In its infancy, television was widely viewed as a serious threat to the film industry, which makes it ironic that so much of this summer's fare blurs the increasingly shaky line separating the two media. The latest animated TV hit to jump to the big screen, Hey Arnold! follows the misadventures of its title character, a genial lad with a football-shaped head. A kids' movie fit for screening at a Green Party convention, the film wastes little time in establishing its central conflict, which pits Arnold and his block of colorful, multi-ethnic working-class scamps against the corporate, gentrifying forces of a greedy industrialist voiced by Paul Sorvino, who wants to turn the neighborhood into a mall. To save the neighborhood, Arnold and his best friend (who sports a hairstyle borrowed from House Party-era Kid) attempt to locate a document attesting to the neighborhood's historical importance, which they hope will result in the block being designated as a protected landmark. On a purely visual level, Hey Arnold! is an abomination: Arnold and his freakishly misshapen cohorts boast some of the creepiest character design this side of The Family Guy, while the limited animation recalls the hackwork of Hanna-Barbera. Thankfully, the film's strengths rest elsewhere, most notably in its smart, funny, affectionate depiction of a close-knit, vibrant community filled with memorable characters. Arnold and his best friend are both a little bland, but the film wisely surrounds them with enough loopy scene-stealers for several movies, including an incorrigible, escape-prone grandmother and a monobrow-sporting oddball who professes to loathe Arnold while nursing a borderline-psychotic obsession with him. Surprisingly political for a kids' film, not to mention a piece of cross-marketed product from a multinational corporation, Arnold's subtext—including a subplot borrowed from Watergate—will probably go unnoticed by much of its audience, but that doesn't make it any less refreshing or pointed. Nothing about Hey Arnold! The Movie cries out for the big-screen treatment, but it at least makes the transition from television to film with its charm intact.
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