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Hey Arnold! The Movie

review by Zach B.

 

MPAA Rated: PG (For Some Thematic Elements)

Running Time: 75 minutes

Starring the voices of: Spencer Klein, Dan Castellaneta , Paul Sorvino, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Christopher Lloyd,

Written by: Craig Bartlett & Steve Viksten

Directed by: Tuck Tucker

 

Studio: Paramount

Retail Price: $29.99

Features: Theatrical Trailer, "Charlotte's Web 2" Interactive Game, "Charlotte's Web" Promo

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, 1.33:1 Full Screen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround, English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (14 Scenes)

Released: December 31st, 2002

 

 

Right from the opening photoesque montage of the urban buildings, streets and city, "Hey Arnold!" fans will feel right at home. From this little montage of artistic renderings, sealed with echoes of the name "Arnold," a certain simplicity and sweetness can be felt. Still, many might know what they're in for: the story of a little guy standing tall within his beliefs, hoping to maintain his happiness and conformity within a world of hardworking people, many of which who are too self-involved to even have their own set of morals and values, all set against depressing and dying backdrops of an urban city.

For his first big screen adventure, Arnold takes on big business in hopes to save his neighborhood, which is priceless to everyone who lives there. Scheck, who bears a resemblance to Ronald Reagan with the dress stylings of Dapper Don John Gotti (Gerald just loves his suits), is the head of the Future Tech Industries, and has plans to expand his company with a "mall-plex." Having sealed the deal with the town's mayor, Scheck plans to bulldoze a certain neighborhood, the neighborhood where Arnold lives, trying to show the world that while his plans may lead to a destruction of many completed dreams, hopes and memories; those are no major losses since "change is good."

Arnold has a mere thirty days to save everything, and tries everything he can. A petition from people in the neighborhood goes nowhere, free hot dogs with clever ways of "wrapping" their message doesn't bring any buzz and a loud block party with music (certainly a "block thing" according to Gerald), "Blockapalooza," brings attention for the wrong reasons, especially when Scheck himself finds a loophole to stop "Blockapalooza." When all of that is over with, Arnold and the gang have a mere two days left before they must say goodbye to their beloved establishments.

However, Arnold does not lose hope, and learns that he may have one last shot to save his beloved neighborhood. After his grandfather tells him that their boarding house is a national landmark due to a revolt involving tomatoes, and that a document claiming that it is a landmark may exist. From there, Arnold's determintion is only reinforced, and with the help from his best friend Gerald, the two race against time and get involved in a series of adventures in hopes to retrieve the document. They research long hours after convincing a media worker to help find the vacation, they are tipped off from that same worker to see a history buff medical coroner, and from there, they arrive at Future Tech Industries itself, only to realize that Scheck cares nothing for the neighborhood dwellers in his mass conquest, and that Scheck may be hiding some things they don't know.

Despite being battered down from all of this, and Gerald's constant attitude that it's wrong for Arnold to look on the bright side of bad situations, the two enlist help from a spy specialist of sorts named Bridget and get cool gadgets, as well as many helpful tips from the likes of "Deep Voice." Can Arnold's good heart and wreckless pursuit of that document help him save the neighborhood from the evils of corporate America? You bet.

"Hey Arnold! The Movie" works perfectly for what it is. It plays out just like a long episode of the cartoon series. Perhaps that's why it works so well: as fans probably know, the movie is actually three never before seen episodes of the show strung together. The three episodes were actually going to be shown on Nickelodeon as a way to end the series, but those business fatcats at Viacom and Paramount (that means you John Dulgen!) probably thought that they have a big lead-in audience from the show itself, and given other successes (and misses) of animated films based on cable cartoon shows (such as their own "Rugrats" franchise), it would only seem logical to give Arnold a boost to the silver screen. Unfortunantly, Arnold's big screen adaption tanked at the box office (so perhaps it was actually better off as three final episodes?), making myself wonder, despite the massive hype on their own networks, did the show have an audience in the first place (or maybe they all went to camp, considering this movie opened in summertime)?

Whether this is a send-off for the series or not, and despite mixed reaction filmgoers and mediocre reviews from many film critics, I am one to think that "Hey Arnold! The Movie" is actually a pretty solid film. It gives off a more epic sense than the television show itself, a feat that is not always easy to create when you make the jump from the small screen to the big screen. It probably feels that way because of the celebrity voice talent, that the stakes are greater for Arnold and his neighborhood pals, and that there is more meaning to everything: Arnold's noble quest, bigger and more daring sequences, Helga questioning her loyalty to her secret crush and to her father, the many motives of the characters, hidden references to major fans of the show and while the focus is the 33rd-39th street block, and a good deal of the movie takes place there, other major parts to the movie leave behind the neighborhood and breaks boundaries by chartering into further city territory not previously explored on the television show.

Arnold's creator, Craig Bartlett (who has written many episodes of the television series), co-wrote the movie with another series writer, Oskar Kokoshka himself, Steve Viksten. This is a smart script that is not only sharp, but is witty for young viewers and older folk alike. The children are sure to enjoy the crazy slapstick fare and fun one-liners aimed for them, but I believe that Gerald's suggestion to be like the Black Panthers and start their own civil rights movement in creating a block party ("BLOCK POWER!" he cites), Gerald's love of Judaism (who knew that Gerald was a religous man?) and how "Deep Voice" is obviously inspired by a mysterious and shady 1970s character who also had the first name Deep, not to mention both Deeps ended up doing their own parts to bring down major forces in the world.

Granted, you've seen much of this script before in your other favorite television shows, big blockbuster movies and local human interest stories. Should you care about that though? Probably not. "Hey Arnold! The Movie" doesn't set out to break the molds of storytelling or even animated films for that matter. It simply goes out and does its job like a humble worker ant: it delivers a movie that is entertaining, engrossing and delivers just the right elements to the fans of the show so they can identify and be trapped in Arnold's world, all while setting up the major characters, plotlines and sad setting for "Hey Arnold!" newbies.

The story itself is surprisingly even, not to mention carries its own weight, holds depth and is quite good-hearted. Every scene lasts the correct amount of time, as we get just enough to enjoy ourselves and to advance the movie's edge-of-your-seat plot. Basically everything you see is pretty uniform: perfectly structured sequences that are not boring, repetitive or tiresome. They just add more and more to the story, with good action, humor and dialogue exchanges no less, providing flawless stumbling blocks for our characters and the situations they are involved in (not to mention brilliant foreshadowing - Runaway Bus, anyone?). It all adds up to be rather fantastic, actually... especially at a fine, natural pace where it all makes sense and just keeps on going. I must admit I didn't look at my watch once throughout the film, always being involved with something on screen.

Everyone also seems to complain about the animation the film features. What exactly is wrong with it, forbid I ask? Not every film can be a detailed 3-D spectacle or a 2-D visual canvas from the fine folks at Disney and Dreamworks. Given the film's 10 million dollar budget, and that the film actually stays consistent with the show's animation, I see no reason for complaints. For one thing, given the movie is a bigger scale than the television shows, the "flat" animation actually looks better and works on the silver screen (for me at least). The animation actually looks a bit more colorful and sharper, but fans of the series can expect those familiar undertones that has always been major themes and points of the series: the heartbreaking sunsets across city landscapes, the worn down street buildings, the modestly sized homes though beated homes the characters are quite happy with and the classic grit feeling of the urban streets, blending with everything to give off a feel and look of depression, like some tear-jerker painting of sorts. Here, the backgrounds and variety of settings break the heart and the character's lives bring it all to life, making us focus and realize sad truths about ourselves.

The show's music composer, Jim Lang, also does composing work here that is hauntingly beautiful and moving. His seedy jazz music and undertones to voice the wide array of emotions felt by the characters (sadness, greed, evil, happiness, love, revenge, loneliness) come together in strong force. The voice talents are also pitch-perfect. Fans of the show will feel right at home as they take comfort in series regulars such as Dan Castellaneta and Spencer Klein (one of the several Arnolds) voicing their favorite characters, as well as the likes of special guest talents such as Paul Sorvino, Christopher Lloyd and Jennifer Jason Leigh who do very strong work here that is powerful, robust and makes you feel as if they're putting as much energy as if this was a live action film (especially the gusto-filled Sorvino).

Despite the film's strong screenplay, solid production values and finely tuned fun, one must question and analyze key story elements to get the most out of this cinematic adventure. Arnold holds a lot more depth than what may meet the ears, eyes, heart and happy-go-lucky, typical mainstream moviegoer mind. And for that, there is a lot that might go over many heads, be it young or old.

You would probably think that the movie's villain, Scheck, is in all of this for the money. However, despite his eagerness to build a mall-plex and have a fresh new start with the city blocks he plans to tear down, there is more to his evil cause than just the desire of a lot of green. For him, it's also to reclaim major power that his ancestors lost long ago in an amazing, revolutionary act involving tomatos. Scheck's plans are deeply rooted in revenge and the loss of pride his family suffered, frosted with his of his own insecuirities and fears. His larger than life ego and assuring yet demeaning nature should certainly strike fear in the hearts of many filmgoers.

Before Arnold goes on his last attempt to save the neighborhood he holds dear, there are some very touching moments. For one, Arnold looks around his neighborhood as if it is his last breath, knowing all the simple beauties and wonderful people will no longer exist, as if it will all just fade into its own place in time. This is truly one of the film's saddest yet one of its most underplayed moments, and for it's simplicity and sweetness, it works perfectly. It's rather touching when Arnold approaches the neighborhood's butcher, Mr. Green, and Mr. Green's revelation about his estranged son (who's a vegitarian) is shared. Yet equally melodramatic is the fact that Mr. Green's sentiments and past are rooted in the neighborhood, as the shop goes back to his forefathers and that he wanted to pass it on to his son. It all strikes our subconcious' deep and hits us all when we least expect it.

The relationship between Helga and her father is explored within the film, and is truly is a relationship with much intrigue. The problem between these two is the lack of communication, and it truly affects them. Helga's father and his love of money is always apparent, valuing greed over his daughter's own necessities. It is admirable that "Big Bob" Pataki wants to provide for his family by opening a "super" beeper emporium (beepers are so passé), but it obvious the man never learned the lesson dealing with family coming first. Mr. Pataki yearns to benefit from the Future Tech Industries deal, and will let nothing get in the way. This kind reviewer predicts as this father and daughter duo get older, a rift will occur and Helga will be estranged from her father. Truly, this subtle subplot is one worth paying attention to.

The tour-de-force ending, however, is one for the ages. Those who have followed the "Hey Arnold!" saga from the beginning will be delighted to know that they are surely in for a treat. After all the ridicule, all the masking and all the anxiety, right at the film's climax, Helga confesses her love for a certain football shaped boy. As Helga corners Arnold on a rooftop against a cloudy grey sky, it is nothing short of mesmerizing to hear the truth come out and see all the emotional layers become peeled. So how does this love affair end? While certain feelings from both sides are acknowledged, sadly, they end up becoming supressed. But it is better to have loved and lost then never to have loved at all, right?

In the end, we must realize that Arnold is the type of person we can all look up to: despite all the naysayers, Arnold's greatest strength and greatest weakness is that he always must have a positive outlook on life. While one must admire the sensibilities of our protagonist, however, one must also realize that he comes across as one of cinema's biggest hypocrites. While Scheck's dealings may not be entirely ethical, Arnold - and everyone around him - does not realize that two wrongs do not make a right. As Arnold races against the clock to save his beloved neighborhood, he ends up breaking the law several times across the way. Arnold illegally operates a bus, breaks into a house and even tresspasses onto private property (just to name a few things). Arnold's intentions might be noble, and while he'll stop at nothing to accomplish his nearly-impossible goal, one must wonder if what Arnold is doing is "right," or, if the ends justify the means.

"Hey Arnold! The Movie" may not be the best children's film of all time or the most original, but it's certainly miles better than most of the pack. Parents and casual viewers will be slightly amused, but the show's many fans are sure to get the most out of Arnold's first big screen adventure. Moving at a brisk pace of 76 minutes, "Hey Arnold! The Movie" is surely a treat, and (sadly) I don't think this movie will be nominated for the Best Animated Feature Film Oscar. I only hope in the future that Arnold's legacy will last, and people will come to realize that this is truly an underrated gem.

 

In a smart and natural movie, Paramount has provided two transfers for the movie: a 1.33:1 full screen transfer to please families and young kids and a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer for those older, die-hard fans. Both of these transfers are quite good and very detailed. Some might not appreciate all the detail that can be found because of the film's animation style (which I personally enjoyed). Some might argue that the transfer makes the animation a but more unnatural and more akward, especially given the action in the foreground against the background. Still, I think the transfer supports the film's visuals quite well and in a rather superb way. It looks incredibly vibrant, vivid and very unique. Color saturation is incredibly bold and fulfilling, which certainly makes everything breathe a lot of life.

On more technical notes, there is no edge enhancment to speak of, and only a speck of dirt or blemish here and there (which can be noticed but aren't too distracting). There is noise to be found, but not much in the way of compression artifacts despite the two transfers (probably due to the film's short length). And while much of the film's core audience is sure to go for the full screen transfer, I urge anyone who can to watch it in widescreen - you'd be surprised how much cropping is found here!

 

Given that this is a low-budget animated film, I was quite surprised in how strong and smooth the English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix sounded. This is one of the most natural and impressive sound mixes I've heard in quite awhile. The surrounds are plentiful and work really well. You'll become surrounded in a flurry of many noises from the giant Futuretech television screen installed in Arnold's neighborhoods, people making their noises heard in the streets, the climatic bus ride, Arnold's various break-ins and certainly the ending just to name a few examples, there's a lot to like here and a lot to become caught up in.

But that's not all! The music sounds excellent through the channels, as it's creatively mixed - be it the Jim Lang score or the Blockapalooza music. Dialogue is clear and sounds rather fresh as well. All of the sound elements are pretty cohesive, so one doesn't overpower the other (which makes things pretty nice). Fidelity is rather high, dymanic range is very strong and there is a good amount of subwoofer in action. The pans across the soundstage are just plain wonderful, while there is also some excellent imaging. "Hey Arnold! The Movie" might not have had all the production workings of a big Hollywood summer blockbuster, but this sound mix might make you thin otherwise. Also included are English Dolby Surround and French Dolby surround tracks, plus English subtitles and English closed captions.

 

There isn't much here, which is no surprise since the film tanked at the box office (hopefully it will do better on its home video outing). 2/3 of the supplements actually advertise another Paramount franchse, that being "Charlotte's Web." There's a promo for the first and second movies which you can't skip before the main feature starts, while there is also a Charlotte's Web 2 Interactive Game

The only "Hey Arnold!" related extra is the film's Theatrical Trailer. It's a good trailer (presented in English Dolby Digital 5.1 and non-anamorphic widescreen), but you just wish there was more.

 

"Hey Arnold! The Movie" was just another movie based on a popular cable animated show that bombed at the box office in early summer 2002 (the other was "The Powerpuff Girls Movie"), but despite what you cynics might think, this is actually a rather sweet, strong and likable movie that is surely to please fans of the show. I'm sure the film will do better on video and DVD and get most of its core audience there, but it definitely deserved much more success. The DVD, with a surprisingly engrossing 5.1 mix and good transfers is only brought down by the lack of supplements. Still, this is a must buy if you're a fan of the show and certainly a good rental in case you're curious to check it out.