Friday, November 17, 2017

Hey, Arnold, You’re Still a Cool Kid! | Craig Bartlett Interview | Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie **Update (11/21): Added New Interview**

Thirteen years after the show went off the air, Craig Bartlett’s beloved animated character returns in a wonderful new movie on Nickelodeon!

The wait is over! Children of the late ‘80s and ‘90s who have been waiting patiently to find out some answers about their favorite characters from Nickelodeon's hugely popular Hey Arnold! series will finally get some closure when Nick USA premieres Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie this November. The two-hour movie reunites us with Craig Bartlett’s “football-head” hero and the rest of the gang from Hillwood and explores the fate of Arnold’s parents.

Not only is the animated project bound to make Arnold fans immensely happy, it also makes Bartlett a very happy camper as he gets to provide some answers to some of the questions that were hanging in the air since 2002’s Hey Arnold!: The Movie and after the show ended its five-season run in June of 2004.

“It’s seems like we’ve been waiting forever,” Bartlett, who originally created the Arnold character 20 years ago for the clay-mated Penny shorts featured in Pee-wee’s Playhouse, told Animation Magazine. “We got the greenlight from Nick to make this TV movie about three years ago. So, we worked furiously to shape the story—Joe Purdy and I wrote the first part and Lisa (Groening) and Laura (Sreebny) worked on the second hour. In the spring of 2015, we had a giant table read with some of the cast members, all the writers and Nick execs. Then, we got started to record the voices and storyboarded the movie … It took about two and half years of recording, writing and production, and we’re finally at the finish line! It must be one of the longest inception to delivery dates in animation!”

Directed by Raymie Muzquiz, a 2002 veteran of the series, as well as Futurama and Clarence; and Stuart Livingston, storyboard artist on Futurama, Clarence and Steven Universe, the new movie serves as a sequel to Hey Arnold!: The Movie and the two-part series finale ”The Journal,” which both debuted in 2002, the latter on Nickelodeon USA as part of the fifth and final season of the original show.

“I think it is the coolest looking version of Arnold ever,” say the six-time Emmy-nominated Bartlett, whose credits include Rugrats, Sid the Science Kid, Dinosaur Train, and the 2018 Nick series Sky Rat*. “Our Korean animation studio Saerom, who worked on the original series, really brought their A game. It felt like a homecoming to work with them again. The Nick Digital team in Burbank helped us a lot, too. Hey Arnold! became digital in the last two seasons of the show. We now have a bigger and wider resolution frame than we had before. We wanted this movie to be more cinematic, so I hope we can have some screenings in movie theaters in some cities as well.”

Some New and Old Kids

Bartlett was also able to bring back most of the original cast, while recasting some of the children’s roles. Justin Shenkarow, Olivia Hack, Nika Futterman, Dan Butler, Dan Castellaneta, Tress MacNeille, Antoinette Stella, Carlos Alazraqui, Dom Irrera, Maurice LaMarche, Jim Belushi, Kath Soucie, Danielle Judovits and Danny Cooksey are all back for the project. Alfred Molina provides the voice of resident villain Lasombra, while Mason Vale Cotton, Benjamin Flores, Jr. and Francesca Marie Smith star as Arnold, Gerald and Helga respectively.

The design team made a big effort to refresh the characters and backgrounds. As Bartlett explains, “We revisited the designs and colors since the movie was going to be made in high-def and 16:9 aspect ratio. We could now use better technology and bigger format. Some time has gone by since we last saw the characters. The kids are now finishing fifth grade and getting ready for sixth grade. I wanted it to feel like visiting the old home, but everything is a little more vivid, and we have a broader, more intense color palette.”

The writer/director also points out that he was very pleased with the way fans reacted to some of the images at last summer’s Comic-Con. “We had a day and nighttime view of Arnold’s boarding house, and everyone pored over the images, and analyzed the assets. They knew that we spiffed up the alley and planted a few trees. That’s the kind of scrutiny our movie has been getting on the Internet … We showed every character that had been on the show, and fans could see that they are all slightly updated, but the core of everything is the same. Arnold is still Arnold, Gerald is still Gerald, and Helga, of course, is still Helga.”

A New World

Bartlett points out that making the movie for Nick’s audiences in 2017 has its own special kind of challenges. “We have three groups that will be tuning in,” he says. “There are the Hey Arnold! super fans who grew up with the show and are now anywhere between 20 and 35 years old. They are interested in the Arnold cannon and are very interested in all the details, and enjoy the foibles of the adults as well. Then, there are Nick’s current audience, who are between six to 11 and may not know the series and the characters. There’s a third group, which is made up of the children of the adults who originally watched the show, whose parents showed them the episodes on DVD. I am happy that we were able to be true to what the series was and didn’t have to make a lighter version. I think everyone can handle that.”

Bartlett says he is very pleased with the great mix of professionals who worked on the movie—half of them are old-school original Hey Arnold! staffers, and the other half were its target audience. “I think the movie really benefited from the mix. The younger crew were actual fans of the show when it was first on the air, and it inspired them to become animators or writers. They got to work on it with this deep love of a show that only a kid can have. Stu Livingston, who co-directed the movie with Raymie, has such a deep knowledge of the series and was able to offer such great details about the history of the show that none of us would remember.”

Closure Is Cool!

“I was hired years ago to co-direct the movie, and the project got mothballed,” Muzquiz recalled to Animation Magazine. “It took multiple regimes at Nickelodeon until someone thought it was a good idea to reboot the show. So we started to work on the script and refreshed the characters. Really, this movie is the culmination of getting a closure that we had dreamed about for 17 years.”

“We did some trimming along the way,” says the movie’s co-director. “We had to boil down the recaps and character expositions in the first half of the movie. We learned that it’s a good idea if Arnold just goes along on his adventure.”

Muzquiz recalls that back in the early days, he and the rest of the team would talk about the movies they had seen over the weekend. “We were really into Miyazaki movies back then, so we were always trying to find ways to infuse some of those mythological elements, amulets and magical machinery from films like Castle in the Sky into our show. For this movie, we also took great pains to make the characters a bit older, so in a way, we were road-testing them for a sixth season if that happens in the future.”

Both Bartlett and Muzquiz are hoping that fans will be delighted with the movie they’ve been toiling away on for these past few years. “I know it’s a big cliché, but just like fine wine, this property has aged very well,” concludes Muzquiz. “I think the added gravitas and underlying foundation of the show make it stand out from everything else that I’ve ever done in my career. I hope it’s not all in my head!”

Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie premieres on Nickelodeon USA on Friday November 24 at 7 p.m. (ET/PT). NickSplat, TeenNick’s programming block dedicated to Nickelodeon’s legendary library of hits from the ‘90s and 2000s, will celebrate Hey Arnold! throughout the month of November with fan-favorite episodes every night from 12:00 a.m.-1:00 a.m. (ET/PT). In addition, NickSplat will treat fans to a marathon of every single Hey Arnold! episode beginning Friday, Nov. 17, through Friday, Nov. 24, from 11:00 p.m.–6:00 a.m. (ET/PT). Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie encores Saturday, Nov. 25, and Friday, Dec. 1, at 12:00 a.m. (ET/PT) on TeenNick.

Online at, fans can find out more about the movie and watch exclusive video clips from the film.

* "Sky Rat" has still to be confirmed by Nickelodeon.
Also, from The Beat:

Interview: The Once and Future Football Head – Talking HEY ARNOLD: THE JUNGLE MOVIE with Creator Craig Bartlett

Since 2004, fans of the beloved, classic Nickelodeon animated series Hey Arnold! have had to live with an incomplete show. The last episode, aired so many years ago, was a cliffhanger, and a proper resolution for the series seemed to be out of reach. For fans, the proposition that there was never going to be closure on so many unanswered questions about the fate of the characters was a difficult proposition to reconcile with (as far as TV cliffhangers go). But for the cast and creative forces who brought the shows to air, the inability to leave viewers with a satisfactory ending that tied every loose thread they had carefully plotted was, to say the least, an unideal situation.

Behind-the-scenes voice record with creator Craig Bartlett, Mason Vale Cotton, Benjamin Flores Jr and Francesca Marie Smith of Nickelodeon’s Hey Arnold. Photo: Bonnie Osborne/Nickelodeon©2017 Viacom, International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

And that frustration—for both sides of the show—is coming to an end. Next week, Hey Arnold! returns to Nickelodeon for The Jungle Movie, a years-in-the-making event that finally answers the unresolved questions left from the early years of the aughts. Anticipation for the movie—and its promise to show the fate of Arnold’s long-lost parents, primarily—has been high, and Nick has been playing up the nostalgia that fans have for the show with great fervor at both San Diego Comic Con and New York Comic Con this year.

But let’s back up for a moment. For a generation of kids coming of age in the 1990s, Hey Arnold! was a quirky, different kind of cartoon. Decidedly metropolitan, decidedly inner-city, and decidedly contemporary on the surface, this cartoon about a titular football-headed boy and his friends reveled in exploring the complicated lives of its animated denizens beyond the titular protagonists. While a comedy to be sure, there was a certain melancholy that permeated the show. Off-beat and seemingly stereotypical character types—the wacky grandpa, the crazy foreign neighbors, the bullies—each had complex inner lives with painful stories of love and loss woven into the fabric of their being. And, in its own way, Hey Arnold! was a tribute and celebration to the loners and outcasts of the world.

“The point of the series is empathy,” says creator Craig Bartlett, during a recent interview. To support this notion, I mentioned a personal revelation about the character of Stoop Kid. For those in the know, the timeless, endlessly memetic mantra of Stoop Kid’s afraid to leave his stoop! acts more than just a taunt in the episode. It hints at the character’s vulnerable self and his insecurities about the broader world. His existence is ridiculed. And during a particularly despondent moment during the early episode in which he is featured, the community joins together to make fun of Stoop Kid’s plight. After the humiliation, Stoop Kid lets out an incredible sob that is just heartrending. But as a kid, I laughed at this moment. It was ridiculous. This guy seemed absolutely bizarre.

It was only after a rewatch many years where my feelings turned towards Stoop Kid. He wasn’t bizarre, he was helpless and scared. I no longer laughed at him; I cried with him. “That was our edge, the emotion. And for something like Stoop Kid, you thought it was funny, you thought, what a weird character. Then you watch as an adult, and you’re like, ‘This is really intense,’” Bartlett says.

Moving on from our nostalgic jaunt, I asked Craig if having so much attention for the Jungle Movie, and to have Hey Arnold re-emerge as a part of the greater cultural zeitgeist, was a surreal feeling. Bartlett agrees: “To me, the most amazing thing about this how much stronger the response is then when Hey Arnold first came out. When the show came out, it did great. Millions of kids watched it, people were happy; it was a success. But compared to now, the love that people feel for the show is much stronger.”

Why is this the case?

“The kids who watched the show grew up. And the real kick for me is that I can’t believe how much stronger and articulate the love for the show is,” Bartlett commented.

One of the hallmarks of throughout the original run of Hey Arnold! was the use of kids to voice the kid characters, an untypical practice. This tradition has continued for the Jungle Movie as well, with Mason Vale Cotton and Benjamin “Lil’ P-Nut” Flores, Jr. taking over the roles of Arnold and Gerald, respectively. (Francesca Marie Smith Helga and Anndi McAfee, veterans from the original series, return as Helga and Phoebe.) “Both those kids were great finds,” says Bartlett. “All the actors gave incredibly layered and nuanced performances. The studio has really grown up since I left it [in 2002]. They’ve gotten much bigger and have a big casting department. They found really great kids to replace the actors who had come before. It’s kind of shocking how accurate we were able to get with the sound-alikes.”

So, while the new actors got the characters from a tonal perspective, could they also spiritually get them?

“There was a lot of time to talk about it. Trying to get the kids to understand the spirit of the thing is to just talk about it with them. And when we record—and I always try to do it as a group thing—I always go in and record on the actor’s side of the glass. It was a team effort.”

I asked Craig if he was surprised that Nickelodeon would green-light this project at all, or that fan pressure and demands to provide a proper finale would make The Jungle Movie an inevitable prospect.

“You would think that the fan support would do the trick, but that’s never a given. I thought it was great that there are these people creating petitions and writing letters. But there was a long stretch where I thought nothing would ever come of it. Finally, it just seemed like the time was right. The window opened and the opportunity came, and I just jumped in. I said, ‘Look, if we’re going to reboot Hey Arnold!, we have to do the Jungle Movie. And they didn’t know what that was. Right on the spot, I made a powerpoint that I called “Arnold 101” that laid out what happened during the 100 episodes of the series.

“I finished by talking about Hey Arnold!: The Movie, where Helga tells Arnold that she loves him [a recurring theme], and how that thread was supposed to be tied in the Jungle Movie. He was supposed to tell her how he felt. But that was left as a big, unanswered question that fans really wanted to know.”

This, sounds a bit like a pilot to a rebooted new series, right?

“Yeah, absolutely! By the time the movie ends, things are set-up really well for a season 6. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. But if it does, everything is teed up.”

Hey Arnold: The Jungle Movie premieres November 24 at 7 PM (EST)

And for those that need to binge and catch up on the show before the movie’s premiere, fear not! Nick has you covered:

NickSplat, TeenNick’s programming block dedicated to Nickelodeon’s legendary library of hits from the ‘90s and 2000s, will celebrate Hey Arnold! throughout the month of November with fan-favorite episodes every night from 12:00 a.m.-1:00 a.m. (ET/PT). In addition, NickSplat will treat fans to a marathon of every single Hey Arnold! episode beginning Friday, Nov. 17, through Friday, Nov. 24, from 11:00 p.m.–6:00 a.m.(ET/PT). Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie will premiere Friday, Nov. 24, at 7:00 p.m. (ET/PT) on Nickelodeon and encore Friday, Nov. 24, at 11:00 p.m. (ET/PT) and Friday, Dec. 1, at 12:00 a.m. (ET/PT) on TeenNick.


Also, from The Huffington Post:

‘I Think It’s a Better Movie Than it Would Have Been in the First Place’ Says Craig Bartlett of ‘Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie’

After a 15-year hiatus, Hey Arnold! is back in movie feature form—Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie—which will propel Arnold’s long lived quest to find his parents. As Mr. Simmons’ class journeys to San Lorenzo, Central America—the last place where Arnold’s parents were seen—the kids undergo the field trip adventure of a lifetime. They soon find themselves entangled in the jungle perils and must all rely on Arnold’s leadership and the sound teachings of teamwork in order to escape. Will the kids make it out alive? Will Arnold find his parents? Will Helga finally admit her love for Arnold?

Growing up, the characterization of Helga Pataki was always one that resonated with me. Like me, Helga has many strong layers and feelings: she’s compassionate and tender, opinionated and self-aware, aggressive and thoughtful. She has moments of insecurity as well as super inventive and brilliant moments where you see her unconventional beauty come into full fruition. In essence, she is casually misunderstood and learns to escape the world via pen and pad.

At the core, Hey Arnold! has always provided reassurance and clarity and opened up conversations about identity, which have proven to be invaluable in the later years.

The original voice of Arnold, Lane Toran, is now playing Che, alongside other originals, Anndi McAfee (Phoebe), Olivia Hack (Rhonda), Francesca Marie Smith (Helga), and creator, Craig Bartlett who have joined me in a discussion about the upcoming film to be released November 24 at 7pm (ET/PT).

We gabbed about not having Hey Arnold! swag when the show aired in the 90s. In fact, I came to the interview dressed in a T-shirt with a hand drawn illustration of Arnold. “It’s Craig approved,” they all agreed. Lucky for me because I’m no artist.

To what extent is it helpful to approach a continuation or a sequel movie almost 15 years later?

Anndi McAfee: [It was a question of] can we recreate that magic? Arnold was just the right time with the right people. We don’t have to necessarily recreate the characters or the magic. We have a new sort of sense of the characters and we can create a different type of magic. I had to get it back into my muscle memory and hunch the shoulders a bit but...

Olivia Hack: For me, when I read the script, because [at first] you’re nervous. Because this is so fan driven, you want to do right by the fans, so for me, I really wanted to get the voice right. Because we do have the Internet now and people are harsh. But that was the good thing about releasing the trailer at San Diego Comic Con, we had 99% positive response rate.

Craig Bartlett: In our original plan, we were just going to continue straight through from episode to episode then movie to movie. In a way, cartoon times sort of stand still, and we thought, wow, it’s been 15 years. Fans have grown up, and the new audience doesn’t know anything about it. The show was always about a mythical childhood, anyway. A nostalgic take on urban life. All the kids [in the show] have this amazing freedom. Arnold has that room where he can climb up the little ladder and down the fire escape to meet his friends in the middle of the night and go on some adventure. You know? Real kids aren’t living like that. Already, you’re in a mythical, timeless place, and so I said, let’s not ruin that. Let’s update it but be very careful about it. We gave Rhonda a cell phone to take to the jungle, and not the other kids. There are some adults on the trip, too. Mr. Simmons, Olga, and so those people are set up in this kind of now time. It seemed true enough and contemporary enough.

There were times when I despaired of ever getting to do this, and I thought, well, I’ll move on. I’ve created other shows since then. I thought, this is the way it goes. You get your opportunity and take as much advantage of it as you can. Maybe it will go this far or that far. [But] that’s not for us to even know. I feel like 15 years later, we got to make a better version and it’s because 15 years later we have way more interaction with adult fans who loved it and have things to say about it. And so, I think it’s a better movie than it would have been in the first place. Even the improved technology makes it better: 9x16, high-def, big screen treatment.

When we made the first movie, that was actually meant to be a TV movie and the network really liked it and said, let’s do a film finish on it and release it in theaters. We did a video to film transfer and it didn’t come out that great. It was ok, but it wasn’t as high-def as other movies that were coming out then like a Pixar film or a Disney film. In fact, we came out against Lilo and Stitch and got clobbered. So it’s lovely to me, in the present, making this high-def 9x16 movie anyway that is totally theater-ready. They can take it down to the local cinema, and it would look terrific. And that’s a terrific advantage that we didn’t have then. I guess it’s just fate. I still had access to my old friends I had worked with in the first place, [and] had a new generation of fantastic artists who were fans of the show. What a potent combo.

Many people who had grown up on the show became professionals, and that same phenomenon happened at Nickelodeon. There are many people who work there (ages 25-35) and they say, how about those 90s shows we loved? Can’t we do more of that? And so, it really helps to bring it back. That’s partly responsible for why we’re sitting here now.

Francesca Marie Smith: The luxury of looking back on what was so meaningful and hearing from the fans as well, but for me personally, having grown up and gone to college and spent a fair amount of time studying entertainment history. It all of a sudden became a much more meaningful process to see what the show had become for people [and] to hear their perspectives on it. I haven’t really been acting since the show ended. I auditioned a little bit but I didn’t really push hard at it because I had such a special experience with Hey Arnold! [that] my heart wasn’t really into finding a second best. And even just these conversations. I never did press [interviews] and stuff like this when we were on the show the first time. There just wasn’t the same level of analysis and interest. So now we’re talking about it with people who are in this process with us and who really have an interest in how the show turns out.

Craig: It’s more sharpened focus than we felt in the first place. The only responsibility I felt making it in the first place was the responsibility of making kid’s content and making it powerful. I still didn’t know how powerful. Carolyn Frankie wrote about the top ten shows adults should watch. She was describing how Helga’s job was to tell the audience how great Arnold is because if Arnold was telling you how great he is, you would not like him. Arnold instead is this quiet boy who’s modest and never talks about that stuff. Helga does all the talking for him. I was telling my exec from the first season—who was like who’s this Arnold guy?—that Helga would explain it, the audience will get it and the kids will soak it all up like a sponge. [And] What validation for someone making content to see it, absorb it as a child, go to college and then, now, write a good analysis about it years later...

Francesca: I saw something where someone said that Helga’s really the star of Hey Arnold! because the show isn’t called Arnold, it’s called Hey Arnold!, and Helga’s the one who says that. And partially for ego reasons, I like that argument [laughter].

On reuniting with the classic series...

Olivia: We were not assured that we were going to reprise our roles. We had to audition. It’s a new generation of people who don’t know us so they wanted us to come in to see how we perform and how we take direction. The [characters] are one year older and we didn’t know whether they’d address technology. Bob’s Beepers is still around. He’s going through some hard times, but he’s still in the business. The cell phone is central to the plot line and it’s done in the right way. It’s not overdone.

Anndi: It’s acknowledging that technology wise, we are not in the 90s. We’re going to be realistic about where we are but also remain timeless, still focusing on people, stories, and characters. All the core... I was surprised by Phoebe’s new look. When I saw her [new illustration], I was shocked.

Stoop kid’s afraid to leave his stoop is a classic line from the show. The episode really deals with stepping out on faith, trust, and believing in greatness outside of your doorstep, literally. For each of you, what classic line or episode still sticks with you now?

Olivia: My favorite episode is the Vietnam episode, because my God, we are a kid’s cartoon and we’re teaching kids about the Vietnam War.

Lane Toran: That’s my favorite, too.

Olivia: And Craig really, really fought to get that episode through. All of Hey Arnold! is basically like an after school special. Chocolate Boy, is a drug addict, Helga’s mom is an alcoholic. There’s episodes where Arnold gets mugged, there’s deep, dark undertones, and that’s special and unique, and I think that’s why Hey Arnold! resonates with kids watching at home saying, ‘that’s me.’

Anndi: When Helga and Phoebe had those tender moments and Helga was like, you are special, beautiful, important, smart. For me, I didn’t have a lot of girlfriends growing up, and to have that friendship and those moments, that was really special. And the fact that Francesca and I did other shows together. We grew up together in this industry.

Lane: I love the episode with Lock Jaw. And the Christmas episode is so touching, too.

If your characters were your age, what would they be doing? Who are they and how do they make their way through life in 2017?

Lane: Arnold would be an animal activist, fighting for world peace, for sure.

Olivia: Rhonda is a Park Avenue princess somewhere running a Fortune 500 company.

Anndi: I think Phoebe would get into some sort of start-up scene. I think she gets more confident as she gets older [and] she still has no need to be the center of attention. I think she’d be programming apps that change the world.


Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie will premiere on Nickelodeon, Fri., Nov. 24, at 7 p.m. (ET/PT).


Also, from ToonZone:

“Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie” Interview with Craig Bartlett, Anndi McAfee, and Francesca Marie Smith

In preparation for Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie, Nickelodeon Studios invited Toonzone News to sit down with co-writer, executive producer and TV series original creator Craig Bartlett, as well as original cast members Francesca Marie Smith (Helga) and Anndi McAfee (Phoebe), who reprise their roles in the movie.

TOONZONE NEWS: Is coming back to Hey Arnold! different because of how much the animation landscape has changed or is it like slipping on a pair of old shoes?

CRAIG BARLETT: I actually said it’s like putting on a pair of old shoes.

ANNDI MCAFEE: But the comfortable ones, not the smelly ones.

CRAIG BARLETT: Comfortable old shoes and going on a journey together and what a comfort to have along old friends. And it’s been a really cool combination of old friends and new people that give the project a lot of vitality. There’s a whole bunch of next generation artists and actors and writers who have all worked on this project together, so it’s been a really great new experience as well.

ANNDI MCAFEE: I feel like its yes and no for me. I feel like it’s definitely like putting on a familiar pair of slippers with respect to being there with some of the original cast and production crew and Craig, who is like both cast and crew. On the other hand, we’re in an era where we’re kind of self-aware. We get feedback now, and there’s technology, so there’s one aspect where it feels so good to just be back doing what we do and in the natural way that we always have, and yet there’s this other aspect where there’s not pressure, but there’s this awareness that it’s so important to give that experience back. Not only to the generation that grew up with the show but the current generation as well, the kids now.

FRANCESCA MARIE SMITH: Yeah in a way it’s almost like an homage as much as it is a continuation. You can’t help but be self-aware, like you said, not just to have immediate feedback but having this ten or fifteen years to think about it and to get input from fans about what it means. Yes, absolutely, I think that in a lot of ways, we’re going into the booth and doing the same performance that we have, but there is, exactly like Anndi said, this sense of perspective that certainly as a ten-year-old, I never had.

ANNDI MCAFEE: When we’re recording I just wanted the adults to be impressed with my character, and now I want the fans to love my character. That’s the difference.

CRAIG BARLETT: Yeah, the feedback is instant. The moment we finish another one of these cons or something like that, you can see how it’s playing. I love the instantaneous of it. I watched so carefully—I felt more confident this year. The summer before, we went to San Diego and we showed our first designs, and in the next hour, it was released online. All the same assets that we showed at the panel, and the fans responded really positively to our new designs. And I was like, “Phew, what a load off.” I was so worried that they would see any changes and hate them and so based on that, I felt more confident this year to show the clip, the three minute clip in San Diego, and then in New York, we dropped our first trailer. And I just knew they were into this, they were behind us, they’re going to like this.

ANNDI MCAFEE: It does feel like an old pair of slippers to the kids that grew up with it.

CRAIG BARLETT: I want people to feel, “Oh I know this world, I know these characters.” They’re essentially the same, even if they’re being voiced maybe by a new actor, it’s going to be okay.

TOONZONE NEWS: Hey Arnold is an interesting example of a show that ended without resolving its plots and came back several years later. Were you bombarded with questions about it since then?

CRAIG BARLETT: It’s been fifteen years since we made our last episode.

TOONZONE NEWS: Were you tempted to say what you had planned or did you not want to say anything in case you came back?

CRAIG BARLETT: I always go on too long and blab too much. I give away too much information, and part of it is this sort of built-in reflex on my part of self-promotion just to keep working. I’ve always been that kind of person who’s got five pitches and maybe one of these will go. I think the nature of this work is where you’ve got a bunch of stuff on the burner and one of them finally is going to pay off and so you feel that work is never ending. And when social media came, I immediately started posting Arnold stuff because that’s clearly what people liked the best, and I thought maybe I can curate this into something. Sure enough, look at this, here we are. That only convinced me that I was on the right track, so I’ve just always tried to make it go and it happened. I think your question was different. I think I veered off. What was your question again?

TOONZONE NEWS: Did you have an original ending back then and did it change since?

CRAIG BARLETT: It did change. We were always trying to develop the series toward the Jungle Movie because the biggest question of the series was what happened to his parents? Where are they? What’s mystery of his parents? And we’ve been developing it for a while, 2001, 2001, 2002 and the first movie came out and the series was cancelled after that, and we left it in this giant cliffhanger with the journal where he’s found his dad’s map in his dad’s journal. So I knew that was a story I had to tell, and so we were developing that movie back then, but when we got this opportunity fifteen years later, I actually had a whole other go at it based on the fact that I had been living with this series and seeing the fans’ reaction to it all these years and so it was much more of an interaction now between us and our audience. We’re much more aware of our audience and what they want than we were back then, so it reflects those wishes.

TOONZONE NEWS: In terms of interacting with your audience, did you find there were a lot of fans of Helga?


TOONZONE NEWS: It’s almost like Helga was the protagonist at times.

CRAIG BARLETT: Yeah, I mean, people would say, some people are of the opinion that it’s really a series about Helga, but it’s just that Helga was a really effective character. I remember pitching Arnold in the first place and they said “What’s the deal with Arnold? Is he active? Does he do all these things?” I said well yeah, but he’s a chill kid and he’s kind of a quiet, strange kid. He’s kind of a calm center around which all the other characters are really nuts and doing all the funny stuff. It’ll be great, I promise, and they’re like “I don’t know, you’re calling it Hey Arnold!, Arnold needs to be more…something.” I said, “Don’t worry, there’s Helga.” Claims to hate him and is obsessed with him and turns out she loves him and then in her little monologues she’ll tell the audience how awesome he is, and it’ll work. And you could tell they were like “That’s weird,” but look at it now. Sure enough, they love Helga. They love the back story that Helga has. The episode “Helga on the Couch,” we find out her whole history of being the neglected, forgotten kid, and so they love her. And she’s creative and funny and she’s an artist and a poet. And so she does all these things that are kind of all about Arnold, and so, that’s how the series works. Helga tells us how great he is, and then he’s the hero of the show. So it did work, it paid off and the audience tells us so and now we have fifteen years of the audience and social media telling us how much they like that.

FRANCESCA MARIE SMITH: And some incredible stories, too, of how many people said “I was Helga, this was my story, I felt that I could relate to her and that she resonated with me” in ways that, at the time, I certainly didn’t know or even really expect.

CRAIG BARLETT: I was at the Ottawa Festival doing some kind of keynote and at the end of the questions, somebody raised her hand and said that she, as a kid, felt suicidal and she saw “Helga on the Couch” and it gave her the courage to go get a therapist and that was her process. Testimonials like that make you go, “Man, TV is powerful”. It really has an effect on people. We should make good TV. We should be responsible TV makers because it really is effective and powerful.

TOONZONE NEWS: Was it difficult getting into the character with her monologues and changes in tone?

FRANCESCA MARIE SMITH: I don’t know that it was difficult in the moment. I had such wonderful fuel to work with. The scripts, the dialogue, the language…I didn’t even see it as a challenge, it was just a meaty thing to jump into, but coming back and doing it more recently, I realized how exhausted I get. (laughs) Even just coming in and doing a few lines is like, “Oh, right, this is an emotional marathon.” Triathlon. So yeah, I don’t know that it ever really felt hard in a bad way, difficult, but there is absolutely so much packed into her. There’s so many different extremes that she goes to, and that’s why I think that’s part of why she resonates with people.

TOONZONE NEWS: What about with Phoebe and her intellectual speeches, was that difficult at all?

ANNDI MCAFEE: No, it was fun. I got to live out that side of my personality through her. Phoebe is a perfectionist, and part of that is in her language that she chooses to use. She likes to frame everything slightly more adult than all the other kids in her grade, which is probably why she really attaches to Helga. They’re both really smart young girls but in different ways. And my favorite part is when Phoebe goes from that extreme of being super smart Miss In Control of the Language to wild and crazy and nuts. When she gets to do things like with the wrecking ball in “Career Day” she gets to knock down a building, she’s like “Ahahaha!” It’s invigorating or something.

CRAIG BARLETT: The Grand Prix.

ANNDI MCAFEE: She drives that car like a maniac.

CRAIG BARLETT: The go-cart race and when she revealed her ninja skills in the caves of “Wheezin’ Ed”.

ANNDI MCAFEE: I love those times where she gets like all I’m going just tell you what it’s all about in language that you’re just going to have to look up as we go. I love those.

CRAIG BARLETT: She does all that stuff in the movie.

TOONZONE NEWS: Do you have a favorite moment?

ANNDI MCAFEE: I don’t have a favorite moment, but hands down, my favorite Phoebe moments, are when she and Helga have some sort of falling out and these two really intelligent, passionate little girls, who are just figuring out what school’s all about, what life’s all about, they hurt each other in some way. Well, mostly Helga hurts Phoebe in some way, but Helga gets to express all that passion but in a completely different way with Phoebe, and she acknowledges what she did and they have this moment. When something else happens to Phoebe like in “6th Grade Girls” where they’re totally horrible to her, and Helga is like, “Wait, was it me, was it somebody else that was horrible to you? No, not allowed.” And they have that moment where Helga’s like, “You’re smart, you’re wonderful, you’re the best friend, and we’re going to go get those girls.” Those are my favorite moments.

TOONZONE NEWS: What do you want audiences to get out of your characters in The Jungle Movie?

FRANCESCA MARIE SMITH: I think one of the things that I personally like about The Jungle Movie is the opportunity for Helga to really think long and hard about what Arnold means to her. And part of that is her trying to get some resolution in their relationship, but also it’s a personal question. What am I willing to do? Who am I on my own? I didn’t phrase that right, but more what her part of the equation is. What she is willing to do to help Arnold to put his needs above her own. All of those types of questions, I think, have been a really interesting way of reflecting on what they’re relationship and, more broadly, the series dynamics, were like. What makes Helga Helga, what makes Arnold special to Helga. I didn’t really have that perspective when we were creating the show originally, so to be able to do that now and not just with Helga, with everyone. To think about what makes these characters special. What about their stories has continued on.

CRAIG BARLETT: It’s really true because we know now how much it means to so many people, and we don’t want to let anybody down. We wanted to make as solid a story as we possibly could. Even though it checks all the boxes and takes care and answers your questions, we wanted it to be a true story. A story that came from within. Helga’s motivation, Phoebe’s motivation, all these characters are in these extraordinary circumstances, and they’ve got to deliver. It’s based on friendships, and the truth of that is what we’re trying to get at.

FRANCESCA MARIE SMITH: I guess the more concise version is to appreciate what was so special about the original show and celebrate that while also appreciating what is new about the circumstances, about everything.

ANNDI MCAFEE: I want the audience to go on an emotional roller-coaster and much like the original series, I want them to not even really understand what just happened and to have to re-watch it a bunch of times.

CRAIG BARLETT: Yeah, I really do hope they watch it two or three times.

ANNDI MCAFEE: Because that’s what the series was for me. I didn’t understand half the stuff that went on in the series at the time, I just knew I had some sort of reaction to it. Whether it was hilarious or really sad, I didn’t quite understand why, and I had to go back and watch it a few times before I caught all of the things that were going on. So that’s what I hope the audience gets out of the movie.

Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie premieres Friday November 24th at 7pm (ET/PT)


Also, from CityLab:

Even Hey Arnold's Neighborhood Is Gentrifying Now

Series creator Craig Bartlett explains how he built the cartoon city that every ‘90s kid dreamed of living in.

When it comes to life in the city, perhaps no cartoon has dreamed as big as Hey Arnold! While the rest of Nickelodeon’s ‘90s lineup dwelled in suburbia, here was a football-headed fourth grader who lived in a crowded boarding house under a freeway overpass, who could just climb up to the roof whenever he wanted to take in the skyline. At any moment, Arnold was just a fire escape away from an urban adventure with his friends and classmates.

After more than a decade off the air, Arnold is coming back to TV this week for Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie. In the show’s timeline, just one year has passed. But Hillwood, their fictional city, has clearly changed. Just like the the real-life places it’s based on, Arnold’s historic neighborhood has been discovered by hipsters.

“There's more outdoor cafes than there used to be,” creator Craig Bartlett says. From the show’s start in 1996, the look and feel of Hillwood reflected the places he knew best. He grew up in Seattle and attended art school in Portland—both of which influenced the grunge city pastiche throughout his five-season show, which concluded production by 2002.

The latest two-part installment, airing on Nickelodeon, is a bit of a departure. This time, Arnold and his classmates go on a trip to a fictional Central American city called San Lorenzo, which just happens to be where Arnold’s long-lost parents were last seen. But before they set off, we get a glimpse of the old neighborhood they saved from the bulldozers of urban renewal in the series’ first feature film. What we see this time around might just be the early signs of gentrification.

CityLab recently spoke with Bartlett by phone as his team put the finishing touches on the new film. We discussed what inspired the cartoon’s metropolitan setting, what’s changed about cities since then, and how the show influenced a new generation of city dwellers. This conversation has been edited and condensed.

The roof of the Sunset Arms, Arnold’s home. (Courtesy of Nickelodeon Studios)

One of my colleagues picked Hillwood as the fictional city they would like to move to and pointed out that most other Nickelodeon shows were set in suburbs. What made you think of setting Hey Arnold! in a city?

We wanted to make our own little corner of the kids’ entertainment cartoon world. We asked how we could be a little bit different, and the setting seemed like an easy solution. Because most cartoons make it suburban or minimal and make the characters really foregrounded.

I was a big fan of Charlie Brown. When the show’s Christmas special came out when I was kid, that had a huge influence on me. I wanted to make a show with a group of kids just like that, so when I pitched the show to Nickelodeon, I said, “This will be a Charlie Brown for the ’90s.” It will be different, adults will actually be in the show, they wouldn't just be off-camera making that trumpet noise.

Charles Schulz was a genius, but his settings were always really minimal. You saw a little bit of furniture in the living room or details in the yard and they’re out playing baseball in a blank field. And I just thought, let’s do something really lush and detailed and really specific and make it about a city.

How did you imagine what that city would look like?

I’m a big fan of architecture and I grew up in Seattle when I came of age. I was walking around the funkiest parts of downtown Seattle taking pictures in places like the Pioneer Square District. I moved to Portland to go to art school, and I continued to live in a funky old building, in a funky neighborhood like the Pearl District. And I continued taking pictures. So I thought I could make it really specifically grungy, and that would be the theme.

It’s a modern city—a cool ethnic mix. There’s a lot of different ethnicities all living together, and the music reflected that too. Jim Lang [the show’s music director] was working with me. We loved the jazz of Charlie Brown, but we knew we had to update it, so we made it a ’90s kind of jazz. Jim put together a cassette mix tape of acid jazz, which was kind of hip-hop beats and traditional jazz instruments playing over it, sax and trumpet. I said, “that’s perfect.” I’d been listening to a lot of Miles Davis and I said, “Let’s do that muted trumpet and the cool hip-hop beats,” and we made this funky new sound that felt very urban.

When I first started the show, Beck had just come out with “Loser,” Mellow Gold, that first album. It sounds like when you’re in the parking lot of the 7-Eleven and a car goes by with music booming out the windows, and somebody else is playing mariachi in another car and you’re hearing these different sounds blended together in the modern experience of living in a city. I thought most of the kids around the country lived in cities and that this would be relatable.

Did you take any effort to study architecture to pick what went into the show?

Yeah. Absolutely. When I started season one, I actually made a trip back to Seattle, Portland, and Tacoma. I went around and shot black-and-white pictures of building details—you know, cool window treatments, door treatments, fire escapes, rooftops. And I called it “Hey Arnold’s Little Book of Grunge.” It was just a little Xerox book that I made for all the artists for the show. I said, “Let this be your starting-off point.”

Brian Marc was art director on the first season of Hey Arnold! and Brian and I had grown up in the same neighborhood of Seattle. In fact, we both went to Hillwood Elementary—that’s how that name slipped into the show. We would talk about old buildings and the era of architecture in old Seattle and old Portland, which is turn-of-the-century, and that was our starting point.

What other cities influenced Hillwood?

It’s a northern city with a little bit of Seattle, a little bit of Portland, and a little bit of Brooklyn. There’s certain aspects of New York that made it in—for one, the stoops. But whenever we needed a big-city feature, we usually borrowed from New York—there’s a copy of the Brooklyn Bridge, and we even showed the Twin Towers. We also used Chicago’s Wrigley Field for a couple baseball episodes, but called it “Quigley Field.”

(Courtesy of Nickelodeon Studios)

So many of the people in Hey Arnold! are characters that could only exist in a city. Did you think about how the city shaped characters?

Yeah, a lot of those we’d considered the urban legends, like Stoop Kid, Pigeon Man, Sewer King. That became a genre of story that we’d go back to. We made sure every season had a couple of those. It was fun in every way because it meant there would be an urban adventure. They were going to get into some kind of danger or trouble. We always had Gerald as our keeper of the tales—he could tell the urban legend at the start of the show and then Arnold ends up leading them on some quest to find the answer, to get to the bottom of it.

In the first episode, Arnold and Gerald take a bus downtown. There’s an ironic refrain, “People downtown sure are friendly,” that highlights the negative perceptions of cities back then. How’d you square the show with people’s perceptions?

I knew I was idealizing the urban experience. People would talk about funky rundown urban decay, and that would be a negative. They would say cities are dirty and noisy and overcrowded and there’s crime, but I was like, “No, I'm going to make this an idealized setting where Arnold and the kids have tremendous freedom because they live in the city.”

Arnold lives in that supercool attic room with that fun ladder up his wall and he goes out the skylight and he looks out at the cityscape. I really wanted his room to be very urban. The idea was, Arnold can come and go. He doesn’t have any parental supervision—his mom and dad are missing and his grandma and grandpa are pretty easy going. So I made it this fantasy city life where he could go out the fire escape and meet his friends in the middle of the night and go on some adventure. That was really idealized, but I think that’s how cartoons get to be, because you’re basically making something aspirational for kids where they say, “Gosh, I wish I could live like that.”

To the kids, it’s freedom and adventure. I tried to model Arnold as a kid who sees beauty in ugliness. Someone might look at an old boarding house that’s rundown and under a freeway overpass, and they might think of that as ugly—but we were always trying to make it as if it was really beautiful. We showed it at magic hour, at sunset, at night. That was our point, Arnold sees beauty in ugliness.

One episode that makes that vision clear is “The Vacant Lot” episodes, where the kids turn a place that’s kind of a dump into a baseball field. It reminds me of what’s come into vogue as “placemaking” these days.

When we went to reboot the series, we knew were going to go back and redesign everything because the whole thing is high definition digital compared to when we first started, where the screen size was different and it was analog.

So we went back and redesigned it: A couple years have gone by, the neighborhood has gotten a little bit more gentrified, it’s been discovered by hipsters. There’s more funny boutiques that have popped in where it was just sort of a rundown building. We had fun with that. Arnold’s neighborhood is a little bit more discovered than it used to be.

Still beats being bulldozed by Future Tech Industries, like they thought in the first movie.

Yeah, they managed to defeat Future Tech Industries, so they kept it a vintage neighborhood. If you remember, in that movie, a couple of things got condemned and boarded up, so we thought that’s what might have happened. They didn’t get torn down, but hipsters have put new bistros in those places. There’s more outdoor cafes than there used to be.

(Courtesy of Nickelodeon Studios)

So many pieces of city infrastructure function as a plot device, whether it’s the kids taking a bus or a subway. What did you want to say about those things as a fabric of urban life?

I wanted to show that these kids don’t have a lot of money. They’re not completely poor, but they’re growing up in working-class families, so public transportation is the option you take. It’s great in a series that you can have a funny opening to a story take place on the bus where the kids are going to school or they’re going on a longer trip somewhere on the bus.

The subway, the trains, those things are a feature of urban life. If kids watching didn’t grow up in the city, I wanted them to think, “Wow, I want to go to a city where I can ride a subway.” That was my experience when I first went to New York.

Another thing that strikes me is that Hillwood exhibits the kind of diversity that we now tout about cities. So many of the Sunset Arms boarders [where Arnold lives] are from a wide array of backgrounds that you wouldn’t see in suburbia.

Right, and as soon as we started, the pitch was very simple: Arnold lives in a rundown old boarding house under a freeway overpass with his grandma and grandpa and a bunch of eccentric boarders. I tried to make them from different ethnicities, different places. Oskar’s from the Czech Republic, Mr. Hyunh’s from Vietnam. It was the same with all the kids, we have a couple of Jewish kids, some black kids, some Asian kids and so on. It was meant to show, it’s no big deal and everybody just lives together and you show everyone getting along.

The episode in the series that stuck out to me was the “Heat/Snow” episode—where the summer and winter drives the story in the city.

We nicknamed that one the “Weather Channel” episode because all we asked was, “What’s the city like when it’s too hot? What’s the city like when it’s covered in snow?” The answer is a challenge but also ends up being really fun.

In “Heat,” the kids having that riot and trying to flip the ice cream truck—most kids thought that was pretty hilarious. And “Snow” ends with them playing ice hockey in the street making their own kind of ice rink. You’ll notice that’s the second half: “Heat” is a little bit more dire and “Snow” ends in that kind of fantasy, everyone skating and having a ball. Those were very urban. When we first started the show, we really set out to make the city a character.

What are you most proud of for influencing my generation’s view of cities?

I think it’s that just because something’s rundown and old doesn’t mean it’s ugly. Beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder. A kid modeling the behavior of a kid like Arnold—he never quite comes out and says, like, “I know you guys think this is ugly, but I think it’s beautiful.” You just see by his example, taking an artist’s point of view of how we frame a place. It’s like me as a kid going around with a camera framing these urban scenes and my mind making them really beautiful. That’s the way I wanted to frame the look at the modern city.


More Nick: Arnold And Crew Are Back In Nickelodeon's "Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie", Premiering Friday, Nov. 24, At 7pm (ET/PT) On Nick USA!

Originally published: Wednesday, November 01, 2017.
Follow NickALive! on Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, via RSS, on Instagram, and/or Facebook for the latest Nickelodeon and Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie News and Highlights!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Have your say by leaving a comment below! NickALive! welcomes friendly and respectful comments. Please familiarize with the blog's Comment Policy before commenting. All new comments are moderated and won't appear straight away.