The recent profit-mongering trend of making feature films out of popular, still-in-production TV kiddie cartoons -- "The Rugrats Movie," Doug's First Movie," "Recess: School's Out" and next week's "Powerpuff Girls: The Movie" -- seems to have become an automated process.
Although I reserve judgement on "Powerpuff," which is supposed to be about the origins of the superhero preschoolers, little thought seems to go into making these movies. They're never much more than overlong episode of the shows, except that they require parents to shell out for tickets and popcorn.
"Hey Arnold! The Movie" is more of the same. Spawned from the animated Nickelodeon series about a "football headed kid" and the denizens of his oddball urban neighborhood, it's a weakly-scripted adventure in which Arnold and his pals try to stop a developer from tearing down their block to build a mega-mall. The mantra behind the project seems to have been "it's just a kids' flick." Translation: "We don't need to try very hard."
Elementary storytelling is one thing -- I'm not advocating complexly plotted movies for children -- but writer/creator Craig Bartlett and director Tuck Tucker ignore gaping holes in their plot while rushing right past what should be important parts of the story.
At the beginning of the movie, Arnold and company have 30 days to save the neighborhood. Four minutes of screen time later they're down to the last two days, and all we've seen is a montage of people passing out flyers and two minutes of a street concert. What did they do for those 28 days?
The rest of the movie revolves around Arnold and his buddy Gerald trying to get their hands on a secret document that proves the neighborhood is a landmark where "a major historical turning point in the birth of the country" took place. If this is true, why is the document secret and why doesn't anybody but Arnold's grandfather know about it? Any bright 8-year-old could spot a plot problem this dumb from a mile away.
Taking sloppy narrative short-cuts all over the place, Tucker begins one scene with the line "OK Arnold, you convinced me." In another, one kid suggests they go visit a Mr. Baily. The other replies, "You mean that guy at the Bureau of Information?" What kid knows the names of people at the Bureau of Information?
The story's timeline -- the 30-day deadline and a pivotal yarn spun by Arnold's grandfather about how his own father fought in the Revolutionary War -- is littered with logical and logistical impossibilities. (How old is grandpa if his father was in a war 225 years ago?)
The filmmakers felt the need to ply the movie with celebrity voices, so in the course of their quest Arnold and Gerald visit a coroner (Christopher Lloyd) and a sexy secret agent (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who gladly provides them with spy equipment they use to break into the developer's high-security office building.
What's worse, Bartlett and Tucker show very questionable judgement by having grandpa turn to terrorist tactics in defense of the neighborhood. He plans to dynamite the street to stop the bulldozers.
But the movie's biggest problem is that in spite of all this, Arnold's treasure hunt/goose chase is downright boring. The only interesting character in the whole movie is a weird-looking, mean little girl with a mono-brow who picks on Arnold but is secretly in love with him and helping his cause.
I like the animation style of "Hey Arnold," with its exaggerated physical features. Gerald sports a towering cylindrical afro and Arnold's football-shaped head has a huge shock of blonde hair, split down the middle like the Red Sea by a diminutive baseball cap. I've never seen the show, but there's enough evidence of creativity here -- albeit creativity spread far too thin over 76 minutes -- that I wouldn't mind seeing what these people can do with their usual 30 minutes.
But there's just not enough of an effort made in "Hey Arnold! The Movie" to justify spending eight bucks to see it -- let alone millions of dollars to produce it.
Run time: 76 mins
In Theaters: Friday 28th June 2002
Box Office USA: $13.6M
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Production compaines: Nickelodeon Movies
Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 29%
Fresh: 23 Rotten: 55
IMDB: 5.8 / 10
Director: Tuck Tucker
Starring: Spencer Klein as Arnold, Francesca Smith as Helga Geraldine Pataki, Jamil Walker Smith as Gerald Martin Johanssen, Dan Castellaneta as Grandpa 'Steely' Phil / Nick Vermicelli, Tress MacNeille as Grandma Gertie 'Pookie' / Mayor Dixie / Red
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