Although I am a huge fan of “Hey Arnold!”, I cannot agree that its movie was “the-greatest-movie-that-ever-existed-in-the-history-of-mankind”.  Even though I tried to stay optimistic about the movie despite its “flattering reviews”, I had to acknowledge that I saw plenty of problems that degraded the quality of the movie.  It didn’t matter to me whether or not I watched the movie in good quality because the real problem was how they told the story of Arnold and Gerald fighting against a menacing corporation.  Heck, I wouldn’t have cared if they drew the movie in stick figures as long as the plotline and storytelling method was good.  But fact was it wasn’t.  The idea of the general plotline was okay, but I believe that it could have been told better.  The following will describe the problems I had with the movie.

Hey Arnold! The Movie

The Movie was Rushed

The biggest problem that I had with the movie was that I found it was too rushed.  The problem wasn’t that it was too short (afterall, you can make a pretty good movie within 70 minutes, such as the classic movie “Bambi”); the problem was that the storyline was too big for its 70 minute timeframe.  In other words, too many events happened too fast, which left the audience going, “Whu?  What just happened?” because we weren’t given enough time to fully register what just happened.  This is probably the root problem of the movie because it stemmed two other issues: the movie didn’t have enough time to 1) properly set the mood for each scene and 2) properly develop the characters.

Not Enough Time to Set the Mood for Each Scene

You need time to appropriately set the mood for a scene.  Without time, you don’t get the opportunity to set the mood via methods such as music and thus you rob the movie of its emotional qualities.  Did you notice that there wasn’t a lot of music purposely used to set the mood for the movie?  As in, there weren’t many scenes where there were only music and no dialogue to simply set the mood and, when there was, the music wasn’t really effective?  But before you deeply ponder that, I want you to watch a clip from a HA! episode where music was effectively used to establish mood.


Lovely scene, n’est-ce pas?  I personally think that the music there was peeerfect.  The part of the song starting at 0:06 where you hear this single note helps develop tension and makes the viewers go, “Oh my god, what is Arnold going to do?”  And the tune is slow as if this very moment is passing by slowly, so that you are able to suck up every single detail to make this moment a very memorable one.  Finally, the slow piano makes you feel like your heart is going to break down, and you don’t know whether or not it’s going to be because of heartbreak or because of pure happiness from Arnold’s response.  Jim Lang (the composer of this song) did an outstanding job in this episode!  See what I mean how effective music can be?  😉

So let’s now return to “HA! The Movie”.  I acknowledge that there were some good scenes where music was well used, such as when the people of the neighbourhood gathered around the turned-over bus near the end of the movie, but there weren’t enough of those good scenes to really redeem the movie. 

The one scene where I found the music (or lack of music) really peculiar was the scene where Arnold and Helga are on the rooftop of the FTi building.  I’m not sure how the music was supposed to make me feel, aside from a raised eyebrow.  First of all, there was virtually no music during the dialogue that acted as the build-up to Helga’s confession.  I seriously have no idea why Helga broke down so easily.  There wasn’t even a slight melody to give us a hint as to what Helga might be feeling during this scene, which makes it hard for us to build sympathy or empathy for her, especially if you are not a “hard-core” Helga fan.  Helga is naturally a very emotional person, and it doesn’t make sense to not supplement her feelings with music if you want us to understand her character.  Without music to help set the mood, the buildup to the confession practically felt like this:

Arnold: “So why did you do it?”

Helga: “I don’t know… ‘CAUSE I LOVE YOU!”

Arnold: O_O

And because the movie made Arnold the main character that we should focus on, the audience is pushed to feel the same way as Arnold.  It seriously makes Helga look like a obsessed stalker-like psycho.  And we know that she isn’t (completely), from what we’ve seen in the regular series.  She has so much conflicted feelings bottled up inside her, yet the movie doesn’t really show it.  The most ironic thing I find about this movie was that this confession scene was supposed to be one of the most important scenes in the movie, yet it was so poorly done.  (Arnold’s response was appropriate; it was Helga’s confession that was weird.)  Music in this scene or, even better, more screentime for Helga to help develop her character would have avoided this problem.  This leads to the next problem with the movie.

Hey Arnold! The Movie

Not Enough Time to Properly Develop the Characters

“HA! The Movie” was originally titled “Arnold Saves the Neighbourhood”.  The only reason that they changed the title to “HA! The Movie” was to help encourage newcomers to watch the movie.  The problem?  It’s a bit hard to watch the “Hey Arnold!” for the first time as a movie if they don’t really introduce the characters.  If I never watched the actual cartoon series and just watched the movie for the first time, I wouldn’t know who were some of the characters, such as the Boarders.  In the movie, one of the first times we see the boarders is when Arnold runs into Mr. Hyunh who cries, “Oh Arnold!  We may never see each other again!” then cries and runs off.  I would think, as a newcomer, “Who the hell is that guy?  And why is he in Arnold’s house?”  I might register that Arnold lives in a boarding house and that Mr. Hyunh is a tenant, but I wouldn’t understand how close Arnold’s family was to the boarders, making the “moving away part” less tragic than it should be.  We as HA! fans know that Arnold practically sees the boarders as family, but new viewers will not.  Mr. Hyunh will simply appear to be a very emotional Asian man.  No more, no less.  An earlier scene, such as a dinner scene where Arnold and his family are happily eating supper with the boarders, might do the trick of introducing the boarders to the viewers but, hey!  There was no such scene, so the movie was told as if we were expected to know who they were.  But the boarders weren’t super-super important anyway; who the heck was that unibrowed girl stalking Arnold? 

We first see Helga unknowingly on a rooftop with a bunch of Arnold statues, wanting to shoot an arrow at the real Arnold’s head but instead entering into a soliloquy about how she love/hates him.  We can somewhat see why Helga loves Arnold: because he is such a good-hearted kid with a strong sense of right and wrong.  But that isn’t the only reason for Helga’s affection.  What about the fact that Arnold is one of the very few people who can see Helga for who she really is?  We hardly see any interaction between Arnold and Helga before the confession, so it’s hard to see that other reason.  Actually, it’s hard to see any bond between the two, aside from the (what apparently looks like) the freakishly intense one-sided crush that Helga has for Arnold.  Based on what we see in this movie, we wouldn’t even be sure if Arnold had any feelings for Helga, which is a sad thing, because new viewers would not understand why AxH shippers love this pairing.  This lack of character development on Helga’s part and her relationship with Arnold further contributes to the awkwardness of the confession scene in the movie.  Like I said before, whu?

Hey Arnold! The Movie

Subplots Were… Wait, What Subplots?

If you want character development of the secondary characters, then you’re going to need subplots to give them their own scenes.  The movie was mainly about Arnold and Gerald with little focus on any other characters, so if you didn’t like those two boys – tough luck.   “The thing I wanted to do that we didn’t do in the first movie, was give the other characters their own scenes,” says Craig Bartlett, and I really wished that he did give the other characters their own scenes.  Thanks to long-running series of “Hey Arnold!”, many of the secondary characters got to be developed in the regular cartoon episodes.  They were given their own personalities and thus had potential to “spice up” the movie.  For example, some of the characters in “Hey Arnold!” who tend to overdramatize and thus serve as comic relief are Harold, Stinky, Sid, and Helga.  However, these characters had very little screentime, limiting their opportunity to make the audience laugh.  Arnold and Gerald can be funny characters, but they often lack the personality trait of over-dramatization that serves as humour to the audience.  However, I’ll give them points for this scene:

Hey Arnold! The Movie

Grandpa/Grandma scenes were also great, but they were pretty rare as well.  Lack of subplots due to the nature of Arnold/Gerald’s personality didn’t make this movie one of the better comedy movies.

Finally, did you notice any unfinished subplots?  If you did, you would have remembered the scene with Mr. Green telling Arnold about his rocky relationship with his vegetarian son.  The movie never did address Mr. Green’s problem after that scene, leaving me to think, “Why would you mention it in the first place then?”  Lack of artistic unity in this movie also docked merit points off this movie.

Bad Foreshadowing Techniques

I didn’t notice this problem until Grampa told Arnold about the tomato incident, where he shows him a picture of the ancestor of von Scheck.  If we just stopped there, I think the foreshadowing would have been good and subtle enough.  Good foreshadowing techniques should be able to plant a “seed” early in the story, where the viewers can notice it enough but not recognize its signficance.  When the foreshadowed scene occurs, the reader should be able to remember that “seed” and go, “Oh yeah!  Why didn’t I catch that before?”  That, my friend, is what I consider to be good foreshadowing.  But what happens in “HA! The Movie” after Arnold is shown the picture is that Arnold reiterates, “von Scheck?” and Grampa replies, “Hmm, I wonder if he’s any relation”.  If they didn’t say that, I might have not catched and understood Scheck’s intention of tearing down the neighbourhood.  But that extra dialogue immediately wacked me in the face with a two-by-four, making it not hard not to miss Scheck’s actual intentions.  It’s all in the details.

Lack of foreshadowing or “prequel scenes” also poisoned the movie.  Many events popped out of nowhere, such as the underground tunnel below the boarding house and Bridget coming out of nowhere with a VCR player.  It felt a bit like… last-minute-appear-out-of-thin-air solutions, making the events not much different than if Superman charged into the scene, beated up von Scheck, and saved the day.    More hints as to what is going to happen on later on in the story should be placed earlier in the story to help explain its sequence of events, such as a minor mention of a tunnel during Grampa’s explaining of the tomato-incident.  These minor details would really help enhance the storytelling of the movie.

Hey Arnold! The Movie

Final Comments

I fully realize that this artical is a very harsh review of the movie, but they are problems that should be properly addressed so that we can recognize and learn how to correct them.  I do not believe that the excuse “HA! The Movie was intentionally supposed to be a T.V. movie” is a good enough excuse, because we’ve seen what “Hey Arnold!” is capable of: they have made very good and enjoyable episodes before such as “Arnold’s Valentine”, “Arnold’s Thanksgiving”, and “Parent’s Day”.  If this movie was actually made into a T.V. film in the first place, it might have saved some self-esteem as the audience would have expected the T.V. film to be of lower quality, but it shouldn’t have made a difference.  Instead, this movie was made as a theatrical movie, which disappointed several fans as their expectations for this film were crushed.  Bad timing and advertising for this film is trivial; if the film was really good, the word of this movie should have spread like wildfire.  I’m going to relate this to a modern day example.  Weirdly enough for me, I have never seen a commercial nor ad for the movie “Up”, yet I have heard so much about it and am interested in watching it simply because of the numerous good reviews from others. 

In retrospect, sometimes I think this movie was a good thing.  If “Hey Arnold!” was ever to be revived (despite the odds), I think Craig Bartlett and the crew would have learned from this mistake to make the second movie (“The Jungle Movie”) outstanding.  I’ve seen the second movie’s prequel, “The Journal”, before and it was very well-made.  I see a lot of good potential in that film and hope that it will not make the same mistakes as the first movie.  If we have learned anything from “Hey Arnold!”, it should be to hope for the best.

Hey Arnold! The Movie