Nickelodeon’s “Hey Arnold!” was one of the banner animated series from the heyday of the 1990’s. It was a subtle, sweet, and often funny coming of age show with a lot of heart and some brilliantly memorable moments that evoked pure emotion from its audience. Despite ending in 2004, Nickelodeon gave the series a final send off in 2002 with a flimsy and absolutely wretched big screen film that did nothing to close the world we’d come to love. Most of all, it did nothing for the story arc of main character Arnold, who spent a majority of the series under the care of his elderly eccentric grandparents.
Mid-way through the series, we learned that Arnold’s parents were explorers who spent their days traveling, and the last they ever saw of him was before they left for one last adventure to help a village suffering from a mysterious illness.
The show left off on a question mark, with Arnold’s grandmother and grandfather basically accepting that their children had died and Arnold was theirs. Arnold however felt a sense of incompletion, especially after discovering a map to their last trek to the mythical San Lorenso. After thirteen years of begging Nickelodeon and Craig Bartlett to give Arnold the send off he deserved, the network finally grants fans “The Jungle Movie,” a feature length re-visiting of “Hey Arnold!” It not only brings us back to the basics of why we love the series, but once and for all informs us as to the circumstances of Arnold’s parents, and whether they’re alive or not. Set in an undetermined period of time after the series’ end, Arnold’s class is told that they have a chance to take part in a contest, and the most charitable student gets to visit San Lorenso.
One of the big reasons why “Hey Arnold!” built such a devoted fan base is because while Arnold was an underdog, deep down the characters he surrounded himself with loved one another. The circumstances surrounding Arnold being able to go to San Lorenso are just touching, and the writers don’t hold back in forward character progression. Here, Helga makes a big move to show Arnold how much she loves him, and as Arnold and his class from PS 118 venture in to the rain forest. There are a lot of smaller more interesting elements added as well, including a funny but sweet glimpse in to grandpa’s over protective tendencies toward Arnold, a hilarious aside about Helga’s dad still running “Bob’s Beepers,” and Arnold’s definitive last name.
If I must complain about “The Jungle Movie,” is that it does get a bit violent toward the finale, especially as Arnold, Helga, and Gerald do battle with the film’s villain. I also found the scenario involving getting Arnold to San Lorenso painfully far fetched. That said, “The Jungle Movie” is a resolution, which is what fans wanted. It’s also pure fun fan service that gets back in touch with what made the show funny, weird, and heartbreaking. I was engrossed in Arnold’s journey to find his parents, and I appreciated that the writers used as many characters as possible without ever allowing the film to feel cluttered and unfocused. Allegedly Nickelodeon is planning a reboot should “The Jungle Movie” be a success.
With or without the reboot, “The Jungle Movie” is a wonderful book end to one of the best animated series Nickelodeon’s ever produced and the finale we deserved.