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'Hey Arnold! The Movie'

Nick's latest cartoon feature is a well-intentioned dud

Friday, June 28, 2002

By Scott Mervis. Weekend Editor, Post-Gazette

There's no questioning the good intentions of "Hey Arnold! The Movie."

'Hey Arnold! The Movie'

RATING: Rated PG for some thematic elements.

VOICES: Spencer Klein, Jamil Smith, Jennifer Jason Leigh

DIRECTOR: Tuck Tucker

WEB SITE: www.nick.com/



A bunch of kids in a tightly knit urban ghetto are trying to save the neighborhood from the slick developer who wants to turn it into another Mall of America.

It's a real story with no aliens or weird gizmos or talking animals. Almost everything in it could actually happen in real life. And you have to admire its heart and its sense of tradition and community.

But about halfway through it, it had me thinking: Bring on the aliens, weird gizmos and talking pets. Maybe even a hit song from Shaggy or Busta Rhymes or anyone to liven things up.

Like it or not, we've all been programmed to have certain expectations of summer movies -- that they be fun.

"Hey Arnold! The Movie" doesn't deliver. It's boring, it's slow, it's not funny, it's even kind of dreary -- a new approach for Nickelodeon animated films (and I say animated because the live-action "Snow Day" was no laugh riot either).

It's likely to disappoint even fans of the Nickelodeon cartoon, which debuted in 1996 and has consistently been one of the kid channel's top-rated shows.

It's too bad because there's potential in the characters. Arnold, the boy with the football-shaped head, is a likable, unspoiled kid who stands up for his principles. He lives in a boardinghouse with a set of grandparents who ain't all there. His comic foils include a good-natured African-American kid, Gerald, and Helga, a sort of grown-up Angelica (from "Rugrats") who treats Arnold with contempt despite her secret crush on him. The other kid characters -- including the fat bully Harold -- are hardly on the screen.

The film opens like a Spike Lee joint with a few somber jazz notes playing as the camera pans down on a street baseball game in a broken-down neighborhood.

But it's not a Spike Lee movie and the downer tone seems out of place, even with Arnold and his crew facing the bulldozers. A developer called Future Tech Industries plans to wipe out all the homes and old family businesses like Green's Meats and Molly's Donuts.

Everyone has given up the fight. Except Arnold. After a poster campaign and a party fail to rouse the townspeople, Arnold discovers the existence of a document declaring the town a historic landmark. To get it, he and Gerald, with the help of a mysterious "Deep Voice," will have to infiltrate Future Tech's monolithic headquarters.

Even with the plot and characters in place, "Hey Arnold! The Movie" falls flat. The attempts at humor, including references to the upcoming "Men in Black" and "Hulk" movies, have no pop.

You know it's a bad sign when even the actors doing the voiceovers -- Spencer Klein (Arnold), Jamil Smith (Gerald), Paul Sorvino (Scheck) and Jennifer Jason Leigh (Bridget), among them -- don't seem sold on the material.

"Lilo & Stitch" and "Scooby Doo" are the competition. Do yourself a favor. Spend your money on them and skip "Hey Arnold!"

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