'Hey Arnold!': Cartoonish In the Worst Way
Friday, June 28, 2002
BASED ON the animated Nickelodeon TV series about a weirdly optimistic inner-city kid with a football-shaped head and a Flock of Seagulls hairdo, "Hey Arnold! The Movie" plays more like agitprop than children's entertainment. It's a disturbingly pro-violent-resistance screed against gentrification that masquerades as a harmlessly uplifting 'toon.
First a little background. Arnold (voiced by Spencer Klein) lives with his grandparents in a preternaturally diverse urban ghetto straight out of Central Casting. Although overwhelmingly white, the neighborhood boasts a token Southeast Asian, one Eastern European, a couple of blacks and a Jew or two, nearly all of whom get along fabulously. Needless to say, the village idiot has a heavy Southern accent and the crook is an Italian named Vermicelli.
When an evil developer named Scheck (Paul Sorvino, doing an obvious Ronald Reagan vocal impression) tries to buy up the neighborhood to build a mall, Arnold and his best friend Gerald (Jamil Smith) try to organize the citizenry in opposition. After a couple of futile attempts to fight the power through legal means (e.g., a block party), it comes to Arnold's attention that the street may have historic preservation status, and he and Gerald are forced to resort to breaking and entering to unearth the documents that can stave off the demolition.
Meanwhile, Grandpa (Dan Castellaneta) has wired the street with a couple of hundred pounds of dynamite as an alternate form of persuasion.
I know, I know. I'm taking a cartoon waaay too seriously, but I'm not used to having such a radicalized vision of political correctness shoved down my throat as family entertainment. And this is coming from someone who voted for Ralph Nader and who lives in Columbia Heights, one of the most legitimately diverse neighborhoods in Washington (not to mention the focus of its own real-life debate on gentrification).
So maybe I'm a little sensitive.
Polemics aside, "Hey Arnold!" is just not very watchable. Neither funny nor suspenseful nor particularly well drawn, the film is populated with such majorly dysfunctional characters as Helga (Francesca Smith), Arnold's preteen neighbor who can't seem to make up her mind whether she's the hero's tormentor or love interest.
"My God, what a humorless blowhole," you're probably saying to yourselves right about now.
I only hope you're talking about the movie, and not me.