I used to regard the Nickelodeon Films brand as a beacon for better-than-average family entertainment. While unquestionably a soul-sucking corporation bent on draining your last family dollar, they nevertheless carry themselves sincerely, continually crafting sly, witty family fare without much straining. With the pleasant "Rugrats" movies, the masterful 1996 "Harriet The Spy" adaptation, or even last holiday's sincere "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius," Nickelodeon Films brought more carefree antics, convincing humor, and less schmaltz to the table than, say, your average Disney production. All this ends, though, with the embarrassing, slapped together "Hey Arnold! The Movie" (IMDb listing) animated film.
With friends, family, and a bustling summer ahead of him, life for the football-headed Arnold couldn't be any better. That is, until an evil land developer decides to buy up Arnold's neighborhood piece by piece, then destroy it and build his own property over the remains. Arnold's not the type of guy to take this affront lying down, and with the help of his friend Gerald, his family, and a mysterious stranger named "Deep Voice," Arnold sets out to stop the development and save his home.
A crucial piece of information needs to be established before anyone walks into the theater to see this film: It was never meant for the big screen. "Hey Arnold! The Movie" is actually the three-part finale to the "Arnold" television show, running since 1996. I didn't have this information before I saw the film, and believe me, it would've gone a long way to answering many questions I had during the screening. For instance, there is a sickly look to the movie, as if someone poorly transferred a video copy of the picture to celluloid. The animation is also bargain basement. Actually, it's some of the worst I've ever seen for a big screen feature, making "South Park" look like "Fantasia" by comparison. Maybe I would've been a little less picky with the knowledge that this feature was never meant to be a feature at all, but the gall of Nickelodeon in passing off such low-quality fare as a summer family diversion upsets me. It's a greedy move from a company that never stood that ground as blatantly before.
What does work in "Arnold" is the simple storyline that should keep children entertained, especially those weaned on the television series. It runs a merciful 70+ minutes and features some good natured references for the adults in the audience to such films as "Speed," The Shawshank Redemption," "Men In Black," and even the Watergate scandal of all things. While a disaster in terms of exhibition and intent, "Hey Arnold" is a serviceable enough cartoon on its own merits, and should please those who just can't wait for the home video release.
Just beware. Time and effort goes into most family films including this summer's "Spirit" and even the detestable "Scooby Doo." And that same time and effort is completely gone in "Hey Arnold! The Movie."
Filmfodder Grade: D