Created by animator Craig Bartlett, Hey Arnold! aired on Nickelodeon from 1998 to 2004, with a movie under the same name releasing in 2002. What’s interesting about this particular show is that while it officially ended in 2004, the story doesn’t stop there: in 2017, more than 10 years after the show’s cancellation, Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie was released on November 24th. Even with a movie being coming out a decade after the show was even on TV, fans were overjoyed and all flocked to see the film. Even now, every person i’ve spoken to who has seen this show have only positive things to say about it, and since I didn’t grow up watching it I wondered what was so great about this cartoon in particular.
So I watched the first episode of the series, titled “Downtown as Fruits”. In this episode, Arnold and his friend Gerald are set to perform in a play about the food groups, in which they must play fruits. But when the play’s director, the school bully Helga, mocks the two during a rehearsal, Gerald convinces Arnold not to get off the bus on the way to the play. Despite not wanting to ruin the play, Arnold agrees and the two end up heading down town on the bus, still dressed as fruits.
I’ll start right off by saying this: I really enjoyed watching this episode. Especially as a first episode, the creators do a good job telling the story and they manage to make this rather ridiculous situation of two kids dressed as fruits going downtown on a bus very silly and enjoyable while also still being charming. This episode actually made me want to watch more of the show, which is a great quality for an episode of any show to have, in my opinion.
The quality of animation is decent, especially for the time period. While it’s rather grainy in color, the characters’ movements are very fluid and their faces are all expressive and lifelike. The character designs are unique, too— everyone has a different face and look, which is refreshing to see since many other cartoons tend to suffer from ‘same face syndrome’, or when character designs are similar. This show does not suffer from that syndrome, though, and what’s especially interesting about the character designs are that you can just look at a character and know what they’re all about. For example, if you look at Helga, you immediately know what her personality might be like: she dresses girly and keeps her hair in pigtails, but her crooked posture and unibrow give her a rather unpleasant edge which makes anyone looking at her just know that she has a rough personality but also has a desire to be somewhat feminine.
The voice acting is well done, as each voice fits each character well. They all sound like real kids, too, maybe they sound a little older than fourth graders but they still sound young. Especially Arnold’s voice— before I watched the show, I looked at Arnold’s design and imagined him having a cartoony voice done by an adult man, so I was pleasantly surprised when Arnold started speaking and the voice of a young boy came out. Same goes for all of the child characters; they all sound real and natural, which is always a nice quality for a cartoon to have.
The writing in this episode is great, too, as it captures how lots of kids’ thought processes work and what kind of moral decisions they’ll be faced with in their lives. It helps that Arnold’s actions fit those of a child’s a lot of the time, so you never doubt for a moment that anything he does is unrealistic. The same goes for pretty much any character in this show; they all act like real people, although some aspects may be somewhat exaggerated at points, but this is to be expected from a cartoon. There is one part of the writing that I have a criticism over, and it’s the dialogue. There are moments when the kid characters talk but what they say doesn’t sound like something a child would say, like how does Helga, who is in 4th grade, know what a legume is? And how is the word “lusty” in her vocabulary? This is the only part I had any sort of confusion over, but honestly, the rest of the writing is very solid and I doubt a child watching the show would even notice the strange dialogue, or if they’d even really care.
What’s the appeal for children? In my opinion, there’s a lot for a kid to like here: the eye-catching and unique character designs, the humor of it all, and even the content of this episode alone is enough to hold a child’s attention and entertain them. Arnold himself works as a character kids can relate to, since he has a basic design yet a charming personality with childlike innocence. The atmosphere of the show is very welcoming and fun, too, one that kids will likely find themselves invested in while watching.
Overall— Hey Arnold! is a great show for both kids and adults. It’s fun, nice to look at, well-written, and clearly a lot of effort and care was put into making it. I can see why so many people love it, and I can definitely see why it got a whole movie more than a decade later.