On October 7th, 1996, Nickelodeon premiered its first episode of Craig Bartlett's Hey Arnold! including the lovable episodes "Downtown As Fruits" and "Eugene's Bike."
This year, we celebrate Arnold's 20th anniversary of entering our childhood memories with wonderfully inspiring moments of tree saving, boat racing, stoop escaping, used gum kissing, and diary rescuing amusements.
As children's shows come and go, Hey Arnold! is a unique staple that has managed to make a significant impact among millennials. Within the past 20 years (and in large part thanks to the internet) there have been endless accounts of fan-art, fan-fiction, costumes, cosplay, "retro" shirts, and even live-action recreations of favorite episodes.
1996's "Stoop Kid" (Live Action)
Other than past fan-made spin-offs, and the newest coming installment to the famous The Journal TV movie, The Jungle Movie (out next year), Hey Arnold! is poignant for more than nostalgic reasons. It is a smart, story-driven series that has taught us to be decent, empathetic grown-ups (yes, I just used the word "grown-ups") whether we know it or not. This singularly exceptional series expressed the following basic human knowledge all kids of the future should evoke as well.
1. Don't Change Yourself To Fit In
As Helga demonstrated in Season 1 Episode 4, "Helga's Makeover," you shouldn't alter your appearance or change your point of view just to fit into the "main" crowd. Not all birds who flock may be flying in the right direction.
2. Stand Up For What/Who You Believe In, Even If You Stand Alone
Arnold, despite being informed by his friends that he's a weird guy, had faith that Pigeon Man could help his bird get better and he wasn't afraid to meet him after listening to the half-bird/half-man monster stories. He also helped Stoop Kid leave his stoop when everyone stood by fearing him and poking fun.
3. No Matter How Smart You Are, You Can't Outsmart Heartbreak
Phoebe is portrayed as the smartest character of the Hey Arnold! crew, yet she also fell for the fake words, pretty face, and deceitful smile. That song stays in your head though: "I saw your face, and WOW!" Helga's older sister, Olga, fell the same way too and almost married the guy. Yikes!
4. Being Famous Isn't Everything
Even Mr. Hyunh, after all his over-night success and possible future CMA Award, preferred "The Simple Things," and put up his crowned cowboy, country singing hat for the good old fashioned simple life.
5. Appreciate Your Family, No Matter How Weird Or Different
Family (and even those friends who might as well be) will always have your back and stay strong when you're not 100 percent able to. No matter how big, small, far away, or annoyingly close, appreciate all they do and mean to you. They love you.
6. Compliments Go A Long Way
You never know how badly someone's day might be going, and you know the feeling of having one yourself. A compliment, a smile, or just a friendly gesture can mean the world to someone. Be kind and be courteous.
7. Being Responsible Isn't Easy, But Worth It
Mr. Hyunh demonstrated incredible responsibility as a parent giving up being with his daughter so she could be safe with a better life. Gerald learned what responsibility was after he "moved out" to Arnold's boarding house and started a Wacko Watches business. He understood the price of living, the world of cost and demand, and is a better man for it.
8. If You Like-Like Someone, Tell Them
One of the biggest questions throughout the series was "Will Helga ever tell Arnold how she feels?" Well, whether the response is negative or positive, in life it's always a safe bet to get it off your chest and know the answer, or else what's the point of living and feeling?
9. People Are Different, And That's OK
There are many people in this world; many religions, races, television shows, movies, music, etc. You're bound to find both clashes and common ground. It's important to understand we're all unique, but should be respected equally.
10. It's Never Too Late To Learn A New Skill
Even Oscar — a grown, married man — finally learned to read and made his way all the way home back to the boarding house on his very own. He even picked up a stray cat along the way.
11. Some Role Models Aren't Good For You
The way mass media portrays certain people, it isn't difficult to get swept up by a bad character and think it's OK. Always remember to trust your gut and your conscience, and remember who you really are.
12. It's OK To Be Sensitive
In a world full of harsh characters and difficult situations it's almost a second, third, or even fourth job trying not to be jaded or hardened emotionally. As Beau Taplin wrote, "Softness is not weakness. It takes courage to stay delicate in a world this cruel."
13. You Can't Believe Everything You Read
As Helga's newspaper, The Pataki Press, taught us, it's very easy to read and believe, but it's difficult to research and discern. The right paths aren't always the easiest. Always check your sources, peruse articles thoroughly, and listen carefully. There are too many rumors that seem too good to be true.
14. Teamwork Gets You Places
Whether it's saving the neighborhood tree (Mighty Pete, in case you were wondering) or creating the world's largest pizza puff and getting in the Guinness Book of World Records, working together can accomplish wonders. Unity is a collaborative strength and guide.
15. Don't Change Yourself For A Guy/Girl
It doesn't matter how amazing those 6th grade girls are, or how big your crush is on — your teacher? Anyway, it's not great to fake it into a relationship. Arnold and Gerald quickly found out it wasn't their cool "new" '70s clothes that got them in the game, or Arnold's newfound Spanish sexiness — it was just them being them. Same goes for Helga pretending to be Arnold's French pen-pal. Great hairstyle though.
16. Own Your Image
We all remember Rhonda's difficult phase when she was prescribed glasses for the first time. But even after going through a rough transition, she accepted who she was, respected the people she once ridiculed, and came out on top with a very stylish new pair of eye-wear.
17. Marriage Can Be Difficult
If Helga's "smoothie" drinking mom didn't give you something to wonder about, Suzie and Oskar in Arnold's boarding house are a great example of the many difficulties and rewards that can come in a marriage.
18. Every Family Has Their Issues
Whether it's Mr. Simmons's dysfunctional family or Helga's forgetful parents, it's important we all understand that everyone comes from different backgrounds with individual issues that we are all working on and healing from. Never judge a book by its cover, or a Thanksgiving dinner school play by its script.
19. Goodbyes Are Hard
We've said bye to Pigeon Man, Grandpa (sort of), and of course, Arnold's parents (through flashbacks). If an animated series was able to make kids cry, imagine goodbyes in real life. They happen, and we can't let them break us.
20. Always Look On The Bright Side
It's easy to get down sometimes. Life is made to throw punches. It's the living's job to keep fighting back. Your mood and perspective can make those punches turn around (like when Harold cries for his mommy). Arnold's staple as a character was to always find a way to right a wrong, fix a fault, and look on the positive side of any, if not EVERY situation. Most importantly: DON'T GIVE UP!
Happy 20th Anniversary, Arnold!
Let's round out the nostalgic trip back into childhood with the jazzy, up-tempo theme song and credits one last time:
What life lesson did Hey Arnold! teach you?