Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Nickelodeon Originally Rejected Hey Arnold's Emotional Vietnam Episode

Hey Arnold! writer and producer Joe Ansolabehere reveals why the show’s memorable Vietnam war episode was originally rejected by Nickelodeon.

The producer of Hey Arnold! reveals that the show’s emotional Vietnam episode was originally rejected by Nickelodeon. The iconic animated series was a touchstone for many in the 1990s, centering on a fourth-grader named Arnold who lived with his grandparents. Although many Hey Arnold! episodes focused on the titular character’s experiences and problems, several would actually turn over the spotlight to other major and even minor figures in the series. This has become a fairly standard approach for prestige dramas and comedies, which often turn over the spotlight to supporting players, but Hey Arnold! made a success of it back when it wasn’t such a common trend.

One of the show’s most enduring examples of this shift in focus was “Arnold’s Christmas”. Aired in December 1996, it offered a close look at Mr. Hyunh, a recurring character who lived in the same boarding house as Arnold, and depicted the 1975 fall of Saigon in Vietnam. In particular, the episode examined how a young Vietnamese girl named Mai was forcibly separated from her father Mr. Hyunh. The plot itself was sweetly simple, however, as it showed Arnold trying to find the right gift for his neighbor and ultimately understanding him much better as a result.

In an interview with /Film, writer and producer Joe Ansolabehere discussed how the Hey Arnold! episode happened and why it almost didn’t. As the producer tells it, there had always been an interest in including a flashback to Vietnam from the moment the character of Mr. Hyunh was introduced but Nickelodeon kept saying no. Ansolabehere said that the network’s main worry was that kids wouldn’t care about the story. An executive at Nickelodeon, who had the final say over whether the episode could continue being animated, showed it to her son. Her son’s reaction, Ansolabehere says, was the turning point. You can read the quote below.

“She popped it in and her son, who was like nine, was sitting there and watched it. And it got to the end of the Vietnam thing, where he’s holding the baby up and the helicopter guys take the baby and everything… And the little boy turned to his mom and said, ‘Mom, is that what Vietnam was all about?’”

Hey Arnold! gives Mai and Mr. Hyunh a happy ending, as they two are reunited at the episode’s conclusion. But it also features the gutting flashback that shows Mr. Hyunh handing off his baby daughter to an American helicopter pilot with the hopes she would grow up and find a better life. In the decades since the Christmas episode debuted, it’s been credited as one of the first times the Vietnamese community was presented in pop culture through an honest and open lens.

Hey Arnold! creator Craig Bartlett has reflected on the story’s impact, as well. He’s explained that in an era before social media, it took him some time to appreciate how the story of Mr. Hyunh and Mai resonated. It wasn’t really until Asian Americans, who’d grown up watching the series, began sharing its significance. It’s undoubtedly a good thing that Nickelodeon moved past its reluctance.

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Originally published: August 09, 2022.

Original source: ScreenRant.

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