The football head’s return delivers answers, but are they satisfying?
Answering long-held mysteries about the football head’s past and future, Hey, Arnold! The Jungle Movie feels engineered to be a crowd-pleaser for fans who watched the series over a decade ago. As a result, all the big moments my much-younger self hoped to see happen, but because those answers are so expected, it’s instead the little, unexpected homages to what made Hey, Arnold! such a joy originally that mark the high points of The Jungle Movie.
The Jungle Movie in many ways picks up where “The Journal,” the last Hey, Arnold! episode made for TV, left off, with Arnold still wistfully hoping to find his parents. And a possible class trip to San Lorenzo — his parents’ last known location — makes that hope a reality.
This serendipitous opportunity plays like a loving trip down memory lane. As much as we may want to see Arnold finally get closure, so too does his entire community. Led by Helga and her still-unrequited love, the town puts together a video montage of all of Arnold’s past accomplishments in helping the citizens of Hillwood.
The video message, which earns the class the trip, is a touching tribute to the series’ past, and truly an emotional high point for the film. Arnold was never an average kid, and the sweet, tear-inducing montage beautifully highlights all of his wild past adventures. But it acts as so much more than an homage to the show — the video provides a nice narrative and emotional push for the trip to San Lorenzo. (And, well, it’s just nice to see Stoop Kid and Pigeon Man again.)
The bulk of The Jungle Movie does move the adventure to the titular jungle, and it at least acknowledges just how coincidental this class trip actually is. Arnold, Gerald, Helga, and the rest of their class embark on a wild adventure full of deceit, beautiful jungle locales, and adult villains who are amusingly outmatched by a group of kids. The journey pits the kids against La Sombra, a pirate after a treasure and the people known as the Green Eyes, who he believes only Arnold can help him find.
During their capture at Sombra’s hands, Arnold’s imprisoned classmates have a chance to shine alongside the main plot. After the show spent years building up so much of Arnold’s world, it’s nice that everyone from Harold to Rhonda to Curly gets a few good jokes in — with voice acting that recaptures their original magic — to bring the spirit of the show to this remote location.
But the emphasis is most definitely placed on Arnold’s search for the Green Eyes and his parents. And in making that discovery, he finally gets to learn about his parents’ work, their importance to this place, and just what fate befell them.
Paralyzed by the very sleeping sickness they were trying to prevent in San Lorenzo, Arnold’s parents have been in stasis for years, as have the parents of all the Green Eye children. And he’s finally able to revive them all, reuniting with the parents he thought he may never see again.
Full spoilers for the movie follow…
What makes the moment so rewarding though isn’t that the reunion finally happened. The Shortmans — yes, the film confirms that is Arnold’s last name — becoming a family again is a moment that seems destined to have happened as soon as the original show began to really delve into Arnold’s history. No, instead, Arnold saving his family and the Green Eyes because of the help of his friends, and specifically Helga’s locket being a literal key to their survival, makes this predestined conclusion work so well.
As a longtime fan of the show, Arnold being reunited with his parents is delightful to see, but it also comes off as expected and perfunctory, as does Arnold and Helga’s eventual kiss. The moments are earned but they also feel like what this movie had to do. Instead, it’s Helga sharing her locket to save Arnold’s parents, Abner running to warn Grandpa and Grandma of trouble, Arnold simply waking up in his old apartment again, and a half-dozen other small moments that make The Jungle Movie worth viewing for fans looking to spend one last adventure with the football head.