Hey Arnold! The Jungle Movie, 2017.
Directed by Raymie Muzquiz and Stu Livingston.
Featuring the voice talents of Mason Vale Cotton, Benjamin Flores Jr., Francesca Marie Smith, Anndi McAfee, Dan Castallaneta, and Tress MacNeille.
Your favorite Football Head is back and is headed for the big screen! Venture along with Arnold, Gerald, Helga, and the rest of the P.S. 118 crew on the field trip of a lifetime! Will Arnold find his parents after all these years? Will Helga finally confess her undying love for Arnold? Will your heartstrings be able to handle this flick?
It’s finally here. The moment fans have been waiting for. It’s been 15 years since Nickelodeon aired “The Journal”, a two-part episode that told the story of how Arnold’s parents met, married and then disappeared in the fictional Central American republic of San Lorenzo. The episode ended on a cliffhanger, with Arnold finding a map that could lead to his parent’s whereabouts. The show’s creator Craig Bartlett intended the episode’s ending to lead into a second Hey Arnold! movie – until it got cancelled, leaving the cliffhanger unresolved for years.
Well, that is until Nickelodeon decided to revive several of its more popular 90s shows like Rocko’s Modern Life, and Hey Arnold! by giving them new movies. The result is Hey Arnold! The Jungle Movie, in which everyone’s favorite football head wins a contest that will bring the entire 5th grade class from the P.S. 118 school to San Lorenzo, where Arnold hopes he will find what happened to his parents.
Right from the opening scene – which quickly and smoothly brings newcomers up to speed, fans of the show should feel right at home. The Jungle Movie does an excellent job in maintaining the originals look, while upgrading it just enough for 2017. The animators use vibrant colors together with the muted red and blue palette of the show to give it a brighter look and the new character designs never feel out of place. Despite the movie seemingly taking place in 2017, there’s little reference to technology. Wi-fi and cellphones exist, but only the rich-kid Rhonda has one – and there is a gag involving Big Bob Pataki’s pager emporium in the age of cellphones that is ridiculously funny. Even Jim Lang is back to the composer’s chair, this time perfectly updating the jazzy tunes from the TV-show, while blending it with new tropical sounds to fit the jungle-landscape of San Lorenzo.
The one issue with The Jungle Movie is that the story becomes over-the-top and way too slapstick, with some plot-twists that feel contrived. Hey Arnold! was always more realistic than other cartoons from the 90s so when Eugene gets an allergic reaction to a local fruit and inflates like Violet Beauregarde in Charlie in the Chocolate Factory, it feels too cartoony ridiculous. Arnold was not like the other kids in his class, but he never was an Indiana Jones-type like in this movie. While the animation is still 2-D and they make the backgrounds look as old-fashioned as possible, there is a horrendous 3D-rendered scene towards the end of the movie that completely takes you out of the story.
Re-boots and revivals always run the risk of trying too hard to please old fans by sneaking as many references and cameos as they can. The Jungle Movie manages to tastefully give us our favorite side-characters in a way that feels as natural as anything the show ever did. While we check up on Dino Spumoni, Monkey Man and others, they still act just like they did in the show and are never a distraction. While there are a lot of grand and over-the-top moments, The Jungle Movie thrives in the smaller, quieter moments where the characters are at their most emotionally honest. Directors Raymie Muzquiz and Stu Livingston really show us the emotional side of Arnold and Helga. Francesca Marie Smith makes it seem like it was just yesterday that she last played Helga G. Pataki, as she proves to still be perfectly capable of playing the bully who’s secretly in love with the guy she calls Football head. Newcomers Benjamin Flores Jr. and Mason Vale Cotton may take a little time getting used to, but they really capture the essence of Gerald and Arnold.
Hey Arnold! The Jungle Movie is the rare revival that respects and adds to the original. A heartfelt and emotionally satisfying conclusion that reminds you of what made the TV-show so special, ties up loose ends from the show, makes you cry our eyes out while also laughing hysterically, but also opens the door to more adventures.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★