- The Washington Times - Friday, June 28, 2002

''Hey Arnold! The Movie" has no charms worth shouting about, although having my name bellowed in a movie title is certainly a novelty.

The latest cartoon feature to be spun off from a children's series on the Nickelodeon cable network, "Hey Arnold" also comes as a scrawny excuse for animated entertainment the week after Disney's captivating "Lilo & Stitch."

I gather that Arnold, a resourceful orphan of the slums who has a head shaped like a football because of his origins as a clay-animation figure, is meant to represent embattled urban youth and domesticity. He lives with loony grandparents who run a boardinghouse.

The movie's plot revolves around Arnold's valiant efforts to foil a developer named Scheck. The developer resembles Ronald Reagan and is voiced by Paul Sorvino, who plans to demolish six square blocks of beloved 'hood and replace them with a shopping mall.

Evidently, the sinister Scheck doesn't adhere to the doctrine of "location, location, location." It's difficult to envision the customer base that would beat a path to this unpromising site.

Maybe he just loves the roar of bulldozers and wrecking balls. Throwing a monkey wrench into his machinations supposedly depends on retrieving a historic land-grant document that will keep the neighborhood forever quaint and crumbling.

Arnold has a buddy called Gerald, given a vertical look to balance Arnold's horizontal configuration. Nominally black, Gerald sports a towering Afro, about the size of Marge Simpson's hairdo, but black rather than blue. He's more inclined to take a cautious and fatalistic view of the alternatives.

Arnold's crusade against Scheck is encouraged by the voice of an informant called Deep Voice, which obviously belongs to the neighborhood tomboy, Helga.

Helga has a bad case of ambivalence. She scorns Arnold to his face and professes utter devotion in private. Helga's line of self-congratulatory grandiloquence while debating with herself is fairly amusing, but it probably would be just as effective on the radio.

Nobody in the ensemble seems to profit much from being a stylized illustration of a human being, juvenile or adult. The effective humorous touches are almost always verbal.

The timeliest sight gag finds Arnold and Gerald dressing up as teen-age versions of Men in Black.

The cut-rate pictorial schemes conspire with counterculture sentimentalities to give the show a famished and outmoded sensibility, as if it had turned up during excavations of a warehouse that once belonged to the Children's Television Workshop the warehouse where bum story ideas were laid to rest. The ideal title for a sequel certainly jumps out at you: "Hey, Arnold: R.I.P."

*TITLE: "Hey Arnold! The Movie"

RATING: PG (Occasional comic vulgarity and sexual allusions)

CREDITS: Directed by Tuck Tucker. Written by Craig Bartlett and Steve Viksten. Music by Jim Lang.

RUNNING TIME: 77 minutes


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