19 Weird Things You Never Knew About Hey Arnold!

Hey Arnold! was a deeply beloved Nickelodeon television cartoon that met its end way too early. Fans have been begging for more, so show creator, Craig Bartlett, has finally agreed to make Hey Arnold: The Jungle Movie. The film will premiere later this year. It won’t be in theaters; instead, it’ll be a two-hour event on Nickelodeon. The viewers will probably be made up of more nostalgic millennials rather than kids, but Nickelodeon should be okay with that.

There are so many things about Hey Arnold! that the fans still want and need answers to. Since the show ended in 2004, Craig Bartlett has given a great number of interviews. Between that, and fans pooling together their information, there are tons of interesting trivia that you might have never realized or known about while Hey Arnold! was still on the air. Here are 19 Things You Didn’t Know About Hey Arnold!

19 Arnold’s Last Name

Arnold’s last name being kept a secret became a running joke throughout the series. From neglecting to show his last name on his bus pass to having an announcer not being able to read his name off a piece of paper due to a "smudge", Arnold’s surname was never revealed. Or, so it was thought. Craig Bartlett held an interview in 2016 where he cleared up the matter.

Bartlett stated that the character of Grandpa Phil said Arnold’s last name all of the time. From then on, it was assumed that Arnold’s last name was in fact “Shortman” due to Grandpa Phil always calling him that. Up until that point, fans of the show had simply assumed that “Shortman” was just a nickname Grandpa Phil had for Arnold due to Arnold’s obvious short stature. However, that was not the case. Arnold is named Arnold after his mother’s father. His middle name is Phillip, named after Grandpa Phil, Arnold’s father’s father. Arnold’s full name has officially been confirmed to be Arnold Phillip Shortman. He does have a last name after all.

18 The Simpsons’ Relationship

Craig Bartlett has always been interested in animation, and he’s made a solid career out of doing what he loves. That being said, he’s not the only one in his family who developed a solid connection with cartoons. Bartlett is married to Lisa Groening, sister of The Simpsons creator, Matt Groening. That’s right: he’s married to the woman who Lisa Simpson is based on.

The Groening family helped Bartlett in the beginning, when Hey Arnold! was still finding its footing. His wife Lisa gave a lot of feedback when it came to the conceptualizing of characters. Matt Groening is said to have helped with some writing from the original pilot episode, though he's not credited for it. Bartlett was even spoken about a few times on some of The Simpsons DVD commentaries. They are a very tight and creative family, but they make sure not to step on each other’s toes. While Craig Bartlett has stayed on the children’s side of animation, Matt Groening has obviously been more interested in focusing on the adult side of it.

17 A Claymation Start

Many will be surprised to learn that Hey Arnold! was originally supposed to be done in claymation rather than traditional animation. This would have made the show completely different than what everyone grew to love, but it was where Arnold got his start. Craig Bartlett had created a few claymation shorts focused on the characters of Arnold, Helga, Harold, and Rhonda before switching directions. Arnold’s parents even make some cameos, but they can only be seen from the neck down.

Sesame Street actually picked up the third and last short film entitled “Arnold Rides His Chair”.  This short included the recording of Groening’s father, Homer, in it. The idea was to have Arnold be able to see the world, not by physically travelling to different places, but imagining it all from his chair instead. The short premiered in 1991 and was the last claymation version before Bartlett turned Hey Arnold! into the traditional type of animated show that was picked up by Nickelodeon.

16 Hillwood

The city that Arnold and the gang lived in became a major focus point throughout the series. It was especially important in Hey Arnold! The Movie, where Arnold has to save his neighborhood from being demolished. When it came to the city name, writers left it pretty vague, though they left hints throughout various episodes. While viewers knew that the kids certainly lived the city life, there was always some uncertainty as to which city it actually was supposed to represent.

There was an episode where Helga and her mother were on a road trip. On their way back home, it became pretty blatant that the show was set in Washington due to the “Welcome to Washington” sign the two drive by. Furthermore, there are a few stores that say “Hillwood” on the outside, leading to the conclusion that the city was called Hillwood. In an interview, Craig Bartlett stated that Hillwood is based on a hodgepodge of a collection of cities that included Seattle, Portland, Brooklyn, and Nashville, as well as parts of Pennsylvania. While Hillwood looked a lot like Brooklyn, it was Seattle that had the most influence.

15 The Personal Life of Mr. Simmons

Mr. Simmons was the teacher who replaced the kids’ original teacher, Ms. Slovak. Mr. Simmons was supposed to be more of his own person which is why he replaced the forgettable Ms. Slovak. He was a creative, loving, thoughtful type of teacher. Sometimes, this proved to be his downfall. Being the type of person he was didn’t automatically make him gay, so it would be difficult to come to that conclusion without speculation.

Craig Bartlett wanted a different type of character out of Mr. Simmons. It was never truly revealed in the series that Mr. Simmons was gay. It wasn’t until Bartlett came out in an interview and said that Mr. Simmons was a gay man that certain aspects became more understandable. Specifically, the Thanksgiving episode of Hey Arnold! where Mr. Simmons had his “friend” Peter over for Thanksgiving. Since Mr. Simmons has now been revealed to be gay, this makes Hey Arnold! one of the first ever children’s television shows to have an LGBT character.

14 Contract Disagreements

The final episode of Hey Arnold! was supposed to be the episode where Arnold learns about how he was born, who his parents were, and why they weren’t around anymore. Following that was supposed to be the Hey Arnold: The Jungle Movie which ended up being scrapped. Thankfully, the movie will be premiering later this year thanks to fan support. The last episode of the show ended up being about Grandpa Phil’s Packard and it premiered in 2004 with the reveal of Arnold’s parents and their story premiering in 2002 instead.

Due to a contract dispute, Craig Bartlett ended up leaving Nickelodeon. Bartlett was an in-demand cartoonist and animator and wanted to be able to work for multiple networks. Nickelodeon refused, wanting him to work solely for them. This led to the show abruptly ending, with the final parts of the scheduling of Hey Arnold! becoming out of Bartlett’s control. Thankfully, the movie will still air thirteen years after the final episode of Hey Arnold! hit television screens.

13 Television Vs. The Box Office

The only Hey Arnold! film that has premiered as of now is Hey Arnold! The Movie. The premise of it was about Arnold and his friends doing whatever it would take to save their neighborhood from being demolished and becoming a shopping center.  The film premiered in 2002 and did absolutely horrible at the box office, as well as with reviewers. That’s because the movie was never supposed to become a feature film such as that. It was only supposed to be a television film which is a regular thing that Nickelodeon does with their shows.

When Hey Arnold! The Movie had its initial sneak peek type of screenings, Nickelodeon received incredible feedback from their audiences. Everyone loved it and there were only positive comments to be made about it. Therefore, Nickelodeon decided to turn it into a feature film. It only brought in $13.7 million at the box office, proving that a good quality television film isn’t the same a good quality cinema one.

12 Kid Voice Actors

While there was already a plentiful amount of shows on Nickelodeon that were focused on children at the time, specifically Rugrats, there wasn’t truly a show that regularly used children as voice-over actors. Hey Arnold! was one of the first animated shows on Nickelodeon that actually did this. For the most part, they had children portray the characters that were children and adults portray the characters that were adults.

The most well-known voice-over actors that portrayed the children were Lane Toran the Instagram star as Arnold, Jamil Walker Smith as Gerald, and Francessca Smith as Helga G. Patacki. All of whom will be returning for the new film, though not all of the voice-over actors are returning to their original role. Due to the fact that kid’s voices change as they age and get older, using children ended up becoming another issue. It was a tricky situation to deal with to say the least as it takes time to create an animated television episode.

11 Arnold’s Changing Voice

Using children for voice-over roles presented a challenge, specifically when it came to Arnold’s voice. While Lane Toran was the main voice of Arnold in the beginning, producers couldn’t hold onto him for long. They ended up giving Toran the opportunity to voice the older bully, Wolfgang. The two characters had completely different voices. Toran’s voice had dropped just that much.

In fact, five different actors voiced Arnold. Plus, if you count the voice of Arnold when he was a baby, six different actors produced Arnold’s voice. J.D. Daniels gave Arnold a voice in the very first pilot episode. After that, he was done. Next came Lane Toran whose voiced changed after the first season. He was replaced by Phillip Van Dyke in seasons two and three. Then, Spencer Klein came along for seasons four and five. Finally, Alex D. Linz portrayed him in Hey Arnold! The Movie. There was also the additional voice of Arnold as a baby. While six people in total voiced Arnold, it wasn’t a major distraction and was hardly noticed by audiences, if at all.

10 Gerald’s New Voice

Producers of the show did something different when it came to Gerald Johanssen. Jamil Walker Smith portrayed Gerald throughout the entire series. He was never replaced, even when his voice changed. Smith’s voice began to drop lower once he hit puberty. In order to accommodate this change, writers decided to give a background story as to why Gerald’s voice had become different.

In the episode entitled “Gerald’s Tonsils” where Gerald does in fact have his tonsils taken out, Gerald has a solo during the school concert. Problems arise when Gerald has a sore throat and has to have his tonsils taken out. After the surgery, his voice is different. That’s when Harvey the mailman steps in and teaches Gerald how to sing with a much different and deeper voice. From that point on, Gerald got to continue on being portrayed by Smith even though his voice had obviously changed.

9 Nothing Without Pee-Wee

Back in the day, Pee-wee Herman, portrayed by Paul Reuben, was a well-known character and had the show Pee-wee’s Playouse. Hey Arnold! creator Craig Bartlett worked in the animation department for the show. During his time on the show, Bartlett would work on a claymation series that focused on a character named Penny.

Penny was the main focus of the show’s claymation series, but the idea of Arnold was there too. During his spare time, Bartlett worked on Arnold’s character which led to the claymation short films. Arnold was originally conceptualized as an extremely rich kid who went to a preparatory school and always wore his school’s uniform. While that didn’t translate over to the cartoon, the part about Arnold having a big imagination did. Arnold has always been a dreamer, even when he was still in claymation form. He appropriately always needed someone to yell “hey, Arnold!” at him to bring him back to reality. It’s because of Pee-wee’s Playhouse that we have Hey Arnold! in the first place.

8 Abner and Brainy Have the Same Voice

Craig Bartlett voiced many characters on the show himself. Some of these characters included the infamous radio DJ, Helga’s stalker Brainy, Abner the pig, and Arnold’s dad, Miles Shortman. None of these characters gave a lot when it comes to speaking rolls. The radio DJ probably had the most lines even though Arnold’s dad talks a lot during his episode and Brainy and Abner were both reoccurring characters. Bartlett has given his voice to a few other smaller characters, but it’s mostly these four that he was known for during the show’s time on air.

It makes sense that Bartlett would want to use his voice. Not only was it easier than hiring individual voice actors to breath loudly as Brainy did or oink the way Abner did, but he most likely enjoyed it. Giving over his voice to these characters made him more involved in the overall process of the television show he created.

7 Thanks to Harriet the Spy

Before Hey Arnold! went live on television, Nickelodeon wanted to test it out and see what audiences would think of it. They needed confirmation that the show would be a hit before fully committing to it. They showed a sample of the show before their first feature film, Harriet the Spy. Instead of creating a short special specifically for the film, Nickelodeon showed the pilot episode of Hey Arnold! as the short film.

Harriet the Spy received mixed reviews with most reviewers saying that it felt too much like a bad television show. Hey Arnold! on the other hand did well and got the go ahead to become a full-fledged television show on Nickelodeon’s network. The pilot episode did well and audiences around the country thoroughly enjoyed it. This was the final confirmation that Hey Arnold! was going to be a great fit for Nickelodeon and that it should get its own space on the network.

6 Helga’s More Complex Than Originally Planned

Helga was just supposed to be a mean girl and nothing more. Angleica made a big impact on Rugrats, so it would have probably worked out, but not in the way it in fact actually did. Helga’s character had layers. She was a beautiful and complex character. Though a bully, Helga had a side of her that was appealing and understandable to viewers.

It was Craig Bartlett’s wife, Lisa, who told him to have Helga pine over Arnold because she didn’t want another bully type of girl. Her stance was that bullies had feelings too and she wanted Helga to be more than just that stereotypical mean girl. Bartlett gave Arnold for Helga to pine over and it made a complete difference. This was where the beginning of Helga’s artsy, intelligent, creative side began. Her liking Arnold made her vulnerable and it gave her more substance. It’s why Helga is a fan favorite type of character still to this day.

5 Helga and Arnold’s Future Relationship

Craig Bartlett has come out with a lot of details since the show ended. He seems to miss Arnold and the gang just as much as everyone else. When asked about where Arnold and Helga would end up, he broke hearts everywhere by saying that the two characters would in fact not end up being together.

Everyone rooted for Helga. After her episode where she visited a shrink, entitled “Helga and the Shrink," it was revealed that Arnold was the very first person in Helga’s life to make her feel as though she mattered. Helga probably needs to find that quality in someone else because she was teetering on the line, verging into hopeful dependency rather than love. Bartlett said Arnold and Helga would have dated in high school, so Helga would have gotten what she had wanted. Unfortunately, Bartlett said they would have also broken up, though Helga would always have a place in her heart for Arnold. While it’s saddening, it’s probably the healthier route for the two of them.

4 The Pataki Spinoff

Helga had just as much screen time as Arnold seemed to have. A big aspect of Helga’s life revolved around her family: her mom Miriam, her dad Big Bob, and her sister Olga. While it’s pretty clear that Miriam was an alcoholic and Big Bob was the bully Helga modelled herself after, Olga was the perfect child that came out of nowhere. Olga’s existence angered Helga to her very core.

This complicated family dynamic became the focus when the idea of doing a spin-off revolving around them came about. The Pataki family was supposed to star in their own spin-off for Nick at Nite. The show would have focused on their family while Helga was a teenager. Nickelodeon said it was too dark, even for Nick at Nite. Then it was offered to MTV, but MTV didn’t want it because they thought it was too similar to Daria. Therefore, no one ever saw the spin-off since it essentially ended before it truly began.

3 The Origin of the Buildings and Their Names

It’s been established that Arnold and the gang all lived in the city of Hillwood. All the buildings in Hillwood had their own unique style. There was the flower shop and the butchery. There was also the school, P.S. 118. Sometimes the kids would go to different places, such as when Arnold and Gerald went Christmas shopping in “Arnold’s Christmas” where Arnold tries to help Mr. Hyunh find his daughter by shopping for the person who can find her.

What’s interesting is that some of the shops and buildings that are seen irregularly throughout the show are purposely named after people who worked on the show. They wanted to pay homage to the people who helped make the show happen. For example, the water tower has “LOWTWATER” on it which is named after Steve Lowtwait who was a layout designer. The name “Lowtwait” was also on the side of an apartment building for advertisement for water. There was also Lamoreaux’s Bookstore which was named after one of the writers, Michelle Lamoreaux. Naming buildings after each other wasn’t a rare occurrence for the Hey Arnold! team.

2 Girls in Real Life Became Girls on the Show

Every girl in Hey Arnold’s class is based on someone Craig Bartlett knew and liked while growing up. Yes, liked as in “like-like”. Before Bartlett started Hey Arnold!, his brother-in-law, Matt Groening, told Bartlett not to name any of the characters after your family members because it made things way more complicated. Groening would know since he named all of The Simpson’s characters after his family. Bartlett took that advice to heart, but he couldn’t put aside the desire to include some personal influences into his show.

While not naming any character directly after someone Bartlett actually knew, the girls in Arnold’s class, specifically Helga, were inspired by girls he had crushes on while growing up. Bartlett describes himself as having a lot of love inspired thoughts when he was a kid and knew a lot of girls that he found interested in. Those girls all mixed together in his mind and became the girls on the show. Mr. Simmons’ P.S. 118 classroom would have looked a lot differently otherwise.

1 Arnold’s Fate

While Hey Arnold: The Jungle Movie will start off where Hey Arnold! the television show left of, Arnold’s fate beyond that is still up in the air. During yet another interview, Craig Bartlett has said he sees Arnold moving away from Hillwood. Arnold loves his city more than anything. He even spent his entire feature film working to keep his neighborhood together. Yet, Bartlett claims that as Arnold got older, everyone in Hillwood would stay there, while Arnold would move on from the city.

Arnold moving away is actually something that proves that Hey Arnold! was truly before its time. The show was honest and deep. There were dark moments and aspects that differentiated it from other cartoons. The show’s realism propelled it and gave kids something to relate to. A kid like Arnold didn’t deserve to have his life written out living away in the same old place. Arnold, the son of two explorers, would of course want to see the world. It’s sad, but it’s beautiful at the same time. If that's truly his ending, it would be fitting for the show.


Hey Arnold: The Jungle Movie will hit television screens on November 23rd, 2017.

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