The animated television series, nearly a decade and a half later, still serves as the standard to which most 1990s Nicktoons are measured. The cartoon glimpsed into the lives of character types oft-marginalized in comedy programming; namely, kids far removed from the comforts of modern suburbia.
In Hey Arnold!, adults struggle to hold down jobs, few notice (or care) that certain alleyways are skipped on garbage day, and the diction and syntax of the average back-talking adolescent is a bit more vituperative than elsewhere.
But just as Hey Arnold! didn't skimp on the reality of living on a city street packed with cultural and ethnic diversity, neither did the animated series forget to show how one imaginative and inspired kid can make a difference in the unlikeliest of ways. Arnold is a brave kid, and has his hands full trying to rein in the bossy, accident-prone, mouth-breathing antics of his classmates. Helping his best friend Gerald get over an embarrassing secret? Lending comfort to the guilty conscience of brainy girl Phoebe, who is a nervous wreck after cheating for the first time? Or on any random day, getting in the head of Helga, whose comical love-hate relationship with the boy is a hallmark of the cartoon? Hey Arnold! tasks Arnold with deciphering each of these questions and more.
Artistically speaking, Hey Arnold! sports remarkable production design and infuses the soiled city streets with a bit of character: Arnold's public school is a red-brick building more akin to a prison than an educational facility, his friends' ball park is an abandoned lot, and so forth.
Naturally, a number of writers and artists of Hey Arnold! have long since graduated to animation projects that contemporary animation enthusiasts are more familiar with (e.g., Dan Povenmire, co-creator of Phineas and Ferb).
Shout! Factory Entertainment has blitzed fans of 1990s animation over the past year or so with competent home video releases of The Angry Beavers, Rocko's Modern Life, The Wild Thornberrys, ReBoot, and several others. The entire first season of Hey Arnold! was released late last summer (August 2011); the release date for the second half of the second season has not yet been announced.
"Transformers Prime: Dark Rising on DVD" at AnimationInsider.net (11/2011)
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