Pataki; Kath Soucie (Rugrats) as Miriam; Danielle Judovits (Toy Story) as Big Patty; Danny Cooksey (The Lorax) as Stoop Kid; Jim Belushi (According to Jim) as Coach Wittenberg; and Craig Bartlett as Miles.
New voices include: Gavin Lewis (Real Boy) as Eugene; Jet Jurgensmeyer (Shimmer and Shine) as Stinky; Aiden Lewandowski (Comedy Bang! Bang!) as Sid; Laya Hayes (Santa Hunters) as Nadine; Nicolas Cantu (The Impossible Joy) as Curly; Wally Wingert (Sonic Boom) as Oskar; and Stephen Stanton (Star Wars Rebels) as Pigeon Man.
Viewers can visit the Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie page on Nick.com and the Nick App, along with the Hey Arnold! Facebook page and Instagram, to get a look at the TV movie. For more information, visit nickpress.com.
NickSplat, TeenNick’s programming block dedicated to Nickelodeon’s legendary library of hits from the ‘90s and 2000s, will celebrate Hey Arnold! throughout the month of November with fan-favorite episodes every night from 12:00 a.m.-1:00 a.m. (ET/PT). In addition, NickSplat will treat fans to a marathon of every single Hey Arnold! episode beginning Friday, Nov. 17, through Friday, Nov. 24, from 11:00 p.m.–6:00 a.m. (ET/PT). Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie encores Saturday, Nov. 25, and Friday, Dec. 1, at 12:00 a.m. (ET/PT) on TeenNick.
Debuting in 1996, Hey Arnold! helped usher in a new era of groundbreaking animation on TV, joining the ranks of landmark Nickelodeon hits, including Doug, Rugrats, The Ren & Stimpy Show, Rocko’s Modern Life, SpongeBob SquarePants and more. Hey Arnold!:The Jungle Movie is one of Nickelodeon’s three animated properties from its rich library reimagined for today’s audience, including the upcoming TV special Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling and Invader Zim.
Taimur Dar is the Digital Media Producer and Marketing Expert for the Beat. He has earned a master’s degree in marketing intelligence from Fordham University and has provided branding strategies for various companies and organizations. His name his pronounced like the first two syllables of “tomorrow” in case you were wondering.