Nick Nostalgia is in full swing at Comic Con this year. Everywhere you go you see reminders of Nickelodeon’s past. Besides yesterday’s Rocko’s Modern Life panel and reveal, nothing has been anticipated more than the return of Hey Arnold! The path towards this anticipation has been one of frustration and hope for countless fans. Back in 2004, when Hey Arnold! initially ended its run, the show left viewers on a cliffhanger, the crux of which depended on the titular Arnold finally discovering the fate of his long-lost parents, who were mostly absent from the series. That episode— “The Journal”—was intended to be the lead-in to a second Arnold film, one that never materialized. But now that resolution is finally around the corner. And with more than a decade of build-up, the interest and high expectations of Hey Arnold: The Jungle Movie are reaching their apotheosis.
It’s not an unwarranted feeling. For a certain generation, Hey Arnold resonated in a way that other cartoons simply did not. There was a pathos to it. Every character, while presented as goofy or eccentric on the outside, hid deep neuroses and levels of emotional pain. Here was an animated series that wasn’t afraid to look at real issues and tribulations facing kids as they made their way in the world. And for the voice actors of the original series—Lane Toran and Jamil Walker Smith (Arnold and Gerald, respectively)—their memories of the show remains a positive part of their personal history.
“It’s been an amazing experience,” said Toran, “The show means the same to us as it does to the fans, and we’re fans of the show ourselves.” During our brief conversation, there were a lot of back and forth remembrances between Smith and Toran about recording the voices for the show: “The best after-school program ever,” chuckles Smith, with a Gerald plush doll hanging out of his back pocket. I wondered if bringing the show back was strange for them seeing as it’s been nearly two decades since the show began. In a moment of deep reflection, Smith said, “There was a deepness to it. You have to credit Craig [Bartlett, the creator of Hey Arnold!] and the writers for creating real stories.”
Seeing the old school and the new school meet was a fascinating contrast of generations, but not of style. Toran and Smith flanked Mason Vale Cotton and Benjamin “Lil’ P-Nut” Flores, Jr, the new voices of Arnold and Gerald, an event that could be dubbed “The once and future Arnold.” Both Cotton and Flores weren’t around during the majority of the original run, and by the time they were old enough to see it, regular reruns weren’t playing. Nonetheless, preparing for their roles meant going back to the old episodes; they were eager to absorb what had come before. “The most important episode for me was the ‘The Journal,’” Cotton told me. “It’s the basis for what we’re doing now. It was important to get that right.” Further, as during the original run, Cotton and Flores recorded their lines together (“In about four hours!” exclaimed Cotton, about the initial recording session). “I was happy we did it together.”
“It’s a part of living history,” said Flores, when asked about what excited him most about working on this project. “We’re making people happy.” Indeed, both Cotton and Flores were energetic and enthusiastic about being part of the Hey Arnold revival. And when the inevitable question came up about continuing the show even after the film premieres later this year, both young actors were game.
“It’s not every day that you get to be part of a project that you honestly believe,” said Smith, when prompted by the question of what Hey Arnold means to him today. “I’d love for my kids to see it.”
“The fandom is not misplaced,” said Toran.
Check out the new footage below:
Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie premieres Fall 2017