The Series That Could Bring ‘Hey Arnold’ Back to Life

hey arnold

[UPDATE: Well, it’s happened people. A Hey Arnold movie has officially been greenlit.]

hey arnold jungle movie

It’s been almost 19 years since the first episode of Hey Arnold premiered on Nickelodeon, and it’s been 11 since the series ended. That’s a lot of time, and yet many people still remember and love this show. There are a lot of reasons for that.

Hey Arnold was created by Craig Bartlett, who wrote Rugrats and married the sister of the guy who created The Simpsons. He even voiced some of the characters. And in many ways, Hey Arnold was and remains unlike any other cartoon on television.

It was about a fourth-grader named Arnold growing up in a fictional (and unnamed within the show, though it’s later called Hillwood) with his friends. The city was a mashup of familiar locations like Seattle, Chicago and New York, but it built its own identity as a believable location without ever needing a label (much like how Arnold himself never needed a last name).

hey arnold

Arnold lived with his grandparents in a grungy boarding house with a couple that fought all the time, an international spy, a hotheaded construction worker, a Vietnam refugee (that Christmas episode, though), and many others. The show put effort into exploring all of these relationships, as well as the lives of Arnold’s close friends at school.

These school kids were such well-developed and interesting characters that the show routinely featured them in their own episodes, some without any hint of Arnold himself. Characters like Harold, Eugene, Sid, Gerald, and even Stinky all had well-written episodes devoted to them. It’s hard to think of any other show on any network that his such a big catalogue of characters with rich backstories.

But much of the show’s success and impact is due to how comfortable the show was with exploring the lives of the girls at this school, not just the boys. Rhonda, Phoebe, and of course, Helga, all had many episodes of their own, despite Hey Arnold being originally conceived as a show for young boys.

hey arnold

For this reason, everyone had a reason to like Hey Arnold. If you didn’t really care for Eugene’s accident prone problems, you could always wait for the next episode about Rhonda learning humility and having to wear glasses. Or watch Arnold befriend a man who can fly with pigeons in one of the most surreal, yet metaphysically enthralling, episodes it ever made.

Hey Arnold is, without a doubt, a unique show that deserves all of the nostalgic praise it gets. But how did it end?

The show was famous for raising lots of questions without ever paying off the answers. While some mysteries, like Arnold’s last name, were never revealed, other curious story arcs developed slowly over time, like the origin of Arnold’s parents and whether or not Helga would ever tell Arnold how she feels.

Or if Brainy ever got his head checked.
Or if Brainy ever got his head checked out for internal bleeding.

It wasn’t until years into the series that the episode, “Parents Day” finally gave viewers an answer to where Arnold came from and what happened to his parents, Miles and Stella. We found out that they were wilderness explorers who traveled the world like Indiana Jones and Lara Croft (Stella even wore a shirt right out of Tomb Raider).

But some time after Arnold was born, they vanished during an expedition to San Lorenzo, leaving their baby in the hands of his grandparents.

Years later, the series offered even more insight into what specifically happened to Arnold’s parents in the last episode that was ever produced (though more episodes were later released that happen before “The Journal”).

hey arnold

Arnold found his father’s journal, which revealed a lot about his parents’ adventures. He learned that they journeyed back to San Lorenzo (where Arnold was born to help a mysterious tribe known as the “Green Eyed People,” whom they had befriended years earlier. Stella was a doctor, and the Green Eyed People had been stricken by a disease. Since Stella and Miles were the only people they trusted, the parents had to leave Arnold and go save them.

They never returned, of course, but Arnold found a map in the back of the journal. The series actually ended with Arnold telling this to his grandparents, implying that the story was not over. Nickelodeon was going to produce a movie called Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie to finish the series, but they ended up making Hey Arnold!: The Movie instead, which was based on the planned TV special, Arnold Saves the Neighborhood. 

The movie made a lot of money, but fans weren’t very pleased.

hey arnold
Concept art for “Hey Arnold!: Jungle Movie”

Nickelodeon was planning on making another theatrical release for “Jungle Movie” despite the unsuccessful first attempt, which is why they produced “The Journal” to set it up. But disagreements between Bartlett and Nickelodeon caused the complete end of the series, including the movie.

Basically, Nickelodeon demanded that Bartlett only create shows for their network, but he refused because he was working on a series for Cartoon Network.

As a result, Hey Arnold and its finale movie were cancelled.

hey arnold
OK, fine, here it is.

For the longest time, I thought this was a sign of a theory I had about Arnold and his grandparents. Basically, I just assumed that none of these things about Arnold’s parents were true because they were so fantastical. They reminded me of the dream sequences Arnold would have in the first season, which positioned him as a more imaginative kid.

So when “The Journal” came out, I started to think that Arnold’s grandparents had planted that journal and even the photos. And I believed that they invented the story to make Arnold feel better about his parents abandoning him or passing away tragically.

But this theory is false. Bartlett was clearly working on a movie that debunks that, as we have ample concept art and plot lines that have been leaked over the years. There was no “hidden story” here for us to bother discussing.

hey arnold

Over the years, fans have clamored for Bartlett and Nickelodeon to revive the movie and finish the series strong. Despite rumors since 2012  that this could happen, no one has said anything official, which means it will likely never happen, and that’s not surprising.

In Nickelodeon’s defense, they’d be spending a lot of money to do a movie that most of its current audience wouldn’t have any previous knowledge of. At this point, only millennials like me remember this show, and many of us are too old to spend money on a Hey Arnold movie (besides me and probably anyone reading this).

We’ll probably never know what happened to Arnold’s parents, but there is one other massive plot thread that did get confirmed, and it’s sort of depressing. Unfortunately, Helga and Arnold never end up together.

Remember All Grown Up? The Rugrats spinoff that aged the characters and followed their lives as preteens and basically ruined Nickelodeon’s flagship series after two surprisingly decent seasons?

Well, the same thing was planned for Hey Arnold, but without Arnold. It was centered around Helga as a teenager at age 15, and it was simply called The Patakis. A fun surprise is that the show was deemed too dark for Nickelodeon, so it was planned to debut on MTV. Sadly, it never got off the ground.

hey arnold
Fans aren’t ready to give up quite yet.

The kicker is that in this spinoff, Helga has somewhat moved on from Arnold. For unexplained reasons, Arnold moves away from the city (maybe to live with his parents in San Lorenzo), so The Patakis would have focused only on Helga and some of the other characters from P.S. 118.

 We don’t know much about the show, but Bartlett and other sources have given us small peeks at what could have been. Helga and Arnold apparently dated for a while, but they broke up. She’s still crazy about him when the show starts, and she writes him letters every night that she’s too scared to actually send. Her new “Arnold shrine” is now a binder with all of these letters.

Seriously, imagine how seriously interesting it would have been to watch an older Helga move on from Arnold and find something else in her life to hold onto, besides the unrequited love of a kid who showed her love at the lowest point in her life. It would have done wonders for this character.

This “updated” Helga wants to write books and still has that grumpy edge to her. She still has the unibrow (thankfully) and even the classic pink bow under her cap. The pilot is about how Olga has become the black sheep of the family in pursuit of an acting career. Her father, Big Bob, is selling cell phones now instead of beepers, and Miriam is in AA (apparently our suspicions were correct in assuming there was another ingredient in those “smoothies”).

Other Hey Arnold characters were planned to be in the show, including Gerald and Phoebe as a stable couple, Sid, Stinky, and even Brainy.

hey arnold
Assuming he survived this long.

Like Legend of Korra, this series could have been a fresh start built from the legacy of a previous series. In fact, I could still see the series happening since it wouldn’t necessarily have to rely on fans of the original show to fuel it. Just look at how other nostalgic favorites like Boy Meets World and Full House are being revived on Disney and Netflix.

So perhaps one day we will get the answers Bartlett has been keeping from us likely for the sake of his own sanity. In a world where Kickstarter and social media campaigns dictate the next craze derived from our unwillingness to let go of our respective childhoods, The Patakis is more than a safe bet.

After all, if Generation X gets to see Transformers turn into four incredibly mediocre movies, then why can’t we get just a season of our favorite football head? Or at least his girlfriend.

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

17 thoughts on “The Series That Could Bring ‘Hey Arnold’ Back to Life

  1. would signing that petition really do anything? something tells me nickelodeon doesn’t give a sh** about Hey Arnold anymore.

    • Nickelodeon only cares about SpongeBob and would cut corners on almost anything to make it the only Nicktoon to air (Also Fairly Odd Parents). I have a theory of my own:Nickelodeon was so pleased with SpongeBob that they wanted to make it the best show in their lineup and having the show win all the KCAs, despite good attempts from Avatar and Korra.

      Think about what Nick is airing these days…Random Sitcoms, Breadwinners, Bad Cartoons
      Canceling Invader Zim in their prime and rejecting those with potential like Adventure Time and The Modifyers…I don’t think Nick’s actions is a coincidence.

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  3. From the title I thought you were talking about Sky Rat, that Nicktoon that the creator of this and the creator of Spongebob are working on.

    • On Summer 2019, the title was changed from Sky Rat to Wacky Siblings.

  4. Oh gosh, the nostalgia. I read this post a few days ago and now I’m frantically re-watching the seasons of Hey Arnold. Haha! Great post!


  5. Hey Arnold reminds me of two other shows: Arthur, and Phineas and Ferb. Arthur, a children’s series that has aired on PBS since 1996, typically revolves around Arthur. However, like Hey Arnold, a majority of episodes focus on other characters. One that I can think of basically focuses on a background character. As for Phineas and Ferb, practically all of the episodes focus on them. However, it is very clever with its humor and is pretty much always strange (like the episode you mentioned up above). Also, its character Isabella has a crush on Phineas, but she cannot bring herself to tell him, much like Helga. Lastly, they got weird shaped heads. Nothing more to say on that matter.

  6. Time for an updated article. New progress on The Jungle Movie!

  7. The Patakis never even got over the sketch phase. And Craig has said that Helga and Arnold end up together. Also, even though there’re tiny tiny hints, The Jungle is being worked as we speak. That’s what both Craig and Nickelodeon have said

  8. Actually Craig DID confirm that, in fact, both characters end up together. If you remember the episode married, at the end it shows phoebe’s perspective of Arnold and Helga ending up together in the end and, awesomely, Craig admitted it was never even supposed to CUT to her! So, in a way, we saw a glimpse of their future. Also in an interview Craig exact words were that Arnold and Helga get married and end happily every after with each other (OK, somewhere along the lines of. This was in a pod cast btw). Seriously if they didn’t end up together, that’s like half of my expectations for the jungle movie gone. That and finding his parents. They NEED to be together. She is such a poet and, in the valentines day episode, it’s clear Arnold really likes the REAL Helga.

  9. Oh my goodness. My eyes lit up from the nostalgia. Hey Arnold is on Hulu. I got rid of Netflix for that reason. You’re right the younger ones won’t know anything about Arnold but us 90’s babies will flood to the theaters. I would anyways. Great post!

  10. I think they should make a spin off like originally planned the patakis with having helga be 15 taking the rite amount of yrs later from the show & have it yes without arnald cause he left 2 go find his parents but only having helga talk about him a lot with good details in the 1st episode then after that only jareld would mention or talk about him when ever jareld is in the episodes but not ever episode of course but a few @least. The show can b mainly about helga i suppose but throughout the show it can tell ys about the other kids & adults such as the teachers & other people who had lived with arnald @ the boarding house. His grand parents can b dead as 2 why arnald had no problems leaving the house, city or his friends & (secret relationship with helga maybe)
    Helga would still act like she dislikes him while jareld now with phebe is for the most part ok that he left for a good & personal cause. Arnald should b shown ina few episodes in flash bks cause being only 15 himself would have left @ the age of 14 & a half cuase gis grand parents died shortly after he turned 14.
    So 3 to 2 seasons of this or more if they want would b ideal for this show but like the last Airbender it would not answer many questions cause thus show would also b helping in getting old & new arnald fans 2 rise bk up/ for the 1st time though it can answer a few the questions the show might of had @ the time. People like ruth & the 5th graders tho now in high school i guess should definitely b in this as well lol.
    The show can end with helga & jareld getting a call from arnald saying if they can come help him with his search as he thinks he found out about their where abouts thus leading in2 the jungle movie.

    Fuck i kinda like my whole idea as 2 it being made now lol

  11. XD its funny because the movie came out last thanksgiving

  12. I REALLY NEED REAL CARTOONS TO COME BACK!!! WHAT MUST I DO?!! I let my kids watch hey Arnold, it the last of real cartoons. Unlike the BS they have now!! NO MEANING (must keep going) what do I need to do

    • Well Ashley Dragon Ball Super is pretty good, but I’ll agree it was one of the last good cartoon. Hell it was a great show period, let alone of just being a good cartoon show.

  13. Thank you so much for this article. Born in ’92, this filled in many blanks for a show that heavily influenced my childhood.

  14. To me it was/is a top three 90s show, back when they made quality shows. Whether they be cartoon/animated series or a live action one. The networks need to get back to shows like Hey Arnold & Justice League.

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