There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Gentrification is a big issue for a football-headed fourth-grader to, uh, tackle. Yet in Hey Arnold! The Movie, the titular hero is expected to save his run-down but tightknit neighborhood from the cold bulldozer of progress while little audience members are expected to be entertained. Better luck next time, Nickelodeon. It’s not only the animation that falls flat, with the TV series’ simple lines looking crude on the big screen; the story also dives into political conflict almost immediately and fails to save itself, with hardly a charming character or goofy sight gag throughout. I suppose there’s some commendable role-model thing going on with Arnold, given the number of times his friends comment about how he always “looks on the bright side.” But does he have to be boring, too? Arnold (voiced by Spencer Klein) is the tiny adult in the household he shares with his explosives-wielding grandpa and seemingly hopped-up grandma (whose arrest and subsequent attempts to escape from jail make for a particularly strange and unfunny subplot), as well as the apparent leader of his community. Shopkeepers mourn their impending loss as Arnold turns activist, and Big Bad Guys take the tyke seriously as he breaks into homes and sneaks into offices in an effort to find a document that just might save his ‘hood from ruin. (See, kids? Crime does pay!) There’s not even a proper foil or sidekick to add interest to Arnold’s vanilla milieu: Best bud Gerald (Jamil Smith) is an ever-so-slightly jive-talking voice of even more reason (yawn), unibrowed Helga (Francesca Marie Smith) is alternately Arnold’s shrill nemesis and weak-kneed secret admirer (complete with candle-lit Arnold shrine and admitted stalking), and the rest of Arnold’s usually funny gang, prominently featured in the series, barely make a cameo here. Christopher Lloyd’s coroner brings a touch of proper zaniness entirely too late, and Paul Sorvino and Jennifer Jason Leigh add their celebrity voices to parts that aren’t much improved by them. On the bright side, however, this social-studies lesson lasts just over an hour—which leaves plenty of time to get home for SpongeBob SquarePants. —Tricia Olszewski