"Hey Arnold! The Movie" held the attention of a roomful of otherwise active youngsters at a New York screening the other day. And as a practical matter, that may tell parents all they need to know.
But grownups who accompany their kids to the theater may notice their own attention wandering during the show. This feels like a long and fairly predictable cartoon.
It's based on the "Hey Arnold!" television show, which began in 1996 on Nickelodeon. Of course the animated movie features Arnold (voiced by Spencer Klein), a decent 9-year-old kid with a football-shaped head, and Helga (voiced by Francesca Marie Smith), who acts as his nemesis to conceal her love for him.
They live in a cozy urban neighborhood, nicely rendered in lush colors in the movie. But the evil tycoon Mr. Scheck (voiced by Paul Sorvino) wants to bulldoze the place and put up a shopping mall. It's up to Arnold, his best friend Gerald and other neighborhood pals to stop Scheck and his sleazy henchmen.
No moral ambiguities here. It's greed and evil on one side, and ordinary folks protecting their homes on the other. It's bulldozers, helicopters and a SWAT team versus handbills, a small picket line and a street concert. Children in the audience will have no trouble voting with their sympathies.
It all unfolds just about as a grownup might expect, though at a leisurely pace that makes the movie's 72 minutes seem longer.
There are some bright spots. When Arnold and Gerald visit the city morgue, the scene itself is not only funny, but Christopher Lloyd gives an inspired performance as the voice of the spooky coroner. And kids may catch and enjoy references to other shows: Arnold and Gerald don spy outfits to become an animated version of Men in Black; when Helga's dad is doused with green pickle juice in a fistfight, he does a fair imitation of the Incredible Hulk.
Be aware, parents, that fistfight is only part of the violence portrayed in the movie, which also includes destructive explosions, a man getting whacked in the groin and a bus crash. It's not bloody, but some young children - and their parents - might be bothered.
"Hey Arnold! The Movie," from Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies, is rated PG for some thematic elements. It was produced by Craig Bartlett and Albie Hecht, written by Bartlett and Steve Viksten, and directed by Tuck Tucker. Two stars (out of four).