Last week, the world of cartoons was hit with the tragic death of Steve Viksten, who died at the age of 54. Viksten was a written for Craig Bartlett's Hey Arnold! series, which ran from 1996 to 2004, in addition to providing the voice of Oskar Kakoshka, a resident of the Sunset Arms boarding house operated by Arnold's grandparents and where Arnold himself resides. Oskar was the central character in episodes that included getting a job as a paperboy, not being able to read, and most notably a scene with which he refused to accept his wife, Suzie's, money. This is where the, "you keep the money," phrase comes about. His death sparks a massive gap to the world of cartoons, in addition to bringing Hey Arnold! discussion back into the minds of their many viewers from the golden era of Nickelodeon. The biggest question deals with how the series was left open ended (and no, I am not talking about the eight episodes that came about after the series finale), what really happened to Arnold's parents, and whether or not he goes to San Lorenzo to find out what really happened.
Hey Arnold! was the brainchild of Craig Bartlett, which began with a comic strip before creating sketches using claymation. For those who grew up watching Sesame Street may be familiar with the sketch, "Arnold Rides a Chair," where Arnold uses his imagination to pretend he is riding throughout a jungle and being greeted by the animal residents. In 1996, an animated series was picked up by Nickelodeon and that became its home until wrapping up in 2004. The series had to do with a kind-hearted fourth grader named Arnold who lived with his grandparents and went to school at P.S. 118, which included peers such as Gerald (his best friend), Helga (a girl who pushed him around, but secretly loved him), "tough kids" Harold, Stinky, and Sid, and others ranging from intelligent Phoebe to unlucky Eugene. They were first taught by Miss Slovak, but after season one was replaced by Mr. Simmons, while Principal Wartz served as the school's strict authority. At the same time, he made up for some of the best moments (such as how he was a closeted fan of pop singer Ronnie Matthews).
Arnold was intended to be the average kid that wanted to make everything right in his environment. Several episodes involved his strive to solve the problems around him, such as helping Harold slim down, getting to the root of Chocolate Boy (a character who was obsessed with chocolate)'s addiction, and helping a father that opened up to them after he and his grandfather helped them at a hockey game find a common interest with his son. Arnold was more than just an every man. He was somebody you can connect to and have emotion for, since he did all he could to be kind to all of those around him regardless of what was happening. While much of the series has to do with Arnold, Bartlett did an excellent job placing other characters into the spotlight and giving them an opportunity to shine. The most common was Helga Pataki, who was somewhat of a bully to Arnold, but we would also get a sense of her own personal life. This included her hard-nosed, egotistical, workaholic beeper salesman dad, Bob, her meek (and blah) mother, Miriam, and her overachiever sister, Olga. In addition, we get constant glimpses of her love for Arnold, evident several times in the series with the heart she carries with her at all times (hidden, of course). An episode, "Helga On The Couch," dives in to this even further in one of the most emotional episodes of the series. Aside from Helga, episodes have focused on Gerald, Harold, and even members of the boarding house (and others I did not mention). At the same time, characters such as Brainy (who is known to randomly pop up, primarily when Helga is thinking of Arnold) are strategically placed as side characters. Craig Bartlett has done a brilliant job when it came to orchestrating characterization.
Okay, I have gone quite rampant with explaining the series, but that sets up for the two crucial episodes of the Hey Arnold! series that tell us the important background information of how Arnold came about. These episodes are "Parents Day" and "The Journal." The former is just a single half-hour episode that introduces the subject as to why Arnold is living with his kooky grandparents and his parents are not existent in his life. What we learn is that Arnold's parents spent time in Central America, were adventurous, and helped the people they resided with. From there, when they have Arnold, they settle down with Arnold's grandparents, but are called back for one last mission that they attend, but never return from. The latter digs deeper, almost detail for detail, as to what happens and why. In "The Journal," we learn more about the people they help, how their wedding ceremony went about, how Abner the pig (who resides with Arnold) was a gift from the Green-Eyed people, how Arnold's birth silenced a volcanic eruption, and details about how they decided they needed to settle in a more reasonable environment for their son. When Arnold was one, Eduardo informs them about how the Green-Eyed people (who are very reminiscent to indigenous clans) were dying off and in danger of extinction before promising that this would be their last mission. Arnold's parents believed this would just be temporary, but their plane was never heard from again. While this was a bitter truth to deal with, the episode ends hopefully as Arnold finds a map at the back of the journal.
I have had friends of mine confidently confirm that Arnold's parents were dead. I disagree and from the way signs are pointing, it looks like if The Jungle Movie were to be produced, they would still be alive. When it came to addressing this situation in different Nickelodeon showings (which they have been vague about and it was very much show, don't tell), this is the vaguest of the vague. The Rugrats brought up the death of Chuckie's birth mother in a Mother's Day episode that was caused by some form of illness, but assured us she was now within the sky and clouds. The Wild Thornberrys brought up the mystery of Donnie in "The Origins of Donny" four-part special and it was evident that his parents were killed saving primates from poachers. While one can assume that a plane crash took the lives of Arnold's parents, this is so vague and open-ended that something of this nature cannot be assured. Knowing Arnold's parents and their knack for adventure running through their veins (even though his father, Miles, was a bit clumsy), a plane crash would be a bit of a random death. Possible, but random.
Almie Rose conducted an interview with Craig Bartlett earlier in the year. Bartlett has found success with his PBS series Dinosaur Train and is pitching a series to Nickelodeon about a rat with amnesia who wants to fly among the pigeons in a series known as Sky Rat. In this interview (which I will leave a link to), Bartlett originally pointed out that when he first presented the series to Nickelodeon, his parents were on a missionary trip in Africa and this would explain Arnold's nature and how he always wants to lend a helping hand. As the series progressed, this would need to be addressed even more. This is where their adventures in San Lorenzo and getting lost on their last mission came about. The nature of this is quite saddening, especially how it was presented was almost disheartening, but at the same time it is left so open-ended and vague that what some may assume should second guess.
According to details collected on the Hey Arnold! Wiki page (which should be taken with a grain of salt), Arnold wins an essay contest and gets to take his class (now in fifth grade, but still taught by Mr. Simmons) to the place of their choice. He chooses San Lorenzo, where he hopes they have a fun time, and he could possibly find his parents. The funniest part, in my mind, is how Principal Wartz comes along, because he always wanted to visit Central America. Here, he becomes a subject of worship to the Green-Eyed people and creates an enemy in La Sombra, who is a pirate looking for the deepest treasures (he was also an enemy to Arnold's parents, Miles and Stella). In this movie, a conclusion to the relationship between Arnold and Helga will also be answered. Oh and for those are you who are obsessed with the little details, this site points to how we will learn Arnold's last name. These is somewhat of a background, but take it with a grain of salt.
So if Arnold's parents were gone for nine years, what exactly happened if they were never heard from again? I say, plenty of things. The most likely would be how they were stranded and imprisoned on the island by antagonizing forces at some point within their journey back. While they had their sons and Miles' parents in mind, there was either no attempt to get in contact or every attempt was interrupted. Remember, IF they were stranded (and especially imprisoned), the chances of contact were very unlikely. If the Green-Eyed people are somewhat still active and were not driven into extinction, it means that their is a good chance they were assisted. If Arnold's parents were their best hope, no matter how long it took, they would accomplish their mission. While they believed it would only take a week, something detrimental could have caused it to take much longer and with lack of contact, we have no idea as to what happened. They may have been stranded elsewhere, but if the Green-Eyed people were over their hurdle, this means they returned at some point in time. Until The Jungle Movie answers this question once and for all, the answer to this question will remain in limbo.
Can this movie be launched? If enough people express interest, then the answer would be yes. The downside would be that many of the fans for this program are likely within the 18+ crowd and a very small percentage still watch Nickelodeon on a regular basis. I am not one of Nick's viewers and I believe it has been since the lower years of high school that I willingly turned this channel on. I am, however, optimistic that this idea can be worked out and that Hey Arnold! will spark interest. To dismiss this idea would be the equivalent to dismissing comebacks for the return of the two Muppet movies that came out or the Speed Racer movie (even though the latter was a dud). Coming up with a conclusion cannot be dismissed and should not be dismissed. I do, however, believe that after this movie, the franchise should come to a close. This movie should just about answer every question we have and tie every loose end that needs to be tied. While the first Hey Arnold! film loosened everything that was almost tied, it looks like this one is going to make sure the ends are assured. As much as the enthusiasts for the series are plenty, this film should be satisfying to everyone's tastes. Of course, it will need to market children, but in reality will market younger adults most. This means a reason will be made to release this film, even if that means watching episodes of Sky Rat in order to boost the ratings. This is from someone that has not watched a cartoon that was not TV-14 or more mature since Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends. In addition, what do we do about voice actors? This should not be a heavy concern. Arnold has had four different voice actors throughout the show, while most of the others can be approached or others would be found. While this may take work, it is achievable.
I am all for this particular film and I would do what I can to help bring this movie forward. I would encourage my peers that were enthusiasts for this series to do what they can as well. While I was not an active fan, I enjoyed watching what I could. Nevertheless, it is probably the open ending that eggs me on more than any piece of entertainment that I know. THIS is coming from someone who writes horror and speculative fiction and left their college literary magazine submission open-ended to the point that even the author is figuring out what happens next. THIS is the story that boggles me. Either way, I would guarantee that if this movie would come about, I would be a viewer. I speculate different possibilities, but I will just have to see what is said and done in the film. When a call from the Hey Arnold! fans come forward, that is when this will take effect.
Different links of interest will be located at the bottom. For now, RIP Steve Viksten, one of the brilliant minds of animation.