Sitting down in Nickelodeon’s press suite at San Diego Comic-Con, various recognizable voices from series like Rugrats and Hey Arnold! echoing around the room, Craig Bartlett is in his happy place.
The Hey Arnold! creator is sporting a navy blue golf shirt that includes a miniature, smirking Arnold creeping off to the side. Sitting down with Polygon to discuss his upcoming movie, Hey Arnold: The Jungle Movie, Bartlett is ready to talk about the future of the football-headed titular character, Arnold’s “will they, won’t they” relationship with Helga and, above all else, fan theories.
From the most outrageous theories (like Pigeon Man committing suicide in one particular episode) to some of the more logical (perhaps Arnold’s real parents were the people we were told are his grandparents), Bartlett wants to set the record straight: They’re all wrong.
Part of the issue that Bartlett dealt with was Paramount not allowing him and his team to release The Jungle Movie following the release of the first Hey Arnold! movie, Hey Arnold! The Film, in 2002. Bartlett wanted to use the cliffhanger in Hey Arnold! The Film as a way to address some of the show’s biggest questions, like whatever happened to Arnold’s parents and would he ever profess his love to Helga.
When he didn’t receive the go-ahead from Paramount to continue, Bartlett said he didn’t think the team would ever get the chance to return to finish the story.
“I remember saying years ago that ‘I don’t know, kids can make up their own ending. Decide what happened,’” Bartlett told Polygon.
Fans have listened. Over the years, there have been a number of theories about various characters. The most recent one, posted on a Creepypasta forum, suggested that Arnold received his football-shaped ahead as a complication at birth. The theory alleges that Arnold’s grandparents were actually his parents — a very popular, ongoing sentiment among Hey Arnold! theorists — and because they had him so late in life, his head turned out malformed.
When asked whether he had heard about the latest theory, Bartlett laughed, throwing his hands up and jokingly yelling, “I’ve heard them all by now!”
“I hate that one so much,” Bartlett said. “Even thinking about them, I have to just shake my head. The one I get the most is still that pigeon man jumped off the building in the episode we wrote. People suggest that Arnold was so traumatized by it that he had to imagine Pigeon Man flew away. No he wasn’t!
“I put pigeon man specifically in The Jungle Movie so people could point to him and say ‘there he is!’ and hopefully put this entire thing to rest.”
Bartlett said one of the only regrets he has about the show now is how it left fans hanging. If it the finale felt abrupt to audiences, Bartlett said the show’s producers were even more shocked by it. Not giving the creative team a chance to answer all of the biggest questions audiences had, he believes, led to the outpouring of theories.
It was a story without a proper ending.
“There I was, ready to reveal what happened to his parents, and the show got canceled,” Bartlett said. “Me ending the movie with ‘Grandma, Grandpa I found a map!’ was me throwing down a dare directed at Paramount. I dare you to cancel this movie. Look, he found the map. How could we not make this movie?”
The answer, like most things in the film industry, was money. Bartlett said he remembers the studio set up Hey Arnold! The Movie to go up against Lilo and Stitch. Having it marketed as an episodic, “this should have been a made-for-TV movie” also hurt the movie. Hey Arnold! The Movie simply didn’t make enough money for Paramount to see any use in green lighting a sequel, leaving the answers to a number of Hey Arnold! questions unanswered.
Now, Bartlett and his team are finally going to answer every question fans have had over the years — and hopefully put the remaining theories to bed.
Hey Arnold! The Jungle Movie will premiere on Nov. 23 on Nickelodeon.