So after a very very long hiatus (15 years) Arnold and his friends are back to tie everything up in a nice bow. We last saw Arnold back in 2002 with his first feature length movie. That was more of a stand alone story that simply gave Arnold and co a one off challenge to overcome. It was simply a feature length episode of the cartoon series. This time around the movie is actually a sequel to one of the episodes in the series (series five) called ‘The Journal’.
Now here’s where the main problem comes in, it does kinda make a big difference if you’ve seen that series five episode. In general I’m pretty sure that most people watching this will be Hey Arnold! fans and will know what’s going on. But for anyone else who’s thinking of showing it to their kids simply because its a kids movie, well there’s a good chance they won’t follow everything. Yeah sure the plot isn’t super hard to follow but obviously there are loads of things that hark back to that specific episode and the entire series in general. To be brutally honest this is really one for the fans methinks.
The plot: Arnold’s parents had traveled to San Lorenzo in South America to deliver medicine to a mysterious lost tribe of green eyed people, they never returned. Luckily Arnold’s class manage to win a competition to travel to San Lorenzo which gives the football shaped headed boy a chance to find his folks. Naturally there are dangers ahead for the class with a mercenary named Lasombra who needs Arnold so he can discover the lost city and its treasures for himself.
So lets look at one of the main thing that breeds life into this cartoon, the unique visuals. How are they in this new modern movie? Well I’m pleased to say they are actually (still) on par with the original series. OK but lets be completely brutally honest here, they aren’t as gorgeous as the original series with its clear cut hand drawn/pencil shaded style. Oh no, alas that beautiful look is too rough looking for kids these days. So everything is computer assisted and very sharp; which is nice and its still faithful to the original material but its never gonna be as good. I also have to mention the odd unfortunate cut into complete CGI for some scenes which does stick out like a sore thumb and look terrible. Why do they do that???
As for the characters again I’m pleased to say almost everyone gets a small (visual) cameo at least, some with dialog some not. Heck they even brought back old Lockjaw the turtle from series one, episode six. Not quite sure why seeing as Arnold released him into the sea at the end of that episode. So the turtle came back because…its friends with Arnold now? Anyway pretty much everyone can be seen including Dino, coach Wittenberg, Torvald, stoop kid etc…(where’s the sewer King?). Alas not every character is voiced by the same original people. I’m sure there are decent reasons for this but I was annoyed to read that both Lane Toran and Jamil Walker Smith were not used for both Arnold and Gerald (they were the original voice actors for the characters), instead being given background characters. Why did they do that??? It is off putting when certain characters simply sound wrong (Mr. Hyunh for example).
I was slightly disappointed with the plot of the story though. I knew what to expect of course (following on from the TV episode) but it all felt a bit too generic and unoriginal really. What we essentially get is simply another Indiana Jones type clone, because of course. I mean really? Couldn’t they do something a bit more unique instead of the same old tired tropes and cliches that have been done a gazillion times over. I don’t even have to explain anything to you because you should know exactly what I mean and what to expect.
I was quite stunned to see such a large amount of death on display though. Of course you don’t see anything but a lot is implied and its quite amazing. A load of Lasombra’s henchmen all get killed by stereotypical booby traps, to which he shows no remorse, in fact he allows them to get killed. And (spoiler alert) Lasombra himself gets shot in the forehead with a poisoned dart which sees him, eventually, fall into a ravine!
Naturally there are massive plot conveniences because its a kids cartoon movie, I can’t really complain about that. But I have to point out that the plot and its main mcguffins don’t really make any sense. All the adults in the green eyed tribe (including Arnold’s folks) have been struck down with a sleeping illness (why Arnold’s folks never came back). Apparently they have all been asleep for around the last ten years or so (yet not aged a day it seems). So to reverse this they need to activate this ancient machine which they miraculously manage with Helga’s heart locket (the one with Arnold’s pic in). When this ancient device is activated it shoots the antidote (I think) into the atmosphere which causes green rain. Which in turn causes a whole load of butterflies to awaken. Which in turn causes all the sleeping adults of the green eyed tribe to awaken, because why?? They couldn’t administer this antidote any other way?
So the plot is kinda stupid, it makes no real sense, the ending is also kinda lame, oh and the way Abner gets back to the US on his own is ludicrous. But we do find out Arnold’s last name, its Shortman! A clever little play on words there because Grandpa Phil has always called Arnold ‘shortman’, but it now turns out its not just a cute little nickname after all. Anyway overall I find myself in the same position when I saw the first movie outing for Arnold and co. This isn’t a bad kids movie but its not exactly a great one either. Once again the plot is really thin on the ground and feels really padded out. Sure it was nice to see all the little snippets harking back the various TV episodes and all the various characters (in the background). But this show really works best with little short stand alone stories that revolve around simple relatable issues.
If anything they should do a new TV series, but if that means we would see Arnold going off with his new found parents on lots of dramatic adventures all over the world, then maybe not. I think Rugrats suffered the same issue in my view. The bigger and more extravagant the stories become, the less relatable they become. Obviously grand stories are fine but shows like Hey Arnold! (and Rugrats and Doug) worked because their stories and characters were simple and (most probably) based off real life experiences and people. That is why so many are able to connect with the original material and why they are so popular (well that’s how I have always seen these shows). So whilst I’m happy to see Arnold back, I just wish it was like the good old days.