"Hey Arnold!"

(Above: Arnold and his grandparents, plus Gerald & Helga. From Nick.Com; © Viacom.)

Hey Arnold is the second longest-running Nicktoon, behind Rugrats. Created and produced by Craig Bartlett (brother-in-law of Simpsons creator Matt Groening) and based on his claymation shorts, the central character is Arnold, a football-headed kid who wears a sweater, never tucks in his shirt (hence, the "kilt" effect) and wears a baseball cap two sizes too small; he lives in a boarding house owned by his 81-year old grandpa, who frequently tells questionable stories and drives an old Packard automobile. He lives with his grandparents, as his own parents have gone missing while on a special mission in a Central American jungle. One of the qualities of the series is that it isn't much about Arnold, but rather about the neighborhood, his friends at school, and even the boarders at the Sunset Arms. Most notable is Arnold's looney grandma; and Helga Pataki, who hates Arnold on the outside, but loves him on the inside. In addition to the series being broad in scope (a qualitiy that it shares with The Simpsons), other qualities include the use of kids voices in kids roles and the jazzy soundtrack, practically taking a page from the Peanuts rulebook. Also just as interesting is that 2 of the regular voices, Dan Castellaneta (Grandpa) and Tress MacNeille (Grandma) are also Simpsons regulars. And being related to Matt Groening didn't hurt, either.

Top Left: Helga, Arnold & Gerald.

Bottom Left: Arnold & Helga in "Romeo & Juliet"

Right: Arnold, Gerald, Grandpa and Gerald's dad on "Veteran's Day".

(All from Nick.Com; © Viacom.)

(Left: Poster for "Hey Arnold -- The Movie", from eBay. Center: Banner ad for the Hey Arnold film; based on the one from Nick.Com. Right: The poster again, but without the text; from Nick.Com. All ©2002 Viacom.)


The poster design for the Hey Arnold film practically apes a similar design used for a poster and tape case for a previous animated Nick film, Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genious, seen here at left. Both have the main character at front, his best friends on either side of them, their other friends behind them, and the enemy overing over them, while theiy're standing on the street in their neighborhood. The only difference is that Jimmy Neutron has a weapon, and Arnold doesn't (though Arnold probably has an invisible weapon -- his wits and intellect).

(From Amazon.Com; ©2001 Viacom.)

Hey Arnold's first (and probably, only) film, Hey Arnold -- The Movie, was released in theaters on 6/28/2002. This film was originally titled "(Arnold Saves) The Neighborhood"; it was also to have been a TV movie "Nick Flick", with the third half-hour being the series' 100th episode. However, Nick felt that Hey Arnold should be given the full-screen treatment right away, as an attempt to repeat the Rugrats' big screen success.

That film was about a developer that buys all the buildings in Arnold's neighborhood, with plans on tearing it down and build a mall in its place. After hearing about its plans, Arnold and his friends take action to keep the developer from doing his evil deed.

(Top Left: A scene from "Hey Arnold -- The Movie"; note that the animation style of the original "Nick Flick" version had been "polished" for the theatrical version. Movie critics have panned the animation style of this film, as it made the animation look cheap. Picture from Nick.Com. Bottom Left: Magazine cover for the summer 2002 issue of Kids Tribute Magazine, a Canadian movie magazine for kids; from eBay; ©2002 Viacom.)

A second Hey Arnold film, tenatively titled "Jungle Movie", is currently in dire straits, as Craig Bartlett wouldn't sign a non-compete clause in the contract, angering the people in charge of Nick. And this was after Bartlett already committed to do a new series for Cartoon Network about a group of settlers on the Oregon Trail, called Party Wagon. In this film, Arnold goes looking for his long-lost parents. Also, his last name will be revealed. This was to have been the first Hey Arnold theatrical feature, until it was bumped in favor of the Nick Flick above.

Its TV prequel, "The Journal", was first televised in Canada on YTV on 6/27/2002 at 5PM ET. In this 60-minute (2 30-minute parts) special, Arnold finds a journal, which gives details on his own past, as well as a very important clue to where his parents are. This special practically answers almost all unanswered questions about Arnold and his parents.

This special also aired in Latin America (and probably other countries), before it aired in the US, on 11/11/2002 at 8PM ET, as a closer to a 4-hour Hey Arnold marathon.

(Left: Arnold's parents from the "Parents' Day" episode of Hey Arnold, as televised in the US on Nick. ©2000 Viacom.)

However, there is a possibility that the second film will be made after all. Even though he did no work in the first film's promos and trailers (which, to the ire of its fans, gave some crucial information away, such as Helga confessing her love to Arnold), he's still involved with Nickelodeon by posing messages on their forum, as well as participating in chats for the new film (held 6/27/2002). Whether or not the second film will be made will depend on how well the first film does, as well as if Bartlett and Nick reconcile their differences.

Hey Arnold opened on 6/28/2002, ranking #6 and earning only US$2,038,000 on its first night; for its first weekend, it stayed at #6, earning US$5,706,332. Here's the top ten for that weekend:

1. Mr. Deeds $37,162,787
2. Minority Report $21,590,412
3. Lilo & Stitch $21,515,886
4. Scooby-Doo $12,362,423
5. The Bourne Identity $11,197,915
6. Hey Arnold! The Movie $5,706,332
7. The Sum of All Fears $4,858,184
8. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood $4,051,483
9. Star Wars II -- Attack of the Clones $3,668,293
10. Windtalkers $3,500,000

At the end of the 4th of July weekend, on 7/7, Hey Arnold did even worse for its 2nd week, dropping 8 notches to #14:

1. Men in Black II -- $52,148,751
2. Mr. Deeds -- $18,411,597
3. Lilo & Stitch -- $12,636,421
4. Minority Report -- $12,556,624
5. Like Mike -- $12,179,420
6. The Bourne Identity -- $9,156,240
7. Scooby-Doo -- $7,022,624
8. The Sum of All Fears -- $3,715,435
9. The Powerpuff Girls Movie -- $3,583,114
10. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood -- $2,814,943
11. My Big Fat Greek Wedding -- $2,508,748
12. Star Wars II - Attack of the Clones -- $2,450,654
13. Spider-Man -- $2,204,636
14. Hey Arnold! The Movie -- $2,008,222

If there's any consolation, The Powerpuff Girls' theatrical debut had a worse start than Hey Arnold -- they opened at #9 and earned only over US$3.58 million for their first weekend (7/5/2002 to 7/7/2002).

How did the Hey Arnold film compare with the other Nick and Nick-related films? Read them and weep:

(All money figures in US$, and reflect only their earnings for their first weekend of release. Live-action films are indicated with an " * ".)

The Rugrats Movie (1998): $28 million (Opened at #1)
Rugrats In Paris (2000): $22,718,184 (#2)
Snow Day (2000)*: $14,331,819 (#3)
Jimmy Neutron (2001): $13,832,786 (#3)
Recess (2001): $13.4 million (#3)
Clockstoppers (2002)*: $10,108,333 (#5)
Good Burger (1997)*: $7,058,333 (#5)
Harriet The Spy (1996)*: $6,601,651 (#5)
The Wild Thornberrys Movie (2002) $6,100,000 (#6)
Hey Arnold
(2002): $5,706,332 (#6)
Doug (1999): $4.5 million (#5)

It should be noted that Doug, like Hey Arnold, was also made for the small-screen (in this case, to have been direct-to-video), but was moved to the theaters in a failed attempt to have a Rugrats-like success. The Rugrats films, Jimmy Neutron, and Recess were made for theaters and, as you can see, the box office figures show that.

According to this, the Hey Arnold film is:

1. The worst-opened Nick film (even the live-action films did better)

2. The second-worst Nick-related film, and...

3. The lowest-ranked Nick and Nick-related film.

After Hey Arnold's third week, it grossed US$12,641,207, after earning US$610,028 for that weekend, ranking #20. It should be noted that the film costed US$3 million to make, as it practically used the same methods of animation as the TV series itself, with very few bells and whistles to enhance the film for theaters. But, Nick and Paramount has spent US$13 million just to promote it -- that's over 4 times the cost to make the movie itself. Hey Arnold is only one of a few films in history where the cost to promote the film greatly eclipses the cost to make it.

The reviews for this film also reflect the action at the box office -- at Rotton Tomatoes, about 3 out of 4 reviews there are negative. And at this website, the reviewer gives full approval for the TV series, but has little good to say about the film.

The movie will be coming soon to VHS and DVD, but unfortunately, it'll be released too late for the holidays -- Tuesday, 12/31/2002. The DVD version may not have any extras at all -- maybe French soundtrack and subtitling, but probably nothing beyond that.

Another Black Mark For Nick; Another Great Toon for Turner

This editorial, released on 11/19/2001, was originally posted on my editorial page. Due to the subject matter being presented, as well as the film getting lousy reviews and box office figures, I moved that editorial to this page, to give meaning on why the film did not do as well as expected at the box office.

(Left: Arnold's darkest moment -- Arnold felling embarassed after being forced to wear bunny pajamas in public, from the "Arnold Betrays Iggy" episode of Hey Arnold, as televised in the US on Nick. From the Hey Arnold Forum; ©1998 Viacom.)

"It's commerce versus art... and commerce always wins." -- Gerald, Hey Arnold

How do I loathe Nick? Let me count the ways -- their ridiculous programming practices, their inane promotions, their preference to give new episodes to foreign markets first, lots and lots of reruns for Americans -- the list goes on and on.

And now, add one more item to Nick's list of faults -- pressuring Nicktoon creators to work for Nick and Nick only. This, of course, is known as an "exclusivity clause". With this in your contract, it is literally a "ball-and-chain" on your creativity.

And, because of the creator's refusal of this, the future of one of Nick's most beloved Nicktoons hangs in the balance, while its creator does some work for the competition.

Craig Bartlett, the creator of Hey Arnold, had planned on producing a second Hey Arnold film, tenatively called "Jungle Movie". Nick liked the idea, so they wanted Bartlett to sign a contract that would have Bartlett work exclusively for Nick for 2 years. There was a problem, though -- Bartlett is creating another animated series called Party Wagon, which will be about settlers travelling on the Oregon Trail (and will, no doubt, be another testament to Bartlett's Oregon roots). That series won't be for Nick, but for its competitor, Cartoon Network, which is owned by Time Warner and created by the father of modern cable TV, Ted Turner. Nick, however, was adamant about the exclusivity clause, saying something like, "No exclusivity clause, no Hey Arnold". In the end, Bartlett refused to sign the contract. Effectively, Bartlett decides to keep the Party Wagon rolling for Turner, while Nick is hopping mad about Bartlett doing work for the competition.

Bartlett is confident that he is making the right choice, as he felt that Nick is putting reins on his creativity.

I agree with Bartlett, because, if you're not comfortable at one place, you should go elsewhere. Nick, however, is starting to put ratings and money first, while force-feeding its viewers with a diet of reruns for several months straight. Many Nick programs are now being criticised, because of constant repeats. Nick is the top cable channel, but they've rested on their laurels too long.

As for me, I agree with most other animation fans, in saying that Cartoon Network puts out better cartoons. While Nick still has some gems in its line-up (especially the Klasky-Csupo Nicktoons), they are being tarnished by poor programming practices. Cartoon Network, on the other hand, has a broader selection of new toons and old favorites. And at Cartoon Network, being all things to all people definitely works. While at Nick, Nick is kids... and ratings and money, especially at the time when ad revenues are at an all-time low. Its adult audience is relegated to Nick-At-Nite only, and poor-performing Nicktoons are treated like yesterday's trash, with odd time slots and the likelihood of spending eternity resting on the shelves of Nick's archives, collecting dust (Ren & Stimpy, Rocko and now, Angry Beavers are now given this treatment). And unlike Cartoon Network, there's no room for cult hits on Nick.

I wish Craig Bartlett luck with his new project, and I hope Nick realises the error of its ways, before it ends up in the red, with poor ratings.

For complete details on the Bartlett-Nick debacle, and reaction from Hey Arnold fans, click here for Kim Burk's Hey Arnold forum, where this subject is being discussed.

(special thanks to Kim Burk and Joseph Doyle)

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