Review: Why Hey Arnold! The Jungle Movie Was Awful
Before I attempt to expound on why I believe the latest and perhaps last Hey Arnold production was an objectively tragic failure, it’s important that I illustrate just what I found so wonderful about the original series (mainly seasons 1-3). Hey Arnold! is a type of show that has become an endangered species in today’s children’s entertainment—a series that primarily deals with unextraordinary yet highly identifiable childhood situations.
I have three favorite episodes; “Snow” deals with Arnold longing to join his friends playing in the powdery wonderland while his grandpa forces him to do chores, and the atmosphere along with Jim Lang’s soulful score effectively communicates the magic of snow days through a young person’s perspective (The wonderful Do The Right Thing-inspired “Heat” precedes the episode).
“Operation Ruthless” is a winner if only for the highly emotive last scene where Helga longingly watches Arnold, Phoebe and Gerald exit the fair, leaving her feeling alone while the festival lights shut down—again—accompanied by a glorious score that I believe, as a contemporary jazz lover, should really should be made into full length songs. The scene also effectively communicates Helga's tragic obsession but inability to express how she really feels, leaving her stuck in a loop of love and hatred.
My all-time favorite episode is probably “Arnold’s Thanksgiving”. It is far better than the melodramatic “Arnold’s Christmas” (although I like this one too, as the atmosphere is on point) that explores themes of how holiday idealism can overwhelm and disappoint, yet both adults and young people can still learn to be ‘thankful’ amidst it all.
The show’s great qualities are enhanced by its unique urban setting. There is an astounding amount of detail put into the design of the city; buildings and sidewalks are weathered and peppered with litter while the shops are charmingly named. Sometimes the art reminds me of the painted backgrounds of a Studio Ghibli film.
Jumping the shark
I may perhaps be biased in my love for the jazzy soundtrack, as I grew up with smooth jazz and that influence only served to enhance the nostalgia. Yet it was an undeniably great addition to the show and gave it a timeless quality. Like Doug, the show also had a level of quirkiness, but it was never overbearing as to compromise the ‘real’ feeling. The relationships in the show were also realistic and reminded me of some of my own experiences. The family conflicts within the Pataki family are notably well done.
Therefore, one can now start to understand why I found The Jungle Movie’s plot to be just plain dumb and a pathetic example of jumping the shark.
'The Jungle Movie' lacks maturity, despite onscreen deaths
Of course, gone are all the qualities I described above. Sure, the characters are all there, and some with their original voice actors which was pretty neat. But without the qualities that I found so compelling in Hey Arnold’s first, second and third season, what exactly is the point? The Jungle Movie’s plot is more reminiscent of Indian Jones or The Mummy movies from the 90’s. Overtly silly, with mustache-twirling villains and violent (yes, this movie features relatively graphic depictions of ‘bad guys’ being killed) adventures that are better suited for live action PG-13 films starring Bredan Fraser or Harrison Ford…not our grounded characters.
Arnold is ‘the chosen one’ silliness
I absolutely hated the episodes of Hey Arnold! discussing his lost parents. It was evident and obvious that their story was merely tacked on later in the show to ‘answer questions’, and then they took the ball and ran with it, transitioning Arnold from an ‘every day hero’ to ‘The One Born of a Volcano’.
And that’s what The Jungle Movie does; answers pointless questions that do not enhance the series’ environment or story an ounce. Arnold had absentee parents simply because the creators correctly thought the perspective of a non-traditional family would be unique and interesting. His parents were never meant to be the foundation of Arnold’s personality or his value as a well-written character…in fact the show was never meant to be about Arnold being special but more of a slice of his low-key life.
To add insult to injury, his parents, in contrast to the show’s main characters, are presented as utterly boring and ‘perfect’ in the flashbacks and they look like movie stars. It’s what I like to call ‘perfect dead parent syndrome’—Arnold’s parents join Chuckie Finsters’s mom and Carl’s wife from Up as looking conventionally attractive even when the character designs of the other living/non-missing characters are artistically exaggerated and do not match up.
SPOILERS in this paragraph- Arnold's parent mystery
Then, The Jungle Movie did something that I didn’t think was possible—those forcibly-conceived parents, who were indeed found to be alive at the end of the movie (another awful choice), were made to be even more personality-less and wooden, with cringe-inducing dialogue and a strange Stepford wife quality to their voices and presence. They seem completely unphased that they’ve awoken 10 years later to find their son standing there, having rescued them, like they are aware they are just a part of the movie’s blueprint.
That was supposed to be the big payoff. Also, the inevitable pairing of Arnold and Helga, as our ‘shipping’ culture demands, was also awkward and uneventful due to the fact that the characters were devoid of their personalities that had created the anticipation of the big reveal. It was done so much better in Hey Arnold! The Movie before Arnold unsurprisingly lost his memory of Helga’s confession. Another ‘question’ answered is that of Arnold’s last name (which was already known if you’ve Googled it), yet another empty gimmick.
The Jungle Movie was all EVENTS over substance. The laughs were also few and far between. The pacing was rushed. Jim Lang returned and provided an adequate score and the animation was expectedly the wretched but affordable flash animation. There is a level of strangeness present in the movie, such as a scene where Eugene blows up like a balloon. These ‘Looney Toon’ physics were not originally present in the show. And then, Abner the pig takes a plane ride with a snake for ‘some reason’. This was mildly amusing, but belonged in a different show.
All in all, I consider Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie to not only fail as a continuation (or perhaps a finale) to Hey Arnold!, but also simply as a standalone TV movie, not even providing a reprieve to the influx of kid’s shows that only seem to star ‘non-regular’ kids in adult situations.