If anyone were to ask me what the best ’90s cartoon was, I’d answer Hey Arnold! in about a tenth of a second. It was a show that worked on multiple levels, appealing to kids, teens, and adults, touching on a variety of topics. It could do light-hearted comedy, and it could touch on some incredibly dark, weighty themes. (Arnold’s parents were missing and presumed dead, after all.)
Perhaps more than any animated show other than The Simpsons, Hey Arnold! managed to develop a wide array of three-dimensional characters, most of whom all got a chance to shine in their own episodes. They also spanned the ethnic and gender spectrum, no small feat for a mainstream Nickelodeon cartoon in the ’90s.
And now, it’s coming back, via a movie written by series creator Craig Bartlett, and featuring a large portion of the original voice cast. Buzzfeed had the trailer, which you can watch here:
Okay, so, first of all, I’m most definitely in. Just seeing those characters with those voices return has me excited to revisit the world of Hey Arnold!; I wouldn’t even decry whatever fan service the show sticks in. (They better play a game at Gerald’s Field, damn it.)
Plot wise, it looks like the show has found a way to get Arnold back to the jungle, via a class field trip. As with many escapades, it seems likely to be fraught with the sort of child endangerment that would likely have gotten every adult in a position of responsibility fired long before now, but it will also (hopefully, after this long) give Arnold a resolution to his parent’s story.
However, we need to talk for one second about a very important thing you likely noticed about that trailer: Arnold’s voice actor.
Arnold himself doesn’t have many lines highlighted, and that’s not atypical for the character; Arnold always served as a sort of bland, good-hearted, cool lead character who grounded the rest of the series. He certainly has his own quirks and traits, of course, but the show as never specificially about him, inasmuch as it was about the world he inhabited.
Having said all of that, Arnold has been recast for this movie, and its upcoming inclusion in a Nicktoons revival. And rather than going with an adult voice actor who could reasonably approximate the Arnold of old (or even one of the original Arnold voices, if that was still possible), they cast 15-year-old Mason Vale Cotton in the role. This article doesn’t exist to critique a kid’s voice performance. But it’s not promising all the same when you remember that Cotton was the final Bobby Draper on Mad Men, a not-beloved character and performance in that show’s world.
Hopefully it ends up working out better in this version of Hey Arnold!, because it looks like the main thrust of this movie is going to be an Arnold storyline, as you’d expect for a revival like this one. If that performance falls flat, even in a cartoon, it could hurt the nostalgia trip for original series fans, while also limiting the appeal to a new generation of viewers.