The key to staying true to its television roots is to keep the plot of Hey Arnold! The Movie very simple which the film manages to do easily. Sweet-natured fourth-grader Arnold and his friends love their small neighborhood with its local arcade grocery store and butcher shop. Arnold lives there with his Grandpa Phil and Grandma Gertie in the old boarding house and right next door is his best friend Gerald. Even mean-spirited Helga who secretly adores the old “football head ” as she lovingly refers to Arnold isn’t so bad. Life is good on Arnold’s little street. That is until a big bad tycoon named Mr. Scheck comes in and tells them he plans to tear it all down to put in a brand-new strip mall. Always the optimist Arnold tries all he can to save his neighborhood–but to no avail. This is when things get interesting. Arnold and Gerald find out there is a document that declares the neighborhood a historical landmark and which will save it from being torn down. But they have to break into Scheck’s corporate headquarters to get it. They’ll need a little help from a tough “gadget” chick named Bridget and from the mysterious “Deep Voice ” but can the boys get the document in time before the bulldozers roll in?
All the TV series regulars provide the voices for their animated alter egos in the film including Spencer Klein as Arnold Jamil Walker Smith as Gerald Francesca Smith as Helga and veteran voice actor Dan Castellaneta as Grandpa Phil. Along with them for the ride are a few celebrity voices including Paul Sorvino as the mean Mr. Scheck and Jennifer Jason Leigh as the sexy action hero Bridget. You won’t notice them much though–and that’s OK. The familiarity of the characters is what keeps the momentum going and fans will appreciate the few little surprises especially concerning Helga and her obsessive relationship with Arnold. One of the breakout characters is the spunky and slightly off-centered Grandma Gertie voiced by Tress MacNeille who in a Shawshank Redemption-style prison break manages to help save the day in the end.
There is certainly a trend this summer of taking hit animated TV series and turning them into feature films. Along with Arnold we also have Cartoon Network’s The Powerpuff Girls Movie to look forward to. It’s not a bad trend necessarily but if you aren’t an avid fan of Hey Arnold! then you might be a little lost. No matter though. This is a film for the throngs of kids who religiously watch the show on Nickelodeon. The animation is elementary but the aspects that make the TV show appealing are all there. Sure the film does try to aim somewhat at the adults by referencing other films like The Shawshank Redemption and Men in Black (i.e. Arnold and Gerald dressing in cool black suits and black sunglasses when they set out on their quest). The film even takes a stab at some action sequences reminiscent of Speed as the kids try to get back to the neighborhood on a runaway bus. These references make us adults smile but we all know why we are there–our kids dragged us.