Relationships


Hey readers! I’m terribly sorry that I haven’t updated here since November, but basically my final semester of college usurped my life and up until this past week it was just nonstop studying and papers! However I am FINALLY done and have thus completed my degree. Now I have plenty of time to write for the things I love, more presently Hey Arnold! On to today’s topic!

Arnold’s Christmas

Season 1 Episode 20

Arnold's Christmas Title Screen

I understand that I’m jumping ahead and not following the original plan of going episode by episode in order of air date. However it is the holidays and this seems like the perfect episode to critique at this time. This episode aired on December 14, 1996 and was the first and only Christmas themed episode produced for Hey Arnold. While many cartoon and children’s shows took the easy route for their Christmas episode plots, such as having the main characters assist Santa and/or attempt to save Christmas, Hey Arnold does something completely out of the ordinary. Instead of taking the easy way out, Hey Arnold faces real world issues and forces its characters to learn some difficult lessons regarding reality and themselves. The episode is notable as it never really mentions Santa and the only Christmas carol we hear sung is part of the chorus of Jingle Bells as sung by Olga, Miriam, and Bob Pataki. This episode is a classic holiday cartoon and one that continues to cause even the most stoic of us to shed a few tears at its beauty, heart, and love.

Episode Synopsis

The episode opens up on Phoebe and Helga sharing a conversation as they walk through Hillwood. This conversation enlightens us to their personal views of the Christmas holiday. Helga believes it’s all about material possessions and getting the flashiest thing possible while Phoebe believes its all about giving and sharing. Helga shoots Phoebe down and expresses her strong desire for Nancy Spumoni snow boots, the must have Christmas gift that is sold out in the entire city.

Helga stares at some Nancy Spumoni snow boots.

Helga's desire for the Nancy Spumoni snow boots is almost matched by her desire for a certain someone...

Meanwhile Arnold is out with Gerald, who is finishing some last minute Christmas present shopping for his family. After Arnold learns that Gerald got everyone in his family a tie, including his little sister Timberly, Arnold tells Gerald that Christmas is about showing your loved ones how much you care about them and that a gift should be unique for the person. Gerald understands and changes up his gift giving plans, to include getting a toy for Timberly instead of the tie. They each go their own way for the day and after Arnold passes by Helga, she launches into one of her personal soliloquies about him, deciding that she must find a big flashy gift for him so that he will fall for her. Notably, Brainy does not show up during this.

Rather than Brainy showing up, Helga just gets splashed with mud. Maybe he was on vacation?

The scene then cuts to Mr. Hyunh arriving back to the Sunset Arms, but before he enters he turns around thinking he heard a female voice call out for him. Inside Secret Santa assignments are taking place and after an initial corruption of the drawing where everyone gets Oskar, Arnold ends up with Mr. Hyunh. He expresses his lack of knowledge about Mr. Hyunh to Gerald the next day, who advises him to go and talk to Mr. Hyunh to see what he would like for Christmas.

Through this visit, Arnold learns that Mr. Hyunh has a daughter, Mai, that is currently missing. Back when he was younger, he lived in a country that was being torn apart by a war. Fearing for his daughter’s safety, he fled to the US embassy and attempted to get him and his daughter on one of the helicopters departing the area. When he was informed that there was only room for one more on the helicopter, he gave his daughter up to the soldier who yelled to him that he would bring Mai to Hillwood. Mr. Hyunh eventually was able to get to Hillwood and has spent over twenty years searching for his daughter in vain. This story causes Arnold to decide to attempt to find Mr. Hyunh’s daughter for Christmas.

Mr. Hyunh decides to give his daughter, Mai, up in order to secure her safety from the war.

Arnold and Gerald go the next day to visit Mr. Bailey at the Federal Office of Information. Initially, Mr. Bailey refuses to help them find Mai, but after they offer to do his last minute Christmas shopping for him, he agrees to help as long as they get everything on the list.

Helga is doing some last minute shopping herself as she is trying to find Arnold a fantastic Christmas present. She finally finds one that may just do a trick, a flashy new computer game. However after she runs into Arnold and Gerald and shows them the item, they comment on how it just seems like she’s trying to impress the recipient with how expensive it is. This run in leads to Helga discovering Mr. Bailey’s Christmas shopping list and she sees Nancy Spumoni snow boots listed. Intrigued, she secretly follows the boys for the rest of the day in their failed quest to retrieve the snow boots.

After searching nearly every store in the city, Arnold and Gerald return to Mr. Bailey without the snow boots in hand. Even though they got everything else on his list, Mr. Bailey refuses to help them as they did not get the snow boots his daughter wanted. Dejected, Arnold and Gerald leave and sit on a bench, where Arnold expresses his sadness over the fact that he failed to reunite Mr. Hyunh and Mai all because he couldn’t find a pair of Nancy Spumoni snow boots. Helga overhears this and realizes exactly what Arnold wants. This leaves her downtrodden as well as she doesn’t believe she can give him what he wants.

Once she arrives home, her mother, Miriam, notices Helga’s sadness and decides to let her open a Christmas present early. Helga opens the gift and finds that they are Nancy Spumoni snow boots. Exhilirated by the fact that her mother actually got her the one thing she wanted, Helga hugs her mother, yanks the snow boots on, and dashes outside where she dances joyfully in the snow. It is during this dance that Mr. Bailey’s Christmas list flies out of her jacket pocket, reminding her that now she has the ability to give Arnold his Christmas miracle and posing a moral dilemma. After several minutes of mulling over her options, Helga reaches her decision.

Helga experiences a moral dilemma when she receives the one thing that she needs to get Arnold what he wants.

As Mr. Bailey leaves his office for the night, Helga races up to him and shoves the snow boots in his arms while yelling about how they need to go back inside and find Mai. Mr. Bailey refuses, stating that he is tired and wants to go home to spend Christmas Eve with his family. Seeing this, Helga appeals to him explaining that he can either leave now and kill Arnold’s belief in miracles or go back into the office with her to search for Mai.

The next morning at Sunset Arms, Gerald arrives to a still depressed Arnold watching the boarders and his grandparents celebrate Christmas. Arnold didn’t even both getting Mr. Hyunh a different gift. After all the gifts have been opened, the doorbell rings which Grandpa Phil goes to answer. He returns with Mai who sees Mr. Hyunh by the fire and calls to him with the same voice heard earlier in the episode. He turns and is stunned to find her there. They reunite in a hug as everyone else looks on stunned, but happy. No one is more stunned however than Arnold, who tries to figure out how the reuniting was possible. Gerald tells him to leave it as a miracle and notes that Arnold may have a Christmas angel looking out for him. It is then shown that Helga is standing outside the Sunset Arms with a peaceful smile. The episode closes as Helga whispers, “Merry Christmas, Arnold.”

Mr. Hyunh and Mai end up getting reunited, leading to a happy Christmas for all.

Reality Strikes

The first main thing that really stands out in this episode is just how much real life is thrown in. Mr. Hyunh’s experiences with the war is something that many people experienced in real life. It is presumed that Mr. Hyunh was talking about the Vietnam War, based on his story and the fact that he says he is from Vietnam in the episode, “Snow”. Furthermore, the event that occurs where he gives up Mai can logically be assumed to be happening during the Fall of Saigon around 1975. In the Fall of Saigon, many South Vietnamese civilians vied for limited spaces on the helicopters that were evacuating people as they feared that once the North Vietnamese took over the city, they would be considered traitors and possibly killed. These helicopters were even evacuated from the US Embassy, which is where Mr. Hyunh got through at as seen by the US flag as he runs through to the building.

Mr. Hyunh manages to get Mai out of Vietnam by helicopter at the US Embassy during the Fall of Saigon.

Showing this war in a cartoon meant for kids and exposing them to the fact that war tears families apart was a brave and stunning move. Children watching the show had to learn the harsh reality that war is not pretty and is in fact something that we have dealt and continue to deal with today.

The other major thing that is shown that is very real is the fact that Arnold fails in his quest to reunite Mai and Mr. Hyunh. Children are taught to believe that anything is possible with hard work. What they fail to understand and what isn’t mentioned as much as it should be is that there will be times where you fail in what you attempt. However that is okay and the world does move on. Arnold was lucky to have his Christmas angel.

Finally, although a minor correlation it is worth noting that the fact that Nancy Spumoni snow boots were the must have gift was a direct play on our society’s yearly obsession with a certain toy and/or item. That particular year it was Tickle Me Elmo, which went for much money on auctions and private sales due to the fact that it was nearly impossible to find. Parents went to extremes to secure the toy for their child, just like Miriam waited 18 hours in line to get Helga the Nancy Spumoni snow boots. Helga at the beginning of the episode is a perfect image of the commercialism that has degraded Christmas to a mere sport for many people. Too many people have forgotten the true meaning of the holiday, and this episode puts that back into perspective.

Breaking Points

This episode also marked key breaking points for Helga and Arnold. If Mr. Hyunh and Mai had not been reunited for Christmas, Arnold would have lost his belief in miracles and would have probably experienced a major personality shift. He probably would have lost his optimism and this loss of belief in miracles could have caused a downward spiral for him.

Helga giving her snow boots up in order to get Arnold his miracle saved his world view.

In the sense of Helga, this episode marked a major shift in her beliefs. At the start of the episode Helga was shown as very materialistic, believing that the way to Arnold’s heart was through a flashy present. However through the course of the episode she learns the true meaning of the holidays, and through that the true meaning of love. She learns that love is caring for someone else more than yourself and that the holidays are an important time to give to someone and show them how much you care.

Helga learns the true meaning of Christmas and love by giving Arnold his miracle.

Boss Quotes Regarding Christmas Meaning

“Christmas is about giving and cheer, family and friends, holiday spirit!” -Phoebe

“Christmas is about presents! It’s about getting as much stuff as you can possibly get! It’s about money and flash! It’s about shopping like a barbarian! It’s about getting your’s before the other guy gets his!” -Helga

“‘Cause Christmas is special. It’s about showing the people you’re close to that you really care about them. When you give somebody a present, it should be unique.”     -Arnold

“At night I used to dream about our future together. To watch Mai grow up and go to school. To see her be happy.” -Mr. Hyunh

“Then I had to make the most difficult decision of my life. I had to do the best thing for Mai. I knew that if I gave Mai to the soldier he would take care of her. He would find a home for her and then as soon as I could I would get out of the country and find her again.” -Mr. Hyunh

“Maybe, but what better time for a miracle than Christmas?! Isn’t that what Christmas is really about?” -Arnold

“Arnold will be overwhelmed. On Christmas morn he will unwrap my gift. Hiis little heart will fill with joy! His little eyes will find the attached tag “To Arnold. From Helga.” and his uniquely football shaped head will fill with thoughts about me, Helga Pataki! And perhaps, then those same thoughts will lead him to feel the same admiration and-dare I say it?- love for me that I have so longed and secretly harbored for him! This truly must be the meaning of Christmas.” -Helga

“I needed a miracle I guess. Just couldn’t get one.” -Arnold

“Can’t you see?! It’s not about snow boots! It’s not about flashy, expensive presents or getting yours before the other guy gets his. It’s about showing people you really care about them and most of all it’s about a funny little football headed kid with a good heart, but no sense of reality whose entire world view is at stake!” -Helga

“But if you leave now, that little football headed kid will never believe in miracles again.” -Helga

“Don’t try to make sense of it, Arnold. A miracle’s a miracle, and that’s all there is to it. Maybe you’ve got a Christmas angel looking out for you or something.” -Gerald

“Merry Christmas, Arnold.” -Helga

Closing Remarks

This holiday episode is a classic that will continue to pull at heart strings of young and old alike for years to come. With its timeless lessons, family values, and dash of real life issues, it’s definitely a must watch during the holiday season. Happy holidays everyone!

Image credit: tabbyandy at deviantART

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Before I get into the various themes of Hey Arnold, I just want to say that I’m planning an article series. This article series would be an analysis of each episode of Hey Arnold to be hopefully updated at least once a week. I’m even thinking about doing a vlog to go along with it, time permitting of course! So keep your eyes out for that! Pretty psyched to do it! Now on to the topic of this posting.

Themes of Hey Arnold!

Hey Arnold!

Throughout the show’s run, there have been a multitude of life lessons and morals imparted to the viewers. These have been learned through the mistakes of various characters or simply through different life experiences. In thinking over these lessons learned, several themes appear that show that while the lessons themselves were individual, the overall ideas of Hey Arnold were quite broad and powerful.

Love

This is arguably the biggest theme of the show as we are exposed to all kinds of love during the various episodes and it is practically present in some form in all the episodes. These kinds of love include unrequited, first love, familial love, platonic love, and unwanted love.

In the category of unrequited love, it is fairly obvious that Helga is the main character that is demonstrative of this theme. Throughout the six years of her crush/obsession over Arnold, he has never once returned the same sentiments of love to her. She has had to deal with the pain of unrequited love for the majority of her life and has to live with the wonder of whether or not it will ever be fulfilled or if she will ultimately be rejected. It’s a fear that many of us share, naively as children and more so as teens and adults. Even though she finally does reveal her feelings to Arnold, she never does receive an answer from him on where he stands regarding his feelings about her. Arnold manages to avoid the answer of how he feels by wisely giving the Helga the opportunity to take her confession back, which she quickly does so. Too bad The Jungle Movie never got made, or else we could have seen the resolution of this conversation and seen Helga’s unrequited love be fulfilled much to our gleeful little hearts. Others on the show with unrequited love include Brainy, who clearly has a thing for Helga even though she has never returned his sentiments, Curly and his psychotic crush on Rhonda, and even Arnold for a time when he was dealing with his feelings for Lila, who constantly rejected him on the basis that she only liked him platonically. The show makes it clear though that unrequited love can drive one crazy and that the best way to figure out how the object of your desire feels is to just lay it all on the table, even if it may lead to a painful discovery and a chick flick marathon with a tub of espresso flavored ice cream.

 

Helga's Unrequited Love

Unrequited love can be painful, as demonstrated by Helga.

First love is another major theme on this show, also viewable through the various actions of Helga as Arnold is her first and only love of her thus short life. However, in order to not sound repetitive and too focused on Helga (as much as I’d like to be because she is amazing), we’ll look at this theme through other characters. Most notably is Arnold’s crush on Ruth. This can be considered the first serious crush of Arnold’s childhood as he goes all goofy whenever he sees her and is unable to formulate a cohesive sentence. Another example of first love is Phoebe and Gerald. While Gerald has been known to check out other girls and did go out with Connie to a school dance (even though she was using him to make her boyfriend jealous), Gerald and Phoebe can be considered each other’s first loves. Definitely for Phoebe as it is never mentioned that she liked another person before. Through these characters actions we see that first love makes you feel silly, learn important life lessons, and more times than not will leave you with a broken heart. This is especially seen with Arnold when he learns how vapid Ruth really is and is broken up with by Lila. Poor guy has had to deal with enough heart break in his nine years! Other characters besides the aforementioned deal with their first love too, including Harold who seemingly falls for Patty, Stinky who becomes broken hearted over Helga for a brief time, and Curly with his wild obsession over Rhonda.

Operation Ruthless

First love on the show is generally depicted as inflicting feelings of goofiness, whimsy, and inability to speak coherently. While the majority ends in heart break, Gerald and Phoebe are able to avoid a painful end entirely.

Familial love and platonic love falls into two coming categories of themes that I’ll later cover, so on to the last sublevel of love covered in the show, unwanted love. This is primarily shown by Brainy and Curly with their obsessions over Helga and Rhonda respectively. Neither of these two girls wants either of the guys, yet they  have to deal with it day in and day out. While Helga deals with Brainy through violence, Rhonda deals with Curly by exuding her disgust at the very idea of a relationship with him. In “Curly’s Girl” however, Rhonda unwillingly enters into a relationship with Curly for one week in exchange for him cleaning her mother’s new fur coat that she had just ruined. Even though Rhonda cannot wait to be free of this horrifying situation, Curly blurs the line between his own fantasy and reality by showers his beloved with gifts and love, believing that in some way she is returning his sentiments, or at least will soon. Once the week is up though, Rhonda breaks up with him, leaving him incredibly heart broken and morose. They end up getting back together so Rhonda can reclaim her popular status, but Curly breaks up with her in order to ensure that she doesn’t lose her status again. The main thing learned through this theme is to never lead someone on that you don’t feel anything for as it will only lead to major emotional pain for them.

Although much of the love seen in Hey Arnold leads to painful outcomes, there are joyous things seen of love such as Phil and Gertie’s happy and crazy marriage, Harold and Patty’s calmness and peace, and the fact that it can make one feel so many different amazing emotions that you feel as though you are floating on air. Furthermore it can be seen that love does indeed conquer all. It was nice to see though that Hey Arnold depicted the toughness and reality of love. Love isn’t all butterflies and rainbows, there’s work involved and unfortunately it doesn’t work out all the time. It’s a rough lesson for these kids to learn, but learn it they do and so do we right along with them.

Family

One thing I mentioned in the area of love is familial love. This is a huge thing covered in the show. Firstly, we see that family isn’t necessarily who you are born with, but also the other people you love. Through Arnold, we see that he has quite a dysfunctional family comprising of his grandparents, wacky boarders, and of course, Gerald, his best friend. These are the people that Arnold loves the most and relies on during his difficult times and trials. In “The Journal”, it’s Gerald out of all of his friends who attempts to comfort Arnold on the anniversary of his parents’ disappearance. Even though Arnold’s parents are missing, they are still a part of his family even though they are not present. He keeps them close by constantly wearing the blue hat his father gave him as a baby. This shows that no matter where your family is, they’re still a part of you and who you are.

Family

Family doesn't just include those you're born with, but also those that love, support, and care for you.

Another thing learned through the theme of family is that your family always loves you, even when it may not seem like they do. In “Arnold’s Thanksgiving”, tired of being constantly looked over and ignored by her own family, especially on the holiday, Helga disappears from the house and traipses about the city. She has a heart to heart with Arnold and ends up returning home, arriving to her parents and sister in a sheer panic over her disappearance. Seeing this, she’s able to realize that even though they may not always show it, they all do really care and love her and would do anything to ensure her safety. Through this we see that even the most dysfunctional family can and do have love for each other. We also learn that we should show our family that we love them more often before it’s too late. Sadly, Helga’s family never fully learns this lesson as they return to their routine of ignoring Helga in subsequent episodes.

Thanksgiving Patakis

After returning from her several hour disappearance, Helga sees how worried her parents and sister were about her safety and realizes that her family does indeed love her, even though they don't always show it.

This same theme is demonstrated in the more normal family of Gerald Johanssen. When Gerald moves to the Sunset Arms boarding house in order to be rid of his annoying family in “Gerald Moves Out”, he learns just how much he really loves all of them despite how much they can peeve him sometimes. He tries to hide this from his family when they come visit, but eventually breaks down, runs home, and requests to come back home. Through this his family expresses how much they love him and welcome him back with a giant family hug. Gerald learns in a painful way that your family is there for you when you need them and that they are a part of you. As his mother says in response to his question of if they even care about him, “We will always care about you.”

Family Hug

Gerald learns just how strong a family's love is after he returns from a brief stint of living on his own.

The best example of the strength of family has to be Mr. Hyunh in “Arnold’s Christmas”. In order to give his daughter, Mai, a better chance at life during the Vietnam War, he hands her off to an American soldier before the soldier helicopters off. Mr. Hyunh has spent over twenty years searching for his daughter in Hillwood, and becomes incandescently happy when she arrives in the living room of the boarding house on Christmas morning courtesy of Helga’s secret good deed. Mr. Hyunh’s and Mai’s emotional reuniting shows that the bond of family never dies and that it is just about the strongest bond out there. By giving her up to the soldier, Mr. Hyunh ensured Mai’s survival even though he suffered the loss for many years. That’s family right there, sacrificing a huge amount in order to ensure your family’s safety, happiness, and well being, especially in a time of danger.

Hyunh

The best example on the show of the strength of family love. The only thing that would have been better than this would have to be Arnold reunited with his parents in The Jungle Movie.

Family is an important part of life, but it doesn’t always have to necessarily comprise of those you were born with. Family is made up of the ones who care and love you for who you are and are the ones you can depend on when you’ve lost your way or are just feeling down. This is demonstrated repeatedly on the show and can be considered a core theme.

Friendship

There are many friendships explored throughout the series. However the main ones focused on are Gerald/Arnold, Phoebe/Helga, Rhonda/Nadine, and Sid/Stinky/Harold. Through their friendships we see just how much friendship is worth fighting for. Each pair endures their own set of conflicts, reconcile, and become stronger and better friends.

Take for instance Gerald and Arnold. They’re best friends from day one in preschool with their super awesome thumb handshake and their love of music and funky things. Gerald’s a great wingman to Arnold and Arnold helps keep Gerald’s big ideas down to earth. Their biggest conflict was in “Part Time Friends” where they both worked together in Mrs. Vitello’s Flower Shop. Arnold is excellent with flower arrangements and Gerald is great with money handling and the business end of things. When Mrs. Vitello injures her back, she gives Gerald the responsibility of keeping the business running. This leads to an abuse of power by Gerald and pangs of jealousy within Arnold. The two end up having a huge argument, leading to several days of silent treatment between the two. Eventually, the two make up realizing how petty it is for them to end their friendship over a stupid argument.

 

Part Time Friends

Even though they have what can be considered their biggest argument ever, Arnold and Gerald make up and develop an even stronger bond of friendship.

Helga and Phoebe are another friendship the show tends to explore. While in the beginning of the show’s run, Phoebe was shown more as an assistant to Helga,  it was later revealed that the two truly do care for one another and regard each other as their best friend. This is especially seen in “Phoebe Skips”, where the two experience their own huge conflict. When Phoebe is promoted to the sixth grade as she is a super genius, Helga tries to warn her (in her own Helga manner) that she will probably be hurt by the other sixth graders. Helga is also fearful that she will be unable to replace Phoebe and tries unsuccessfully to do so. Phoebe on the other hand is taken advantage of by the sixth grade girls and ends up emotionally hurt. In the end, the two have an emotional heart to heart in the girls’ bathroom after a tearful Phoebe overhears Helga’s soliloquy about her regret over not supporting her best friend. Through this conversation, Helga finally admits that Phoebe is her best friend and Phoebe admits the same. It’s actually one of my all time favorite scenes of the show.

 

Phoebe Skips

Phoebe and Helga realize just how much their friendship means to them when Phoebe is emotionally hurt by the sixth grade girls and Helga has to learn how to go through daily life without Phoebe. Each admits that they consider the other to be their best friend in a rare heart to heart conversation.

While many of the friends on Hey Arnold experience their own turbulent times and personal differences, for the most part they are able to reconcile and realize just how important the other is to them. The show imparts the lesson that a great friendship is worth fighting for and does take work to maintain. There are both good and bad times, but if you’re willing to overcome the bad then your bond with your friend will become even stronger. As Arnold puts it when Gerald asks him if they’re still friends, “Friends ’till the very end.”

Bright Side

It’s no secret that Arnold constantly looks on the bright side of things. He’s always trying to find the good in people and the positive aspects of a seemingly terrible situation. In the film, Gerald asks Arnold, “Why do you always have to look on the bright side?” to which Arnold responds with, “Somebody has to.” That in itself is a huge theme and lesson the show imparts. Someone always needs to be able to look on the bright side of a situation, because if one is unable to find the bright side in anything, then the world can be quite dark and cold.

A great instance where Arnold tries to find the bright side in everything is when he converses with Helga in “Arnold’s Thanksgiving”. Helga is always looking at the negative in things as that is all she has ever known. It is especially difficult for her to see the good in the world when all she tends to see and experience is the bad. I find the following to really sum up how they each view the world:

Arnold: Maybe we should at least try to be optimistic. Maybe we should look on the bright side.

Helga: What bright side football head?

Arnold: We have this beautiful view. *cut to sewage filled harbor*

Helga: Keep trying Arnold.

Arnold: There’s no school today.

Helga: Skip on down.

Arnold: Hey look it’s the Mayflower! The symbol of the pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving! It…it must be some kind of sign Helga!

Helga: Maybe you’re right. *sits down and watches ship crash* Yea, it’s a sign all right. It’s a sign that this is possibly the worst Thanksgiving ever. Oh brother.

Thanksgiving

Arnold constantly tries to find the bright side of things while Helga tends to only see the bad. By the end of the episode, they are both able to see that Thanksgiving with their families isn't so bad after all.

 

This exchange between the two really demonstrates their differing world views. Although both of them have dysfunctional families and practically nonexistent parents (Arnold’s actually being nonexistent in his life and Helga’s being nonexistent emotionally), their world views are incredibly different. Helga is unable to look on the bright side, but eventually Arnold gets her to do so after they go to Mr. Simmons’ home and see how terrible his Thanksgiving is, realizing that if he can put up with his own selfish family, they can each put up with their crazy ones too.

Arnold constantly finds the good in people and brings out everyone’s optimism, whether it’s showing Stinky that he is actually good at something in “Stinky’s Pumpkin” or helping Harold achieve his goal of losing his excess weight in “Weighing Harold”. Sometimes though, even Arnold himself is unable to look on the bright side. In “The List”, after Arnold is unsuccessful in every task towards a perfect Saturday, he goes to the roof of the boarding house and looks out on the city in a depressed mood. Gertie then appears and successfully cheers him up with my favorite song of the entire show, “Look Up”. Honestly, if you ever need a pick me up, just listen to this song. It’ll seriously put the biggest smile on your face as it did with Arnold and will make you look up. The lyrics of the song basically sum up this entire theme of the bright side. The following are the lyrics to “Look Up”:

 

Look Up

When skies are gone gray, things gone astray, don't hide away! Look up!

When life gets you down, wearing a frown, don’t look away, look up,
‘Cause memories true come of the blue; you know the way – look up!
When skies are gone gray, things gone astray, don’t look away, look up;
Arnold: I had a bad day; nothing went right; I hate my dumb life; I’m down.
When you’re feeling under the weather, and the dark clouds are getting to you,
Keep your troubles light as a feather, and soon you’ll be seeing a bright patch of blue;
You….
Gotta look up, you gotta be strong, you gotta take things as they come,
‘Cause everything new that happens to you is better when you…look up!

Now sing it with Gertie! 😀

The main things through this theme is that it is important to always look for the good in people and to look on the bright side of life. In doing so, one leads a happier, more fulfilling life. However, it’s all right to actually be down sometimes as it’s all part of life and growing up.

Flaws

One thing can be said for certain about the show, and it’s that none of the characters are 100% perfect. They each have their own flaws. Helga is unable to show her true self, Gerald keeps falling for his own get rich quick schemes, Phoebe greatly fears failure, Arnold can sometimes go too far with trying to make wrongs right, and even little Ms. Perfect herself has flaws. Lila is way too perky and can actually be manipulative when she wants to. Although her manipulation is rarely demonstrated, it is seen pretty clearly in “School Play” as shown in Helga and Lila’s exchange below:

Helga: Look, Lila, I have to play Juliet.

Lila: Why, Helga?

Helga: Because I just do, okay?!

Lila: Well, if you don’t have a reason…

Helga: I have a reason, I just…can’t tell you what it is!

Lila: This isn’t by any chance because you like Arnold, is it?

Helga: *shocked then angrily* Are you crazy?!

Lila: *looking innocent* Oh because if that was the reason, if you wanted to play Juliet because you really like Arnold and you wanted to kiss him or something, well I sure could understand that! I guess I’d think it was ever so sweet and I wouldn’t mind giving up the part so you could do it.

Helga: Y-you mean if I said I liked Arnold, then you’d let me play Juliet?

Lila: Sure Helga, but you don’t…

Helga: W-w-wait a minute.

Lila: *slyly* Yes, Helga?

Helga: U-uh strictly hypothetically if I said I liked Arnold, *laughs nervously* talk about a crazy idea, would you swear never to tell a soul about it?

Lila: I suppose so if it was a secret or something.

Helga: And would you also understand that, and this is still hypothetical, that if I told you I liked Arnold and you spilled the beans to anybody that I would strangle you with my bare hands?

Lila: W-well I’m sure I would never tell.

Helga: *whispers* I like Arnold.

Lila: Pardon? I couldn’t hear you.

Helga: *quickly mumbling* I like Arnold.

Lila: I’m sorry Helga you’re mumbling.

Helga: I LIKE ARNOLD! I’m head over heels, hook line and sinker, over the moon, loop-de-loop, wa wa doot in love with the boy! Happy now?! Happy?!

Lila: *slyly* I kind of had a funny feeling you liked him.

School Play

Lila can be a sly, manipulative little girl when she wants to be. Clever Lila. Verrry clever.

 

So little Ms. Perfect isn’t perfect after all, she’s a sly little girl when she wants to be and manages to wrangle Helga into confessing her deepest secret to her. Skill. Now while this may not be considered a character flaw in all characters, it can be considered a flaw of Lila’s as she is always exuding perfection and innocence, and slyness and manipulation are typically not traits associated with the aforementioned.

It’s not just the kids who are flawed in the show, it’s the adults too! Oskar is a lazy bum, Miriam is an alcoholic, Bob is overly competitive, Olga is overly perfectionistic, Mr. Wartz is too rash in his decisions, and Mr. Potts has a quick temper. Through this show we learn that everyone is flawed and no one is perfect. However, it’s okay to be flawed because it’s what makes us “special”, as Mr. Simmons would so kindly put. You should embrace people for who they are, flaws and all, and learn to love your own flaws as they’re what set you apart from the crowd.

Sacrifice

Sacrifice plays a huge role in the stories of Hey Arnold, and many characters learn the real meaning of it. As I mentioned before in this article, the biggest sacrifice of all was arguably Mr. Hyunh giving up Mai to the American soldier in order to guarantee her safety during the Vietnam War. Other characters make sacrifices on the show too, and through them learn what it means to care for someone more than yourself.

The other biggest sacrifice made on the show was Helga’s. Throughout the show’s course, she makes two large sacrifices which are when she gives up the one thing she wanted for Christmas, the Nancy Spumoni snow boots, in order to give Arnold a Christmas miracle, and when she goes against her father’s wishes behind his back and helps Arnold save the neighborhood, even though it means the loss of a massive amount of wealth for her family and success for her father. Through her first sacrifice, Helga learns what it truly means to love someone. She actually puts Arnold’s needs and wants before her own, and in doing so experiences a level of peace and calm that is never seen in her again except as Cecile in “Arnold’s Valentine”. Through the second sacrifice, she proves her love for Arnold even further by again putting him ahead of the wants and needs of her own family. She also proves that she’s a pretty amazing person, as she says so herself in retort to Arnold’s, “That’s a pretty amazing thing to do for someone you claim to hate.”

 

Confession

Arnold: That's a pretty amazing thing to do for someone you claim to hate. Helga: Yea well I'm a pretty amazing person!

Hey Arnold shows that in life, it is necessary for one to make sacrifices in order to keep on moving. It also shows that if someone loves another, they are able to do things for them at a great cost to themselves. If one is unable to sacrifice for the greater good of others, then how are they able to fully live and experience the humanity of the world?

Morality

The final major theme of the show is morality. Arnold walks a very tight moral line and upholds good morals for himself and all of his friends. Whenever he feels that something isn’t right, he tends to be the first to point it out. As much of a do gooder as Arnold is, he is susceptible to doing the wrong thing too.

In “Cool Jerk” Arnold becomes friends with a bad crowd of guys and begins to act immorally, including skipping school, disregarding his true friends, and sneaking out at night, because he likes being considered cool by the other kids. When he realizes that the guys only wanted him to help them with a break in, he tries to leave, but gets left behind when the guys disperse as a police siren approaches. Gerald ends up being the one behind the police siren sound, saving Arnold and being there for him, even when Arnold had disregarded his warnings about the guys earlier. Arnold realized that he did the wrong thing and almost suffered real life consequences for his actions. If it wasn’t for his best friend Gerald, he probably would have.

 

Cool Jerk

If Gerald hadn't come to Arnold's rescue, he probably would have faced some heavy consequences for his immoral deeds.

Another time when someone goes against good is when Curly takes the dodgeballs hostage in the principal’s office in “Curly Snaps”. Rather than giving up, he takes Arnold hostage when he brings him his requested food. This leads to a tense negotiation between Arnold, Mr. Simmons, and Sid leading to a peaceful conclusion. Curly thinks that he’s getting away with all of his demands and no consequences for his actions, however Mr. Wartz ends up giving him a load of detention for endangering the other students and insubordination. Curly went about the problem of not being ball monitor the wrong way and tried to solve it with violence. This ended up hurting him in the end, because even though he got what he wanted, he still ended up receiving a fair punishment for his wrongful actions.

Finally, when Sid tries to pass off Arnold’s room as his own in order to impress Lorenzo in “Arnold’s Room”, he eventually gets caught in his lie. Sid almost loses both Arnold and Lorenzo as friends, however both ultimately decide to forgive him for his ruse. In doing this, Sid learns that it’s better to be honest, as he almost loses two really good friends, and that if Lorenzo hadn’t been able to accept him for who he really is, then he wouldn’t have really been a worthwhile friend anyways.

Overall, a good moral center is an important thing to have. Without one, a person can lead a life of misery and major consequences. Traipsing away from good morality also leads to consequences. So lesson learned here? Always do the right thing, even when you don’t want to. You’ll be better off for it.

Closing Remarks

Hey Arnold imparts many different themes to it’s viewers that stay with them for a lifetime. I myself constantly try to look on the bright side, follow good morals, and support my friends and loved ones through everything. Other lesser themes not explored in this article include miracles being real, first impressions not always being right, the harshness of reality, and that without anything to live for, one can feel emotionless and alone. I feel that many people who grew up with Hey Arnold went on to apply these themes to their real life and grew into mature, wise, and caring individuals. This is definitely a show my future children will watch so as to impart its lessons to them. Continue living by the lessons of Hey Arnold, and you’re sure to live a fulfilling and amazing life.

Hey Arnold

One final note! If you like Arnold and Helga, be sure to check out Moira’s (aka HAFanForever) essay on the pair. It’s an incredibly well written, well researched, and insightful essay on the pair and should be a must read for any fan of the pairing. Heck any fan of the show should read it! You can find it here. Be forewarned, it is quite a long essay, but is well worth the read.

Two main reasons why Helga kept her love for Arnold a secret:

Reason #1: Fear of rejection by Arnold

 In the episode “Monkey business”, Helga has a dream that Arnold rejects monkey-Helga after she confesses her love to him.  This scene was part of Helga’s nightmare, meaning rejection is a bad thing for Helga.

Monkey business

– The advice you give is often reflects the beliefs that you hold, and that’s no exception with Helga.  Helga dishes out her advice to some of the gang’s problems in “Deconstructing Arnold”, and that allows us to give us some insight into her personality.  Helga’s advice to Rhonda on how to get rid of her admirer, Curly, was to have Rhonda confess to him, which should “repulse” him and therefore get Curly off her back.  This advice is a parallel to Helga’s view of her relationship with Arnold.  She thinks that by confessing her love for Arnold (and putting him “on the spot”), Arnold, too, will be repulsed and as a result, Helga will lose Arnold forever. 

Helga has to be perfect in order for Arnold to love him; believes Arnold will not love her for who she is

– In “Monkey business”, Arnold’s rejection line to Helga was: “But you’re not Helga.  You’re a monkey!  A monkey-girl!”  Helga believes that Arnold will not love her whole-heartedly, or completely.  She believes she has to be perfect in order for him to love him.  In other words, humans are more perfect than monkeys.

– Remember how Helga is always competing with Lila for Arnold’s love?  It got so bad to the point where Helga tried to act/look like Lila in “Helga’s masquerade”.  Helga thought that by being like Lila, who is practically the personification of perfection, she can win Arnold’s affection.  (Helga’s line of thought during “Helga’s masquerade” was: be more like Lila = be more perfect = win Arnold’s love).  Luckily, Helga had learned her lesson by the end of this episode: that Arnold should love the one who’s perfect for him (i.e. Helga), not one who seems perfect (i.e. Lila).  Helga demonstrates that she has learned this lesson in the episode “Married”, with her soliloquy behind the dumpster.

Helga's masquerade

Therefore, with the last point being said, the Helga after her masquerade is different from the Helga before said masquerade.  She will now try to win Arnold’s affection by getting her to love her for who she is, as opposed to getting him to love a superficially-perfect Helga.

Reason #2: Fear of humiliation by others

– Helga’s soliloquys are always a goldmine to help you understand the characters and themes of “Hey Arnold”.  Taken from her soliloquy in “Monkey business”, she hopes that she will not have to confess her love for Arnold in the near future, as that would be “embarrasing and humiliating”.

– Where did this fear of humiliation come from?  Let’s jump back to Helga’s preschool years in the episode “Helga on the couch”, where she first develops her love for Arnold.  The moment Helga showed public signs of liking Arnold (i.e. swooning after Arnold gave her his cookies), her preschool peers laughed at her.  She immediately decided to stop this barrage of laughter via violence, thus beginning her reign as the school bully.

4-_75_-helga-on-the-couch-088_0001

Given her reputation as a tough school bully, it is now even harder for Helga to overcome her fear of humiliation and fully accept her contrasting, tender feelings for Arnold.  After “Hey Arnold! The Movie”, this fear of humilation will now be her greatest obstacle to overcome in order to  face her feelings for Arnold.

I’ve just recently watched “Hey Arnold! The Movie” and, considering that the plot was supposed to be only 22 minutes long, I thought it was pretty good.  The main plot was simple, right?  A large corporation threatens to tear down Arnold’s neighbourhood, and Arnold/Gerald (and in the background, Helga) manages to save the neighbourhood.  What is less simple is the large turn that Arnold and Helga’s relationship has taken. 

The confession only took up a fraction of the movie’s time, but it was indeed a very important scene regarding Arnold and Helga’s relationship.  She finally confessed (although not in the best manner) and in the end, both agreed that the confession was just “in the heat of the moment”.  Some people hated the part where Arnold and Helga denied the confession, saying that Arnold should have reciprocated Helga’s feelings.  But, in a way, Arnold did.  He didn’t reject her.  During that conversation, Arnold did not mention anything along the lines of “I hate you” or “I don’t like you at all”.  Arnold, who led the last half of the conversation, allowed Helga to take back what she said at the top of the FTi building to save her dignity.  Keep in mind that the main reason that Helga keeps her love for Arnold a secret is because 1) she fears Arnold might reject her and 2) other kids might make fun of her crush (this belief was reinforced when her classmates in preschool laughed at her when she showed a sign of liking Arnold as a toddler).  The confession incident has shown that Arnold won’t reject Helga, but has not disproved the latter.  It would be best if they were both more emotionally mature and older before they got into a romantic relationship as boyfriend and girlfriend.  The thing that makes Hey Arnold! very unique from many other cartoons is its realistic element.  Arnold, who is a patient person, would be very out of character to impulsively love Helga back after the confession incident.  Instead, it is mature of him to allow Helga and Arnold to (somewhat) return to their status-quo relationship so they can be more ready before moving onto the next step of their relationship.

And this take-back-of-Helga’s-feelings is what would give a 6th season of Hey Arnold! a new twist.  How would Arnold and Helga’s relationship change now that Arnold is aware of Helga’s feelings for him, and Helga knowing that Arnold is aware of her crush?  The following is my opinion of how Arnold and Helga have grown from the confession incident:

1. As said earlier, Helga’s main reason for keeping her crush a secret was due to fear of rejection by Arnold and her peers.  Now knowing that Arnold hasn’t rejected her after confessing, her reasons have now shifted to fear of humiliation from her classmates.  This means that Helga would most likely act like her true self (i.e. the kinder, artistic romantic) more frequently when she is alone with Arnold, compared to when is around with others.  When around others, Helga would probably bully Arnold like she would before “Hey Arnold! The Movie” to avoid being made fun of by her classmates.  In other words, Helga would most likely bully Arnold less often, but only when she is alone with him.

2. In regards to Helga’s soliloquies, there’s most likely to be less “why does Arnold have to be so dense?  Can’t he see that my actions are so that I can get him to like me?” because Arnold now knows why Helga acts that way.

3. Because of the confession, Arnold has gained some insight into Helga’s personality.  Which means that Arnold can’t ask, “I don’t know why she [Helga] picks on me, in particular” or “why does Helga have to act so mean?” without knowing the answer in the first place.  I can’t say that Arnold knows exactly why Helga kept her crush a secret, but I’m sure that he has some suspicions about it, given his mature response to allow Helga to take back her confession until she is more emotionally mature.  Therefore, I don’t think that Arnold would completely retaliate at all of Helga’s bullying, because he knows why Helga bullies him.