Four Hey Arnold! Episodes With Terrible Morals

Updated on February 1, 2018
Melissa A Smith profile image

Melissa has a hate/love affair with Disney and other animated movies and television shows.

The television series Hey Arnold! is a gem of the 90’s and beloved by adults who spent their young lives in the era of hair scrunchies, Spice Girls, pogs and beanie babies. The show focuses on the titular character Arnold, who is mostly regular, but is presented to the viewer as a person with a strong sense of right and wrong. Even when the episode is not focused on Arnold's character, he always makes an appearance to provide moral direction to the conflicted central character. Since the show is wholly about morals, it is rather surprising that there are some episodes that feature downright deplorable messages.

Full Moon: Promotes anti-snitch culture

In this rather shocking episode, we discover that our wise protagonist Arnold strictly upholds one of the values that criminals hold near and dear: the anti-snitch policy. This campaign, originally started to prevent criminal accomplices from turning against each other after capture to receive a lighter sentence, has evolved into an even more malicious rule that seeks to prevent all compliance with the police, even if one is the victim of a severe crime.

This means that if you watch someone shoot your father, informing the police of this is seen as taboo. Who benefits from such a nutty mindset? Why, the people who don’t want to go to prison and prefer to get away with their crimes, of course. Another variation of this ‘street law’ is the phrase ‘snitches get stitches’, a lovely intimidation technique that lowlifes use to protect their continued reprehensible activities.

How was this encouraged and promoted in a Hey Arnold! episode? In the episode, Arnold witnesses his friends Stinky, Harold and Sid moon Principal Wartz (all is graphically shown). Just like the aforementioned phrase, Arnold’s buddies threaten him, warning him not to tell anyone or face getting beat up. Arnold doesn’t need to be threatened, however. He already inexplicably believes that ‘snitching’ is wrong and refuses to tell Principal Wartz, who punishes Arnold. As Wartz is about to put a mark on Arnold’s permanent record, his friends finally turn themselves in.

Arnold refuses to tell Principal Wartz who exposed themselves.
Arnold refuses to tell Principal Wartz who exposed themselves.

Essentially, the young and impressionable viewers are taught that Arnold committed a noble deed, just as he is expected to do throughout the series. There is zero indication that Arnold is making a bad decision, rather he becomes akin to a martyr in almost sacrificing his permanent record. It boggles the mind to think what this mentality could encourage; children feeling as though they shouldn’t ‘snitch’ on an adult that is abusing them (in fact the mooning could in fact be considered a form of such), or feeling shame for telling on someone who is bullying them. The ‘anti-snitch’ policy is toxic and this episode is shockingly egregious.

New Teacher: Rewarding delinquent behavior

This episode introduces us to the kid’s permanent­­­ teacher for the rest of the series, Mr. Simmons. He is a kind and suggestively gay man who can sometimes be a parody of the ‘progressive liberal’ style of teaching, as he frequently states how everyone is ‘special’ and behaves in a certain way because ‘that’s who they are’. Because of his apparent sensitive nature, the kids take it upon themselves to bully him so they can force him out of class. While looking concerned, even Arnold leaves the classroom after Mr. Simmons has a break down from being taunted by the coordinated attacks of the students. As a result of their actions, yet another teacher, Sergeant Goose, is hired to get the class in order. As a drill sergeant, he is tough on the kids and essentially treats them exactly how they deserve to be treated for what they've done.

Lieutenant Goose has a mental break down after being taunted by the class.
Lieutenant Goose has a mental break down after being taunted by the class.

But the episode is not over. The kid’s unsurprisingly decide they don’t like Goose, so they finally appreciate Mr. Simmons’ lenient and sensitive style of teaching. They convince him to come back, but first they need to ‘get rid’ of Lieutenant Goose. How? By of course, utilizing the same bullying methods they did with Mr. Simmons, showing that not only have they not learned that bullying teachers is wrong, but that they can use it to escape a punishment they deserved to receive.

After Goose is forced out of the class, Mr. Simmons walks in and rewards the class with an outdoor picnic instead of their scheduled quiz ("Now, I know we had that scheduled math quiz, but schedules are for Lieutenant Majors.") as though the school should be catering to their lack of discipline. The episode focuses more on their lack of appreciation of Simmons, but effectively lets the kids get away with self-serving, horrific behavior.

Field Trip: Promotes theft

Of course, many people believe it is highly moral to disapprove of keeping animals in zoos. Misguided animal rights activists often equate them to prisons, but that is not the problem here. Regardless of how you feel about animals in captivity, that doesn’t justify stealing. In this episode, Arnold is troubled by a fictional species of tortoise-sea turtle hybrid named Lockjaw, languishing in a polluted tank where it is bullied by city kids who confoundingly once thought it was an impressive sea monster. Arnold can’t stop thinking about Lockjaw, and once his grandma learns of the animal, she urges him to help her break it out of the aquarium.

These actions pose two problems; first of all, stealing is stealing, and disagreeing with how someone keeps their animal is not a justification for it. Second, such actions in real life have led to the instant deaths of the freed animals. In one case, animal rights activists broke into a fur farm and released hundreds of minks, only for them to hunt other animals and die en mass.

In the Hey Arnold! episode, Lockjaw is said to be from the Galapagos, but is released into cold temperate waters presumably on the other side of the continent (Hillwood is a made up city similar to Baltimore), so if this were a real situation, the same fate for the animal would occur. It’s just another reason why you shouldn’t steal an animal, thinking you know what’s best for it. This episode has my favorite song of the series, ‘groove remote (Lockjaw)’.

Helga's Parrot: Animal abuse

This is by far my most hated episode in the series. Some may call the events of this episode ‘black humor’, but especially for a children’s show that is known for and should uphold a positive message (the same show that promoted kids to care about a sad turtle), this episode’s violence is devastatingly out of place. Even in R-rated movies, adults hate it when pets are killed. In this episode, not only is a parrot killed graphically, it is abused throughout, as these photos show.

The episode starts when Helga’s dad, Big Bob, purchases a green parrot for the sole purpose of wanting to use it to sell his beepers by saying phrases. When that doesn’t work out, he neglectfully wants to get rid of the bird. He places it in Helga’s room, only for it to learn and repeat phrases that reveal Helga’s secret crush on Arnold.

When Helga learns of this, she like Bob screams at and grabs the bird, leaves to get a chainsaw presumably to kill it, but it escapes out of the window. She spends the episode trying to apprehend the animal after it is adopted by Arnold (who finally treats it well), but the bird’s good fortune of finding a good owner is cut short when it is swallowed alive by a monitor lizard Helga accidentally bought while putting up a front earlier in the episode. Helga is pleased, expressing gratitude to the reptile and the episode ends.

Of course, the bird is dumb and innocent, yet it’s treated as though it was conniving and screwing around with Helga and deserving of its fate. The writer of this story must have been distressed by a bird in the past or hate them for some reason, because what occurs in this episode is excuseless and ugly.

Questions & Answers

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      • Melissa A Smith profile image
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        Melissa A Smith 10 days ago from New York

        I also really disliked the repetitious episodes where Helga had to sneak around trying to get back something that would reveal her crush. They were definitely running out of ideas. I liked Little Pink Book, but the rest were just meaningless rehashes of that scenario probably to fulfill an episode quota. That deus ex machina with Buses, Bikes and Subways was another example of their laziness. The show really started to falter in the seasons where the animation got 'crisper' (from paint to digital, I'm guessing). Thanks for reading, I mostly write about pets but will hopefully add some more cartoon related things.

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        Charles 10 days ago

        So I didn't see who you were arguing with back at the Hey Arnold Jungle Movie review (which I still hold in contempt of btw), I did read that it inspired you to list four particularly egregious episodes of Hey Arnold. And I actually found your points spot on as to why they were broken aesops. They could be arguably overlooked as it's a kids show meant to highlight the thrill of adventure and how real the situations are, but they did bother me.

        Like, I could see Full Moon was more about some bullies coping with the guilt of getting away with a crime someone was taking the fall for, but Arnold didn't even try to get out of it or convince the guys to bail him out. By that point, he was already the token messiah of a crazy town to the point that there was a LITERALLY an episode called "Deconstructing Arnold" and how the kids didn't like him always trying to be the voice of reason. That is, until the things he DID try to warn them against bit them in the ass big time. Helga, thinking that anyone could give advice, just made things worse until they absolutely HAD to get him to bail them out, and he STILL gave simple advice that amounted to "apologize and owe up to the shit you pulled.

        Digressing, I also really hated the episodes when Helga had to infiltrate Arnold's house for some reason (get her poem book, destroy a tape recording, retrieve her inscribed locket). The parrot one I also disliked, but on the same old "Helga in Sunset Arms shenanigans" than poor bird abuse. The fact that Arnold lost a bird that for all he knew was scared and lost just makes it worse. We never see the monitor lizard again, for that matter.

        The other two, about Simmons and the turtle, they had some decent points. For the former, the kids took the time to apologize to a depressed Simmons before being bullies to a drill sergeant (and pointing to the odd fact of why he's a teacher to begin with), and in the latter, Arnold tried to talk to his grandma out of doing it before her crazy charisma got to him (it didn't break the law of common decency for example).

        I think another bad moral episode (if it even had a moral) was "Buses, Bikes, and Subways", aka the episode where Harold and Helga have to crosscountry back to the city. All because Chocolate Boy hitched a ride to the chocolate factory, and Simmons was too dumb (as always) to properly check all the kids still on one of the shortest field trips ever.

        What especially bothers me is how many chances Helga gives Harold before he keeps screwing up, going as far as pulling a cork off a boat. He finally leads them to WrestleMania on time, but only after she rightfully chews him off. Seemed rather quick of a fix that she apologized and that they made it back home only slightly traumatized by manic clowns and nearly drowning. So... keep trusting the guy with questionable direction sense even after being through the worst night imaginable? Sure, there's a silver lining to everything but still..

        Anyway, thanks for another insightful look on the series. I may just sign-up and follow your cartoon analysis from now on!

      • Melissa A Smith profile image
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        Melissa A Smith 2 weeks ago from New York

        I don't see what was morally wrong with the episode, aside from the way Arnold's friends and grandfather treated Arnold when he did to 'walk', which went unaddressed. In the end Iggy finally grows a conscience and sees the error in his ways, but is punished with the same fate of not being forgiven. I found the episode mean-spirited and depressing but not presenting a bad message overall.

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        ManNewt 2 weeks ago

        While I am not into Hey Arnold!, I did hear that Arnold Betrays Iggy is the worst episode. Do you think it would have been a dishonorable mention for this article?

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