Friday, November 17, 2017

'Hey Arnold!' Voice Actor Lane Toran on Returning for Nickelodeon’s 'The Jungle Movie'

Back in 1996, when creator Craig Bartlett's Nicktoon Hey Arnold! debuted in front of what would become an entire generation of fans, Lane Toran was the young man who found himself voicing the title role. Fast forward to the end of the show’s first season, however, and Toran found himself out of that role due to changes in his voice. He would go on to voice supporting roles on the series before moving on to other animated shows and a live-action acting career. Now, more than 20 years after Hey Arnold! began, Toran and his fellow cast members are returning for the brand-new Nickelodeon movie special, Hey Arnold: The Jungle Movie!

Collider had a chance to chat with Toran about his memories voicing Arnold, the experience of moving away from the show, and what it means to him to come back to it all these years later, albeit for a different character with a whole new perspective. Toran will be playing Che, a new character introduced for the TV movie who has a surprising tie back to the original cast of characters. Toran talks a bit about Che below, along with the family atmosphere of Hey Arnold! and the positive power of nostalgia.

How did you find out about Hey Arnold: The Jungle Movie?

Lane Toran: I think Hey Arnold! contacted my manager and that’s how I first heard. The cool thing about Craig is that it’s kinda become like a family. He keeps everyone involved. I voiced Arnold in the first couple of seasons, but then my voice changed; he still brought me back as a different character, as Wolfgang. They’re just like that. They want people to be a family there and that’s how it is.

It’s always been there. When people find out that I voiced Arnold, they’re reaction is … usually they’re shocked. It’s so crazy, but so fun. In the recent time since the announcement of the movie, it’s been kind of crazy. There’s been a lot of press about it, so it’s definitely become a larger part of my life recently, for sure.

Did you ever think you’d be revisiting this series?

Toran: I know the fans have been petitioning for so long to have The Jungle Movie made, and I knew it would always be a possibility. I didn’t just automatically think that I’d be a part of it, honestly, which I’m super grateful that I am. I had a feeling that something would happen later on.

What was it like for you to revisit the series, even as a completely different character?

Toran: It’s just fun. Seeing everyone again was like a reunion, just being a part of something. I’m a fan of the show as well, so I have the same excitement the fans do about watching this film.

What can you tell us about your character, Che?

Toran: He works on the ship in San Lorenzo. That’s where the character pops up. He’s Olga’s love interest. Another thing, too, that’s kind of funny: Craig made a character in there that looks like me in real life. He doesn’t say anything, but if you’re watching, he’s in the background and he has a beard and suspenders. It’s pretty funny.

What’s his newfound popularity been like?

Toran: I’ve got to say, it’s kind of life-changing. I had an Instagram page prior to that, and I was kind of getting known on there just for my beard, which sounds so funny, but that’s when it was really popular. The beards were just like a new thing and cool back then. Then, all of a sudden, I probably had like 70-some-thousand followers at the time, and then the Buzzfeed article came out and literally overnight or a few days, I gained almost 100,000 followers just from that article. In that aspect, it’s crazy.

What would you say has opened up more doors in your career: the beard or Hey Arnold?

Toran: [laughs] I think it’s kind of hand-in-hand, honestly. If I hadn’t been on Instagram doing what I was doing, that article never would have come out.

Lane Toran in 1996 | Nicksclusive: Behind The Scenes of Hey Arnold!

Arnold’s been voiced by a number of actors over the years, so what was it like for you to pass the baton?

Toran: Let’s talk about Mason [Vale Cotton] first, because Mason is awesome. I think everyone is going to absolutely fall in love with him in this. He did such a good job. I’m super proud of him. It was crazy, when I first heard his voice I was amazed; I thought it sounded so similar to mine. I was super happy about that.

Back when I was recast a long time ago, of course it sucked back then, it wasn’t like a happy thing. But they tried for a long time to digitally raise my voice, but sh*t happens. It just didn’t work, but that was okay. I was still part of the show afterwards. I still got to hang around with them, and it was all good. It all worked out.

Did you get a chance to meet Mason or talk to him?

Toran: We got to hang out at Comic-Con in San Diego. That was actually the first time we met. Some people thought I was coaching him, but we actually never met until after he was completely done. They studied the episodes, but that’s all you need to do, really.

What’s your screen time like?

Toran: Che’s not a huge character in this movie, but he’s there quite a bit. It’s actually a really fun character because it’s not my voice. I get to put on an interesting voice there.

Have you stayed in contact with your fellow creatives?

Toran: I’ve stayed in touch with Frannie [Francesca Marie Smith] probably moreso than anyone, but a lot of us worked other shows together, so after Arnold, we’d still see each other, working. Actually, I just directed a film and I had Jamil [Walker Smith], Gerald, be in the film. Yeah, we’re all still in touch.

Were any of you nervous or anxious about revisiting this property?

Toran: I was always just excited, never anxious, never nervous; I knew it was going to be great. And I knew the fans deserved that, after all this time there’s questions that they want answered, so it’s that time, you know?

What’s the interactions been like with the fans?

Toran: Really, Comic-Con is the only time that I’ve been around that many people who were there just to see Hey Arnold! It’s amazing. It’s so cool. I said this before, but I’m a fan of the show as well, so I feel like we’re all together in this.

Any favorite memories from your time on the show?

Toran: It’s hard thinking about a certain moment. The whole thing was fun because you go and hang out with your friends, and you’re 12, and you’re all in this room together having fun, basically. We were very professional at the time but we were still kids, and we were doing what we loved to do. It didn’t feel like work. The whole process was a great experience.

On the unique experience of being a kid and voicing a character who’s the same age:

Toran: It was very rare, it was very unusual back then, especially. Usually you’d have women playing young male voices … which in a way is smart because you don’t have to keep replacing them, but you’re missing that authenticity by doing that.

On the power of nostalgia:

Toran: Yeah, it’s absolutely positive, for sure. Who doesn’t like remembering their favorite shows growing up? Times back then were a lot different than times now. It’s nice to have a little escape sometimes.

What else is coming up in the near future?

Toran: I directed [and starred in] a film called Getaway Girls, and it’s in post-production, so look out for that sometime next year. I’m always dabbling in music here and there; follow me on Instagram if you want to see what’s going on!

Hey Arnold! The Jungle Movie will premiere on Friday, Nov. 24, from 7:00-9:00 p.m. (ET/PT) on Nickelodeon USA, as part of the networks Thanksgiving celebrations.

Viewers can visit the Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie page on and the Nick App, along with the Hey Arnold! Facebook page and Instagram, to get a look at the TV movie. Fans can also watch full-length episodes on and the Nick App.

NickSplat 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.

Also, from Flickering Myth:

Exclusive Interview: Hey Arnold! creator and Helga actress on The Jungle Movie, Hey Arnold season 6 and more

Justin Cook spoke with Hey Arnold! creator Craig Bartlett and voice actress Francesca Marie Smith while attending New York Comic Con. Check out their conversation below…

Hey Arnold! fans have waited well over a decade for answers to questions surrounding the show’s titular kind-hearted, football-shape-headed grade schooler and, in approximately one week, answers they will get. Expect childhood nostalgia levels to reach whole new heights with the release of Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie, a continuation of the popular 1994 animated Nickelodeon series.

The long-planned two-hour TV movie will take place one year after Hey Arnold!’s final episode, 2002’s “The Journal” and will see Arnold and his P.S. 118 fifth-grade buddies setting out on the field trip of a lifetime and uncovering the mystery behind the disappearance of Arnold’s parents.

Originally intended for theatrical release, The Jungle Movie was shelved after Nickelodeon instead decided to release Arnold Saves the Neighborhood (subsequently titled Hey Arnold!: The Movie) into theaters worldwide in the early 2000s. After spending years in development purgatory, Nickelodeon finally announced that The Jungle Movie would become a reality, with Hey Arnold! creator Craig Barlett returning to write and produce. Much of the original voice cast decided to reprise their roles for the project, including Dan Castellaneta (Grandpa Phil), Tress MacNeille (Grandma Gertie), Anndi McAfee (Phoebe Heyerdahl), Justin Shenkarow (Harold Bergman), Olivia Hack (Rhonda Wellington), Lane Toran (formerly Arnold, returning as a new character named Che) and Francesca Marie Smith (Helga Pataki). In fact, Smith had transitioned away from the world of voice acting since her work on the show and stepped out of retirement to bring some closure to herself and Hey Arnold! fans.

Flickering Myth sat down for a conversation with both Barlett and Smith at New York Comic Con, where they talked about working on the original series, The Jungle Movie, what the future of Hey Arnold! holds and more.

So, to start off, where did the inspiration for Hey Arnold, the original series, come from?

Craig Barlett: I remember I had come to Los Angeles to work on Pee-wee’s Playhouse, I did the penny cartoons for Pee-Wee. I realized, as soon as that job ended, ten weeks later, ‘It’s time for Craig to create his own cartoon.’ I knew I had to just come up with my own cartoon character, and I thought the first thing I would do was just make little short films because then I would have something to show for myself. When I came to pitch Hey Arnold! years later, even then, I had little Arnold shorts that Mary Harrington [a Nickelodeon executive] could watch. What was nice about those shorts was that your own tone and way you would tell a joke [both came through], and it was something I could afford to make. I made it in my little rental house in LA in my living room. A very humble first effort to make my own little story was why I created Arnold. And then in 1993, when I met with Mary, and I was actually with a bunch of Rugrats writers, we were all trying as a group to pitch stuff. Our pitches all flopped, they didn’t want what we brought, and then we were sitting around eating lunch with them and [Nickelodeon executives] said, ‘Well, what else have you got?’ I got out my sample reel, and it included the Arnold short and the rest is history. Mary said, ‘Come back by yourself and tell me what we could do with this character.’ Then, I came back with the very simple premise which was ‘Arnold lives in an old boarding house with his eccentric grandparents and these wacky boarders under a freeway overpass… the end.’ The first shorts that I had made featured Helga and Harold in the classroom as, clearly, mean bullies. My wife said, ‘If you’re gonna make this into a series, you need a little bit more than this one-dimensional bully. What if she secretly liked him?’ So, my wife’s idea that Helga could secretly like Arnold was probably the very best idea of the whole series.

Francesca Marie Smith: I don’t think I knew that!

Barlett: From then on, Arnold could be this cool, zen guy that everything happens around. He’s the center of everything, but he doesn’t have to say much. He never has to brag. And Helga, to us, the audience, breaks the fourth wall with her little soliloquies with that locket and says all the great stuff about who he is. And, we found out, from years later, that all those messages landed, and the adults, who talk about the series now, they could tell you all that stuff. But when we were starting we didn’t know. We were just taking our best shot. So that’s basically how it started.

And for you, Francesca, what was it like portraying a bully that wasn’t one-dimensional? That had a reason for bullying and used it as a defense mechanism against her family and some other problems in her life.

Smith: Well, I will say that a lot of it went over my head at the time. I was young and thankfully, I hadn’t suffered. [laughs] It hadn’t even occurred to me that these were big issues that were gonna be impactful to a lot of people, between the way her parents treated her and the issues that she had with Ulga as well. A lot of it just felt kind of natural, like, ‘Oh, she’s angry so she’s gonna yell about it. Oh, she feels strongly so she’s gonna have a little soliloquy about it.’ All of it just felt like a very natural amplification of feelings that were super organic to me. That’s why I talk about the voice, as being totally my natural voice just with an emotional range that, for sake of comedy and storytelling, gets pushed to eleven.

Barlett: Isn’t it amazing? You think about how you hadn’t even had the experiences yet to even know what that range was… where did you find it? She found it, man! She found it on day one when she came in to audition and she was a tiny 9-year-old, she was killing! I remember we were busy, and we had a whole list of auditions that day, and I was looking at the list, and I heard her reading the aside we had written for her, which was probably a little two page scene in the pilot, and we were like, who the hell is that? And it was like, well, we found our Helga! So, I mean, where did you find that? Where did you dig up that rage?

Smith: I’m trying to think if my brother was auditioning with me that day. Maybe, I was just really mad at him. [laughs]

Barlett: We did [the audition] at Ren & Stimpy. That was 1994.

Smith: But, I don’t know, I’m trying to think if I had played any other characters that had that sort of breath, but the other things I did were all pretty normal little girl things.

Barlett: For on-camera stuff, she would have played a sweet little girl.

Smith: I had done Blossom right around that time too, and she was also a terror.

Barlett: She can do rage!

Smith: Rage and goth. Those were my modes.

What was it like returning to the character of Helga for The Jungle Movie after over a decade away from it and also just returning to voice acting in general?

Smith: Exactly — I’m even trying to remember the last time I was on stage. I had done other performance-ish things, but really coming back and doing something like [voicing Helga], it had been a long time. It felt better than I expected. I didn’t really have expectations of how it was going to feel, but I do know that it was so gratifying. Not just doing the table read, but when you finally get in the booth and you’re flexing those muscles, it felt, unfortunately, like a very true version of myself and I was like ‘Man, I’ve been blowing it! This whole PhD thing, what am I thinking.’ [laughs] There is something deeply cathartic about being able to go to those emotional places that you don’t in everyday life.

Barlett: Helga’s emotional journey in The Jungle Movie is incredible.

Smith: The lines are just really fun. It sounds so inane to say that, but they’re well-written, they’re quippy. They feel really good. It’s as though somebody were following you around telling you how to say smart things all the time. [to Craig] Can I actually hire you? [laughs]

Whose reactions are you guys more curious about, the younger fans that are gonna watch The Jungle Movie, or the older fans, who grew up with the show and are maybe parents of their own now?

Barlett: The kids. I’m curious that this will land with our actual 6 to 11-year-old audience that Nickelodeon is about. Who I want to take care of are those people that we’ve been interacting with for a decade and more.

Smith: We absolutely have a responsibility to the pre-existing fans. We have a gauntlet thrown down with them. But at the same time there’s a real privilege in having a new potential audience to which we can say ‘Well, what do you think? Does this still hold water? Beyond the nostalgia factor, do you like this?’

And could that new audience lead to a new series, a revival, a sixth season?

Barlett: Well, yes and no. I tried this script to do everything. It was supposed to pick it up where we left off, it was supposed to take you to somewhere new, it was supposed to answer all those questions. When I pitched this to the network, I said there’s three burning questions. One, what’s his last name? Two, does Arnold feel the same way that Helga feels about him? And three, whatever happened to his missing parents? I said the movie will take care of those questions. Personally, I made sure that it buttoned everything up and then when you finished, now they were starting the first day of sixth grade. It was kind of meant to be the perfect, ‘Well, that would be cool. Let’s see a season 6 where they go to sixth grade.’

Smith: It’s not heavy-handed, but I think the starting points are there to spark some, ‘Well, and then what happens.’

Barlett: I just tried to make it all things.

Smith: And honestly, I genuinely think we did it.

Barlett: If we never get to do more, you can be very happy to have gotten your answers to those big burning questions.

Your favorite Football Head is back and is headed for the big screen! Venture along with Arnold, Gerald, Helga, and the rest of the P.S. 118 crew on the field trip of a lifetime! Will Arnold find his parents after all these years? Will Helga finally confess her undying love for Arnold? Will your heartstrings be able to handle this flick?

Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie airs on Nickelodeon in the US on November 24th at 7 pm (EST).


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!

Additional source: Wikipedia.
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