Hey Arnold!, which premiered in 1996, celebrated its 20th anniversary yesterday, October 7th. The Nickelodeon series was loved by kids and adults alike, thanks to the eclectic characters, realistic storylines and overall fun nature, leaving an undeniable legacy we 90s kids love so much. Next year, a new movie will arrive.
To commemorate Hey Arnold!'s 20th anniversary, Fuse spoke to the show's creator, Craig Bartlett. I've pulled and highlighted some of the most interesting tidbits of the interview.
Is there a certain character that you identify with the most?
Well, Arnold, for sure. You know how they just did that thing on Facebook, like which three fictional characters you base yourself off of? So I did that and someone said, “Hey, how come none of those are Arnold?” I thought that would be cheating, but then I did the Hey Arnold! Version. So those are Arnold, Helga and Olga.
Do you ever look back at the series and think, “Oh my god, I didn’t think this would make such an impact”?
Oh for sure, it’s really amazing! We thought the show was good, but it didn’t seem any more or less remarkable than any of the other shows being made. So to see it have such great staying power, and to see the fans that were Arnold’s age when the show was new grow up and become artists and animators and write really eloquently about it, is astounding. I didn’t see it coming at all, because we made it for kids who were six to 11. So they had a limited ability to give me feedback on Nick Online in the ‘90s when it was still pretty primitive. So it’s really cool to see the love of the show grow up.
What I love most about the show is how relatable the characters are, because I felt they were kids just like me. Was it your goal to make the cast so diverse?
Yeah, absolutely. I really wanted to make the show reflect when I lived in Los Angeles in the mid ’90s. It was such a gumbo of ethnicities in one amazing city. That same vibe of all these different cultures coming together. So I thought a modern urban classroom would reflect that. It’s idealized of course, because there’s only about 12 kids in the classroom, but that’s just the practicality of making a cartoon show. So I definitely wanted it to be ethnically diverse, and I thought it would be a cool move.
I wanted to dig into some of the fan theories. I saw one where people think the show is actually centered around Helga, and another theory saying Arnold’s grandparents are his real parents.
That’s a weird one! [laughs] The thing that bugs me most about it is when somebody puts up a theory, it gets repeated a few times on the internet, and then people think it’s true. If they really want to find out, all they have to do is ask me. Somebody theorized that when Pigeon Man jumped off the building, that it was a suicide. So I find myself strenuously having to say, “No, that never happened.” I was sitting with Joe Purdy working on the script, and we never intended that. We based his speech on Tom Joad from The Grapes of Wrath. He was gonna fly off and help pigeons everywhere. He wasn’t committing suicide. Some of those internet theories are a little nuts. I’ve been regularly posting art from the show for the past few years as we got closer to the reality of making The Jungle Movie. And somebody wrote on my page, “That’s a suicide show.” Weirdly, the guy persisted that me saying it wasn’t didn’t matter! There’s a kind of strange, stubborn quality to the internet behavior. I kind of wish people would get their facts straight.
Are there any favorite episodes that you loved working on?
The half-hour specials are all favorites of mine, like “Parents Day” and “Journal.” They were meant to set up the story of Arnold’s missing parents that The Jungle Movie addresses. I also think the Christmas episode is really great, and I love “School Play,” where Helga confesses to Lila that she loves Arnold.
I was reading an article where you say Mr. Simmons and Eugene are gay characters. Were you afraid of taking that risk, because it was a kids’ show?
Yeah, some of the thing we would just show and wouldn’t say. We figured Mr. Simmons was a gay character without having to make a big deal of out it, or have it be a special episode or anything like that. Dan Butler, who plays Simmons, is gay. But the main thing about him is that he’s a great teacher and really passionate. So it was just part of the show’s fabric. And then you have Eugene. We figured he’s not gay yet because he’s still a kid. But he will be when he grows up!
best episodes? are your faves as inclusive as hey arnold?