14 November 2005 | Ddey65
I remember when Arnold was a boy of clay
My first exposure to Arnold was long before the show's key audience was born, let alone heard of him. It was in a small clay-mation film "Arnold Escapes from Church," which was one of many at the 21st Tournee of Animation in at the Huntington Arts Cinema on Long Island. The football-headed kid that we all know and love sits in church with his family while the pastor reads "The Lord's Prayer," and imagines all kinds of weird things happening in the process. At a time when anti-media zealots were frantically trying to censor anything they assume will warp children's collective imaginations, so much so that they virtually eliminate their imaginations, this was one of a few 'toons(other than perhaps MUPPET BABIES) that made it seem acceptable. By the early-to-mid 1990's though, such a mentality seemed all too common-place, and the Arnold Universe was less focused on the world in his head than the world around him.
Arnold is street-wise, rational, and good-natured to a fault. He lives in a boarding house owned by his grandparents, which CLAIMS that kids aren't allowed, but makes an exception for him and one other. He's got perhaps the coolest bedroom any kid could possibly have. Not even three-dimensional FedEx from the remake of "Cheaper by the Dozen" has a room as cool as Arnold's, even though that was a cool bedroom as well. Arnold's rural neighborhood is surrounded by eccentric kids and adults. And who are the people in his neighborhood, to paraphrase the late Fred Rogers? Well, the kids consist of Gerald, Helga, Stinky, Eugene, Lila, Rhonda, Harold, Sid, Phoebe, and others. The adults consist of his grandparents(Phil and Pookie), Mr, Hyunh, Oskar, his wife Susie, Ernie Potts, and a host of other eccentrics. One can not say anything about "Hey Arnold!" without focusing on Helga Pataki, who has the kind of relationship with him you might expect from nine-year-old girls and boys. Helga, of course publicly insults and torments him, but privately agonizes over her desire for him, and frequently beats herself up over how she treats him. And who can blame her for her guilt? He's the kind of kid who knows you don't have to be a superhero to do good. In "Stoop Kid," he teaches a bullying brat not to be afraid to leave the stoop of his apartment. In "Pigeon Man," he befriends a neighborhood recluse who's treated like a freaky urban legend, because he'd rather spend time with homing pigeons. In "Runaway Float" he stops the title from crashing into City Hall, and taking his friends with it. In "Grandpa's Sister," he mends a long standing grudge that began over the death of a beloved family pet. In "Crabby Author," he visits a favorite children's author who's now a reclusive, bitter old woman, and inspires her to return to the career that made her famous. He even makes an impact on Helga Pataki, sometimes intentionally.
One thing's for sure, Craig Bartlett really knows how to celebrate the holidays, whatever those holiday may be. In the unforgettable "Arnold's Christmas," Arnold struggles to reunite Mr. Hyunh with his South Vietnamese daughter who he hasn't seen since the Fall of Saigon. In "Arnold's Halloween," we see Arnold and Gerald repeat their own adaptation of Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds," only in their case they WANT to cause a panic! In "Veteran's Day," we find how Arnold's Grandfather contributed to the allied victory in the Battle of the Bulge by giving the Nazis bad experimental lunch-meat, and Gerald's Dad was a reluctant Vietnam Vet who was assigned to desk duty and saved the life of a wounded G.I. with his paperwork(literally!) after a major NVA attack.
In truth, Bartlett does not write children's television. He writes adult television with kids as his central characters, that are not excessively violent or sexually suggestive. An outstanding 'toon if there ever was one on Nickelodeon, which will be difficult to replace.