‘Hey Arnold! The Jungle Movie’ Delivers Nostalgia and Closure for Nickelodeon’s Favorite Football Head

Just after Thanksgiving Nickelodeon released a TV movie that brought us all back to our younger years, but in the age of woketivism, it may not have been as enjoyable as remembered.

The 90s were a time to feel free – all new genres of entertainment were created, we were past some of the transgressions of the 80s and moved on from the age of the bellbottom 70s for sure. It was a time where we could say anything, do anything, it was all so new and even today we can keep rebooting and rehashing the 90s it’s like no one will ever get tired of it! We just keep making the 90s better and better.

But hindsight 20/20 there was a lot wrong with 90s entertainment as well, from the foundational homophobia and sexism, to institutional racism ingrained in storylines and more. Not a surprise from a nation built on the morals from back when – you know “America was Great…”

There were some characters in Hey Arnold! that probably would make some people feel a little uneasy today. And why didn’t I notice as a kid that Arnold’s parents were white savior-ing a bunch of native peoples around the world when they disappeared?

We are taken down nostalgia boulevard in the first 15 minutes – strolling through the boarding house, Grandpa as quirky and bathroom ridden as ever, Grandma as kooky as ever and the lovable eccentric tenants, Mr. Hyunh, Ernie, and Abner the pig. That house was meant to be the melting pot of New York wrapped into one tenement, and the first few scenes really meant to hurl you back into 1996. We see Gerald meeting up with Arnold to walk to school on the last day of class doing their signature handshake.

And we run into – literally they physically run into our favorites, Phoebe and the always krass Helga. Her secret love for Arnold still unwavering as she yells at him “Who told you you could touch me!” It’s an amalgamation of ten years of backed up memories flooding the screen, and we remember the born and chosen families of the Hey Arnold world.

The movie hinges on the entire back story of Arnold his parents and their mysterious adventures that rendered them missing. Which is fine because the show has always tugged on our heart strings with Arnold’s Spider-Man like parental history.

The sad thing is (and I will keep spoilers at bay), that we need to venture into the jungles of Latin America to begin and end this journey. That means a lot of Latinx people being villains, puns using the spanish language, and a few “lazy” characters as well…Even Eastern European Olga Pataki (Helga’s sister) swooning over a dashing Latinx man at first sight. With everything hinging on Arnold being the chosen one, and the only being capable of breaking the curse so… a lot of brown native people worshipping and bowing to blond haired blue eyed individuals happening.

I am not denying it was a great dose of the old school Hey Arnold! adventure and excitement for the good ‘ol characters we loved. Even if Gerald was a token, we were glad he was there, but in this new age his colloquialisms “mmmm – mmm – MMM” and “Now I’ve seen everything,” were not as endearing as I remember….

There is always two sides to a coin, we could say look at Arnold’s parent – allies who used their privilege beyond our borders to assist the needs of others. A class of students getting the experience of a lifetime to travel to Latin America and a young boy finding his parents, and there was even a Latinx good guy as well, best friend to Arnold’s parents. I see all of that, and the imagery didn’t ruin it for me, but rather helped me remember 10 years is a long time and oh how much our environment has forced us to open our eyes not only in our society but has fashioned a new age of eyes wide open entertainment. We can see it all now, call it out and rally for narrative shifts.

That being said – watch the Hey Arnold! The Jungle Movie because you are an 80s or 90s baby and want that closure you never had. And know you will put in work to leave the woketivist at the door.

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  • Aisha Jordan bio: Actor, Writer, Arts Administrator. I am a movie nerd. Born and raised, action and adventure, sci-fi, fantasy, cartoon enthusiast, and aficionado. Raised by a Trekkie mom in a world of Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park and Lord of the Rings. Foundation in social justice theater and playing in the nerd and entertainment world.

  • Show Comments

  • Synnove

    I’m unsure how Gerald falls under the “token black guy” trope since he was a fully rounded character with many facets that weren’t based around stereotypes and was the focus of many episodes. His family also features prominently in several episodes.

  • Hal

    I accept the whole “chosen one” angel (which I normally hate) in this case because they subvert it, and turn it into more of a sendup of the typical chosen one narrative. Yes, Arnold is prophesied to cure the disease, but in the end it’s Helga who actually does it, showing that really anyone pure of heart can be the hero.
    And as for the whole brown people worshiping the white guy thing… yeah, there is that but in the larger context of the story established in the show, they don’t just accept Arnold’s parents and by extension him as their saviors, their trust had to be earned over time which I think saves the story from falling into that trap.

  • Matt

    The blog post is spot on. That’s all I was this thinking was, “how is it that these ancient native people couldn’t do anything for themselves until Arnold (a blonde white boy) comes to save them. Seemed super toned-deaf to me. And with Netflix announcing their partnership I hope the get some inclusive writers. Oh, and Aisha I thought you should’ve stayed on a little bit longer. l enjoyed this post!

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