This Thanksgiving, Nickelodeon is serving up a feast of nostalgia with a feature-length TV movie revival of its iconic 90s cartoon, Hey Arnold!
Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie will finally answer some unresolved questions about our football-headed hero and his missing parents. If you need a brief refresher, the show left off with a cliffhanger. Arnold discovered a clue regarding the whereabouts of his long-lost parents, leading the 9-year-old to believe they had disappeared into the Central American jungle.
And that’s where the two-hour TV movie special will take us.
Any 90s kid who grew up watching Nick’s idiosyncratic animated series will recall Arnold’s unconventional upbringing. He was raised in a fictional metropolis, evoking gnarly vibes of midtown Manhattan circa 1970.
Arnold lived with his eccentric grandparents in a dilapidated boarding house. But he slept on a retro Queen Murphy bed and gazed at the sky through his bedroom’s glass roof. Growing up in the suburbs, I always thought this looked like the ultimate crib. It seems other young fans felt the same way:
— TRL (@TRL) October 7, 2017
Let’s not forget Arnold’s group of friends—a gang that represented my epitome of squad goals, before that cliché existed.
Gerald was street-smart and boasted a flat-top in grade school, while Helga was a complicated girl who’s prepubescent crush on Arnold manifested as cynical, aggressive bullying. (She’s maintained a legacy online today as a feminist icon, so there’s that.) Phoebe was adorable and wise beyond her years, and Rhonda was the fashionista of the group.
Feminist hero Helga Pataki:
In any given episode, these kids were marauding through gritty urban streets, encountering eccentric oddballs like the infamous Stoop Kid, and engaging in risky hijinks.
The adult characters on Hey Arnold! were, at that time, outliers and trailblazers for children’s TV. One of the schoolteachers was Nickelodeon’s first “almost-out LGBT character,” according to Vox, a characterization confirmed by show creator Craig Bartlett. Helga’s mother was a closet alcoholic, and Arnold’s grandmother may have had dementia.
“The adult supporting characters serve as dark mirrors, providing the children with glimpses of adulthood they must learn to negotiate for themselves,” wrote Tara Isabella Burton in Vox, “Without the easy, built-in answers a ‘perfect’ family model might provide.”
Now, as most of Hey! Arnold’s fans have become adults, the series has earned cult status among nostalgic millennials. Now is the time bring back this 90s Nick classic, and using a TV movie format is ideal for young viewers who need a crash course in the wacky world of Hey! Arnold.
Nick is unlocking its vault a lot lately, much to the delight of die-hard Nick fans in their 20s and 30s. But the network never really stopped producing cutting-edge content. Nickelodeon’s socially-aware concepts and groundbreaking, diverse characters are evident in new shows like Nella the Princess Knight.
As for Arnold and the kids from P.S. 118, they will experience their own adventure into uncharted territory with the TV movie. Remember—these kids have never even left their neighborhood before.
But we think these street-smart youngsters will fare just fine.