Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie: Evolution and What’s Next

The series creator and voice cast discuss how the new Hey Arnold! movie's story changed over the years and where the series could be headed.

Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie has been gestating in series creator Craig Bartlett’s head for over fifteen years. While the film was originally supposed to come out in the early 2000’s it was shelved, seemingly for good.

While fans bemoaned the film not seeing the light of day back then, the movie might be even better now that Bartlett has had so long to reflect on it.

“At the time, I kind of didn’t want to reveal everything,” Bartlett says. “It was my first series and I was very tentative and didn’t want to blow it. I was unsure of myself.”

Now after years of writing and creating television series, Bartlett was finally given the chance to make The Jungle Movie happen and he’s going all in.

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“I realized, oh, I have tremendous power and I can make this thing anything I want it to be. I just felt this amazing power to make a satisfying conclusion to Arnold’s quest to find out what happened to his missing parents.” 

Even with having to add light updates to fit modern times, Rhonda now has a Smartphone, the spirit of the Hey Arnold! is still very much one of aspirational nostalgia for Bartlett. It doesn’t matter what generation he’s making it for.

“It’s a cartoon and we get to make stuff up anyway,” Bartlett says. “So why not make it completely aspirational? Instead of your childhood being just playing video games or being helicoptered from place to place by parents, how about they’re out in the middle of the night having crazy unsupervised fun? It’s not a documentary. You’re trying to make it, wouldn’t it be fun if? For kids.”

Many of the kids who grew up with the series are now working in the animation industry and were brought aboard to work on the film.

“We brought in next generation people,” says Bartlett. “It made it kind of a more fun let’s pull everything together into this story.” 

Along for the ride are some of the original Hey Arnold! voice cast reprising their iconic roles. For Anndi McAfee who plays Phoebe, her character’s friendship with Helga has carried right into The Jungle Movie

“(Phoebe and Helga) always have this kind of understanding, especially since throughout the series Phoebe knows her biggest, darkest secret which is that she loves Arnold,” McAfee tells us. 

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Francesca Marie Smith, who plays Helga, says her outgoing character will rely on Phoebe in new ways during the film. Much like the film’s story, the characters have changed for the better with time. 

“We need something to get done and we’ll be able to see this somewhat more assertive, somewhat more action-pose version of Phoebe.” 

Bartlett adds, “it’s like there’s more unspoken confidence and trust between the two girls than ever. Their friendship’s in a good shape and Phoebe seems to be emerging as a more confident character.

The movie sets up all the characters to be heading into sixth grade, aging them a few years from the original series. Barlett is taking it one thing at a time but imagines the franchise could go on forever, possibly following the characters into adulthood.

McAfee believes Phoebe would strongly benefit from the recent boom in the tech scene.

“It’s perfect for her personality. She doesn’t have to be the leader. She’s a programmer. She’s a perfectionist and I can see her writing perfectionist type of code. She does have a little bit of wild streak when she is out of control so I can (also) see her doing really disruptive types of programming for new technologies.

Smith doesn’t want to take away from any possibilities fans have speculated on over the years but she sees Helga getting into activism.

“Maybe politics. Maybe something a little more social activism, justice, blogging. But she does also have that sort of creative potential. She’s got a world of possibilities.”

We can only hope Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie is a massive success so we can see if any of these predictions come true. Even if we don’t, this film will answer all the questions fans have been asking Bartlett over the years. This film is for them.

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“It’s about the hopes and dreams of the fans who grew up on the show.”

Hey Arnold! The Jungle Movie premieres Friday, Novemeber 24 at 7:00PM on Nickelodeon.

Hey, Shamus Kelley! Follow him on Twitter!