This Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie review contains spoilers.
Hey Arnold! fans have had a lot of time (fifteen years, give or take) to imagine this film in their heads. They’ve seen the concept art. They’ve heard the precious bits of story leak out. Everyone was hyped for this movie.
That’s what this was. It was the Hey Arnold! movie. Yeah yeah, we got that other one back in the day but that was just a glorified TV movie. This is the big one. Huge sweeping action. An Indiana Jones style adventure. All our questions answered. This is the big screen outing Arnold deserved.
But did we really need a Hey Arnold! movie?
Don’t get me wrong, The Jungle Movie is great. It’s exactly what I expected the film to always be and more. The jokes are on point and the payoff to all the plotlines are handled with great care. Nearly all the major and secondary characters get a moment to shine. Even the exposition dump at the beginning for new viewers is handled in such a way that for long time fans it’s just another day in the life for the kids.
That’s the story I was most engrossed with, actually. Arnold and Gerald just helping Monkey Man build himself a home. That’s totally in the style of the old series. It even had that jazzy soundtrack that always perfectly captured the mood of Arnold’s view of the world. It wasn’t epic, nobody died, and ultimately it was just a good deed.
That felt like the series. Hey Arnold! was made up of these small moments of Arnold or one of his friends helping people or just being kids. Arnold especially was never really an Indiana Jones style adventurer. He was just a kid who also happened to be a mini philosopher.
I felt like The Jungle Movie was missing those small moments. I get that it’s a movie and it’s supposed to feel big but Hey Arnold! was never the kind of a show that told these kind of big stories. Nor did it ever seem to aspire to tell them. In some wacky world those stories could happen to you. They were aspirational sure, but not out of the realm of possibility.
So yeah, it’s cool we finally get to see Arnold go on this epic adventure and meet the Green Eyes but it seems like a story better suited to DuckTales than Hey Arnold! DuckTales is all about adventure. DuckTales is the equivalent to a Hans Zimmer rousing score. Hey Arnold! is more Kenny G style smooth jazz. Hey Arnold! is about looking inward, not running for your life.
I’ll always go back to the final episode of season one, “Arnold’s Valentine” as the perfect example of what a “big” story was for this show. Arnold didn’t need to survive a boat crash to have some big emotional revelation. His own dumb (and very relatable) mistakes lead to this revelation about love.
“There’s this girl I liked but when I got to know her it turned out we had nothing in common.”
This movie didn’t have anything like that. It’s a shame because the idea of reuniting with parents is one I’m sure a future series could expand on but here it’s sort of a throwaway at the end of the film. Arnold gets to see his parents, he’s happy about it, and then keeps on going with his life.
I understand with the structure of this film that’s how it had to go. We didn’t have time to check in on his parent’s feelings about unintentionally abandoning their son for ten years. I get it.
But that’s the kind of story the series would have focused on, not this epic adventure.
Hey Arnold! never really needed a movie. Is it great we got one? Sure. It was a blast! Don’t misunderstand me; this movie was a wild ride and seeing the whole cast in this adventure film made for some great laughs. We needed this kind of adventure after that much build up. It provided a definitive ending if this really is the last bit of Hey Arnold we’ll ever see.
I just hope that this film leads to a future series where we can explore the smaller personal moments that will come in the fallout of this adventure. Not everything needs to be a big epic adventure and I’d love to check in the kinds of small-scale shenanigans the Hey Arnold characters are getting up to these days.
Especially the ones that have to deal with Arnold and Helga’s new romance. Come on; tell me you aren’t jazzed about the idea of Arnold dropping some deep philosophy about love and relationships?
Hopefully we get to see those. Until then, we now know Arnold’s last name and it was easily the best revelation of the entire film. That had me busting out laughing.
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