Review: ‘Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie’ is a Nostalgia Trip Done Right
After years of waiting patiently, fans can finally get closure with “Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie.”
A thing to know about me is that I am a big “Hey Arnold!” fan. I watched it all the time growing up. I did NOT like the “Hey Arnold!: The Movie” (fair warning I’ll be referring/comparing this a lot throughout) that came out in the early 2000s and can see why it killed off this film for some time. Like my “Trans-Dimensional Turtles” review I think I’ll need to quickly give my thoughts on the “Hey Arnold!” series first so that you can see where I’m coming from.
Thoughts on “Hey Arnold!” series:
“Hey Arnold!” was a show on Nickelodeon about a boy with a football shaped head named Arnold. It was a pretty simple premise, Arnold’s growing up in the city with his grandparents. He’s remarkably mature for his age and basically most episodes are about someone in the neighborhood having some kind of problem and Arnold helps them solve it. There was also the running gag of his biggest bully, Helga secretly being in love with him. Where the show shined brightest was in its characters who got a surprisingly large amount of development for a kid’s cartoon show. Episodes explored issues like addiction, loss, heartbreak and melancholy endings. It wasn’t as wacky as most of the other shows of the time and I think that’s what drew myself and others to it.
Cinematics (Cinematography, Acting, Plot, etc.) – 3.5
So here’s the plot, it’s actually sorta a sequel to the final episode of the series, “The Journal.” That episode was about Arnold finding his father’s old journal which gives him more insight into his parents and what may have become of them. In the very end he found a map that was implied to be able to lead him to them. Then, “Hey Arnold!: The Movie” ignored all of that to do its own thing. Now this story takes place with Helga helping Arnold win a trip to the same jungle country his parents disappeared in. They uncover a conspiracy led by an old enemy of his parents. With all the other students captured, Arnold, Helga and Gerald are left to follow the map and hopefully find Arnold’s parents in time. If that sounds a little out there compared to what I described in the series review then it’s OK. This is supposed to be their biggest adventure. There’s nothing too special about the plot or anything to really grab you, but for a kid’s film it was a fine story.
First, let’s talk about the visuals. They took the opportunity to slightly re-design all the major characters. When the film began I thought from the fact Mr. Simmons is still their teacher that this was supposed to take place at the same time as the series. But then there was modern technology and other things. They mention at the very end they’re starting 6th grade (in the series they were 4th graders). So from that and all the re-designs (which includes giving some of the girl characters boobs which they did NOT have in the series) I assume that this is a year after the series and maybe movie? They make NO references to “The Movie” itself so I’m not even sure if it’s in continuity. Which is fine I just found it a little jarring at first. I’m looking forward to the fan theories explaining the tech jump. All that being said with the changes, it is probably the best looking the show has ever looked. Compare that to “The Movie” where it actually somehow looked far worse than the TV show ever did.
The voice acting is wonderful. I’d estimate about half of the voices return and most of them sound exactly the same. It’s like no time has passed. Then, there are the characters voiced by actors who were age appropriate at the time, but now were too old. Or the original voice actor passed away. Most of the replacement actors are fine, a lot are mostly just cameos. However, there are some that will be SUPER obvious to the fans. The reason this is coming out now is that this was supposed to the original theatrical film. With the story that actually became the theatrical film originally being the TV movie series finale. Needless to say there were a number of shake ups and the order got switched. This film was still going to happen, but then the first movie bombed so badly in theaters that this “Jungle Movie” got stuck in limbo for years. It’s thanks to the show remaining popular with fans that they decided to let Craig Bartlett finally tell this story. With the idea if this special does well enough, then a full-blown revival series could happen.
Entertainment Value – 4
First things first, it was SO cool to hear the old music and sound effects in this modern program. It not only sent me on quite a nostalgic romp, but it helped solidify the idea that I really was watching a brand new episode of “Hey Arnold!” The beginning has so many cameos and Easter eggs for the fans of the old show. They even up the ante on some of the old jokes. It turns out Helga is more obsessed with Arnold than we ever realized. Although one of the best jokes is ruined if you’ve frequent interviews and trivia about the show. They finally reveal Arnold’s last name, in case you don’t know I’ll let you experience that joke. We even get as much confirmation as is probably possible in a kids show that their teacher Mr Simmons is gay. They also do a number of stuff in the ending that if this leads to a new series could radically change the status quo and make it a very different from the original. Way better than how in “The Movie” they seemed to do that, but then immediately backtracked and destroyed all the character development.
Now you may be saying to yourself, “Gee Eric a little obsessed with that first movie much? Let it go!” While I was watching this, I did try to really think about why this special worked so much better for me than “The Movie” did. I might be tempted to say that “The Movie” came out around the time I was losing interest in cartoons, but I don’t think that’s the case. A.) I didn’t actually see “The Movie” until a few years ago. And B.) I can still re-watch/enjoy those old episodes and in some cases I like them more now. I think it’s because this film does still have a strong character base to the story while adding new elements to it at the same time. “The Movie” in addition to feeling like it was completely unrelated to everything else seemed more concerned about being cool and throwing in references to random different stuff. Somehow getting splashed with pickle juice turned Helga’s dad into the Hulk. “The Jungle Movie” while still removed from what the show was normally felt like it had earned the right to be a little crazier since it is tying up all sorts of ESTABLISHED loose ends.
Re-Watchability – 3.5
While I have no plans to re-watch it in the near future I would gladly watch it again. IF this does indeed lead to a revival then I will probably give it a watch.
- Entertainment Value
After years of wondering and pondering what this film would be like I can safely say that "Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie" is an enjoyable romp down memory lane. While it's not as introspective and character driven and the best episodes of the series were, it still has enough to make it a worthy (long overdue) ending. Essentially, it is the original theatrical film done right. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.
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