Your grade-schoolers may have invited Arnold (voice of Spencer Klein) over to play on your TV. He’s a funny-looking kid. Imagine that some mischievous animator firmly grabbed Charlie Brown’s little round ears and stretched his big round head into the shape of a football. Now crown that head with a glob of yellow hair, a tiny blue baseball cap splashing it into twin rooster tails. You’ve got Arnold. Like good ol’ Chuck, his shirt is a pullover and he has a motley crew of friends.
Unlike suburban Charlie, Nickelodeon TV describes Arnold as “the ultimate city kid.” Why? Maybe it’s because his best buddy, Gerald (voice of Jamil Walker Smith), is black. But how many cities outside of New York City still have blocks of quaint streets that feature stores like Mr. Green’s butcher shop? The summer sun gilds Arnold’s sky and his streets with gold as it sets: It’s as much an urban fantasy as “Mister Rodgers’ Neighborhood” (“Sesame Street” might be grittier). Maybe that’s why Arnold gets the idea in his hard, football-shaped head to save it.
Mr. Scheck (voice of Paul Sorvino, last seen in See Spot Run) has another idea. Looking like Frankenstein’s monster with an expensive makeover, Scheck (like that monster’s master) is obsessed with that old devil, misbegotten progress. He first intrudes into Arnold’s neighborhood by blasting an old building into rubble to erect a huge screen that projects a stories-tall totalitarian image of his smiling face, hypnotically repeating hackneyed mottoes such as “Change is good” and “Out with the old, in with the new.” In 30 days, his army of bulldozers will raze Arnold’s world, pave his urban paradise and put up a megamall.
But as Gerald says (blandly parodying an old black militant slogan), “It’s a block thing” that Scheck can’t understand. Arnold becomes the David vs. Scheck’s Goliath (an ever-popular story gimmick designed to hook the kids). The football-headed fourth-grader rallies three generations of oddball (and oddly drawn) neighborhood characters to fight the power.
Hey Arnold! The Movie insipidly caricatures characters and plots of 30 years of pop culture with a randomness as inexplicable as the shape of its hero’s head. This weaker than children’s strength adventure is mostly as flat as its old-school 2-D animation and rolls by at the residential speed limit with only a meager handful of laughs and thrills along the way.
Hey Arnold! You crazy kid! Get down off of the big screen before you hurt yourself — and end up wasting our time and money.
James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].