For a kid flick, Hey Arnold! The Movie appears to endorse an awful lot of reckless, criminal behavior. It's all in good fun, I suppose (for kids, anyway). While the movie will undoubtedly please fans of the Nickelodeon television series, adults will want to doze through what amounts to vacuous babysitting material.
Hey Arnold! The Movie is a sort of Civil Disobedience for the cubbyhole set, taking everybody's favorite "football-headed kid" Arnold (voice of Spencer Klein) to the streets to fight FTI, a corporation whose "Change is good" agenda threatens tradition, heritage, nostalgia...in other words, the neighborhood. The villainous Mr. Sheck (Paul Sorvino) plans to raze the 'hood in favor of retail outlets once he breaks the spirit of the residents, but Arnold and his loyal gang have a couple of ideas about that, which include--but are not limited to--trespassing, breaking and entering, theft, and reckless driving without a license, all in the "wee" hours (another disturbing theme: adults will only help others when it furthers their own self-interest).
In "blowing up" Hey Arnold! to the big screen, screenwriters Craig Bartlett and Steve Viksten devise presumably more expansive action and allow a long-standing cat out of the bag (not to worry, unchanging cartoon continuity is restored by the end). Director Tuck Tucker remains, of course, bound to the unpleasantly undernourished (or in other words, cheap) animated design of the series, excepting what appears to be a digital assist in a runaway bus sequence. There's also the matter of the running time, which though modest for a feature film, triples that of a televised episode.
The characters can be engaging, like Arnold's energetic and dotty Grandma Gertie or the kid who insistently attempts to turn the movie into a musical. The apparently grouchy Helga outshines the star, Arnold, by making him the object of her secret prepubescent lust (in a nice visual joke, she maintains a taxidermy-styled shrine for him). Also duly noted are the innocuous pop culture parodies (Arnold and his black friend Gerald become Men in Black to carry out a secret mission; an informer named "Deep Voice" helps the kids; Jennifer Jason Leigh voices a Lara Croft-like spy babe). The filmmakers also artificially muster some energy with unexpected sound effects and musical stingers.
In all, this humble kiddie diversion is an inoffensive time-waster, but no one above the age of ten is likely to care, and, frankly, the kids can do a lot better than this. Arnold's friends love (and hate) him for always looking on the bright side, but he's not here to give me a hand.