“Hey, Arnold!” is one of the most well-known and beloved animated children’s television shows that ever aired on Nickelodeon. Debuting in 1996 and running through 2004, the show was renowned for its blend of surreal humor with realistic topics.

Craig Bartlett is the man behind “Hey Arnold!” (not to mention other classics such as “Dinosaur Train” and “Ready Jet Go!”). Although it was an animated cartoon created for children, it was not targeted towards particularly young children. In fact, the plots and themes of the series frequently centered on very emotionally mature, psychologically deep, and serious issues including dementia, poverty, mental trauma and/or illness, childhood neglect, romantic obsession, unrequited love, addiction, and various kinds of dysfunctional relationships.

The remarkable feat (and beauty) of “Hey Arnold” was that, despite its serious content, the show was anything but gloomy. It was undeniably funny, entertaining quirky and sweet. The fantastic success of “Hey Arnold!” lay in its expertly blended balance between the serious and the humorous, the melding of real-life issues with cartoony fiction…and the majority of that harmonious mixture can be attributed to the incredible ability for writing that its creator, Craig Bartlett, possesses. After spending years working on the hit Nickelodeon shows such as “Rugrats,” Craig pitched his idea for “Hey Arnold!” to Nickelodeon. Subsequently, a pilot episode was produced in 1994, and the show was officially greenlit in the early months of 1995.

Television, content, and the series

“Hey, Arnold” ran from the year 1996 to the year 2004 and, within that time span, the series enjoyed remarkable success. By the latter half of the 1990s, most children living in the United States (and elsewhere) recognized the characters at a glance. Its content was unique and even somewhat daring since most of the episodes contained a notable amount of educational content centered on deep and often-neglected topics such as human nature, emotions, and the relationship between actions and consequences.

However, each one of the episodes--regardless of how serious the underlining themes were--was nonetheless rendered in an age-appropriate way that captivated young audiences. “Hey Arnold” went on to include a feature-length film (involving Arnold, who was raised by his grandparents, seeking to find out what happened to his mother and father) and the series has become a cult-classic that still enjoys air time via reruns even nearing two-decades after the airing of its finale.

The very popularity of this television show among a new generation of viewers is what prompted Craig Bartlett and Nickelodeon to decide to release an all-new TV movie--titled “Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie”--which will air, at 7 PM, on Nickelodeon come November 24, 2017.

“The very last episode we ever made ended in a cliff-hanger where Arnold found a map and wanted to go looking for his parents,” Craig explained via a recent interview. “We left the audience hanging fifteen years ago, and we want this film to help clear things up. Viewers will get to learn Arnold’s last name, find out about much more about his parents, and hear his feelings for Helga.”

Indeed, one of the greatest mysteries of the “Hey Arnold!” series was what became of his parents who apparently disappeared while exploring faraway lands by plane.

“We were making it up as we went along,” Craig said with a laugh. “We didn’t really know exactly what had happened to them either, but now I have had a long time to think about it, so I hope the explanation in this new movie will be satisfactory.”

Voicing characters and TV movies

Francesca Marie Smith, who voiced Helga when she was a child, considers the character to be the most extreme version of herself. Francesca began acting as a youngster and appeared in a number of live-action and voice-over roles for series such as “The Drew Carey Show,” “The Secret World of Alex Mack,” “The Amanda Show,” and more. As an adult, she attended Stanford University and earned a bachelor’s degree in linguistics.

From there, she went on to Pepperdine University where she successfully pursued a master’s degree in communication. She is presently enrolled in a doctoral degree program at the University of Southern California, and her work focuses on rhetoric, media, and technology…areas that Francesca is well versed in. Now working as a consultant and a creative in the entertainment industry, Francesca helps to develop stories, plots, and creative worlds for media such as video games and series. Even with these many successes, she is perhaps still best known for being “Helga.”

“I went into the audition and delivered my lines in this aggressive way since Helga was described as a bully,” Francesca explained.

“I have no idea where I got the rage from when I was a kid, but I went in and did the audition and got the part right away! Helga is a deep character full of highs and lows. It was very meaningful to have a team of writers help me to define her and, as we explored her more, it was easier for me to voice her.”

Anndi McAfee--best known as the voice of Helga’s sweet, timid, and loyal best friend, Phoebe--has been singing and acting since the age of seven and presently hosts a podcast called “FitMuses.” Although she has experiences with voice-over work in commercials and television (including credits on very successful shows such as “Home Improvement,” “Boy Meets World” and “The Land Before Time”), Anndi noted that it was initially quite challenging to convey the voice of Phoebe.

“The character had been drawn, but she wasn’t really well-rounded when I first auditions for the part and there was no voice for her yet at all,” Anndi explained. “I had done acting work before, but I always used my own voice. Craig told me to make my voice a bit gravelly and timid, and that worked.”

“Hey, Arnold!” was recorded every Thursday for four hours and, as Francesca and Anndi worked together more, their rapport as Helga and Phoebe grew. They started to understand their respective characters more, which deepened their on-screen relationship and even helped the writers develop more detailed plots surrounding Helga’s dominating personality versus Phoebe’s more subservient attitude.

“It’s wonderful to be part of another ‘Hey Arnold!’ project after all these years and experiencing it through the eyes of kids--now adults--who grew up with it,” Anndi stated.

Francesca readily agreed and added, “I hope this movie peaks kids interests and they start to explore the treasure trove that is the backlog catalog of our show’s episodes.”

For his part, Craig Bartlett is very impressed with how the series unfolded and how this new TV movie came together.

“Everyone rose to the occasion and did the best job possible,” he said. “I think this is the best ‘Hey Arnold!’ project ever and I really hope it helps usher in a whole new generation of fans.”