Craig Bartlett, known for creating one of my son's favourite TV show growing up and the wonderful Craig has been grateful for taking his time and to talk to him about the show and it's bright future ahead.
How was Arnold created, where did it all begin?
I first created Arnold in 1988 on clay whilst working on Pee Wee's Playhouse, I created a short film called Arnold Escapes Church which in it, he is in church and he just daydreams out all sorts of things. He was sorta like me when I was younger, I was sort of like a daydreamer myself, so I made 2 more shorts, one of them was for Sesame Street and that was when I was working on the first season of Rugrats at Klasky Csupo, which really helped me get into TV animation.
How was the series like when you pitched the show to Nick?
In fall 1993 me and a couple of writers from Rugrats; Steve Viksten, Paul Germain and Jose Ansolobehere were in the office of Marry Harrington who was the exec of animation at the time, pitching new shows to her and nothing came out of it, until I accidently showed a reel of my Arnold shorts and she was impressed and I showed her the Arnold comics I did for Matt Groening on the Simpsons, who in fact is my brother in law.
So then Mary wanted to see more Arnold stuff and I said to her that was all I had and then over the next couple of months the told me to create a pitch for a possible new series which became Hey Arnold, so I worked on the storyline and decided to create Arnold more like a down to earth kid and that he lived in a run down urban city with all his friends and I made the pilot in spring in 94 and in January of 95 Nick approved the show and we were right in production.
Why did you decide to use real kids rather than adults?
Good question. I kinda wanted the show to be emotionally realistic and an all of the other shows that were on tv like Doug and Rugrats were using adults to play kid characters and the fact that I wanted the show to be realistic and very relatable, I decided to cast real kids and that's part of what made the show good.
According to IMDB there were different people that played Arnold?
Yeah, the problem that you have when using kids is that when they go through puberty they're voices change and that's what hapenned to Arnold, we had JD Daniels who voice him in the pilot, but when we started the series in 95, his voice changed so we used Toran Caudell but by the end of the first season his voice changed so we had Phillip Van Dyke to voice him and last for two seasons, from 1996 to 98 and then his voice had changed and we had Spencer Klein to voice him in episodes 61 to 100 including movie which is about two seasons his voice was changing even into the fifth season in the movie we had to digitally pitch his voice and a year after we recorded for the movie, we produced three more episodes and once again Arnold was replaced with Alex D Linz.
How did you come up with the Helga character?
Well, I kinda felt we needed a bully on the show, so I made Helga, who actually was a nameless character in the original Arnold claymation shorts but when I came to do the series I decided to make her a bully who bullied Arnold but me Joe and Steve were in my house thinking on why she bullied him, she needed to have a reason otherwise she would be a very one dimensional character, my wife Lisa comes in and said to us ''what if it was because she loved him'' at that moment I knew what the Helga character was going to be like, so when I first pitched the show at the animation execs in New York who were all women at the time and they thought the Helga character was really funny.
So by the time we got to do the first season I decided that her home life was to be miserable because I wanted the audience to sympathize with and her and to make them relate to her pretty well and that that is one of the other things that made the show so well.
How did you come up with the music in the show?
I was a big fan of the old Charlie Brown specials that aired on tv in the 1960s it has a great blue melody which I loved and because of that I decided to take on the inspiration of the Peanuts in Hey Arnold including the music and a lot of the credit has to go to Jim Lang who I met working at Bob Rogers and Jim is an amazing musician and his favourite type of music is jazz and that's what I wanted the music in Arnold to be like.
What ever happened to Arnold's Parents
Well it's a long story. Basically like I said earlier I wanted Arnold to live with his grandparents, because I'm a fan of orphans, and when I pitched the show to Nick I was really blunt to them saying that his parents were in Africa filming documentaries and they send postcards to him every now and then.
But when we went into the series we realized that not one postcard has been sent to Arnold and by that time many children were writing letters sending fan mail to us saying ''where's Arnold's parents'' and by the time we are at our third season in 97 we realized that his parents had to have been lost, so we made the parents day special to explain about the whereabouts and dissaperance of Arnold's parents and it was a real touching emotional episode, I played his dad Miles and Antionette Stella a writer who played his mom who was also called Stella.
Originally there was to be a movie where Arnold was to find the whereabouts of his parents in the jungle of San Lorenzo but because the first movie didn't do well in the box office the film was cancelled.
Does Arnold know about Helga's secret what are his motives?
Well Arnold being a nice quiet guy is well I guess very mute to whenever Helga bullies him likely becuase she's been doing it for years and he's use to it and despite her mean exterior, Arnold being optimistic believes that deep down Helga is a nice guy and when we went further into the series we wanted to take Helga's relationship with Arnold to the next level and by that time we wanted them to be soul mates, because they went through so much togrhtner especially in the Thanksgiving episode.
So by the time we made the the movie which was supposed to be for tv the Nick execs asked what was the biggest thing of the movie and what kids was wanting to see, and I said that it was Helga's secret to Arnold, so a large part of the movie is devoted to the build up of Helga's confession to Arnold and when she confessed to him he was kind of shocked becuase boys ath that age don't really know much about love and the fact that Helga was always bullying him makes him kind of shocked.
After the confession we knew that the show had to return to it's status quo, so Arnold kinda dodges out and both Arnold and Helga agree to deny any of the events of the confession happening, but really Arnold by that time knows that Helga loves him and he's sort of having thoughts to her confession and how he feels about it and by the time we wrote April Fool's Day, it takes place after the movie and he knows Helga's secret lov e for him, so they act like it never happened, but there's a scene in the dance hall here Arnold does a tango sequence, he's actually dancing with Helha and flirting with her becuause he's developed feeling for her but like Helga is too afraid to tell.
Arnold would have told Helga about his feelings for her in the movie that nver got produced called The Jungle Movie and he was going to offer Helga a kiss in return and Gerald was going to interrupt them and caught them in the act, Arnold would have come up with a lame excuse and Gerald would have said ''whatever you say Arnold'' and went off, so that's were Arnold and Helga would have went.
What happens to Arnold and Helga after The Jungle Movie?
Originally there was going to be a series which I pitched to Nick 15 years ago focusing on Helga and her and Arnold would have been a item prior to the events, but Arnold moved away to live in San Lorenzo with his parents I believe and they would have gotten back together in the finale and they were both meant for each other, they get married have kids and life and life a happy life.
What are your current projects right now?
I'm currently working at PBS for Dinosaur Train which is currently in post production for it's fourth season and it might actually be it's final because I'm also working on a new show called Ready Jet Go! also for PBS which follows a two boys named Sean and Sydney as they befriend new kid Jet Propulsion, whose family happens to be aliens. They team up to explore the solar system and the effects it has on the science of the planet.
I'm working been back at Nick working on a new series created by one of the storyboarders who working on Arnold called Chris Savino, his show is called The Loud House that follows a boy named Lincoln and his 11 sisters and it's kinda like Hey Arnold but more wilder and cartoonier. I'm also working on another show called Sky Rat that follows a rat named Lucio who gets amnesia and is very aspired to fly like a pigeon after he is rescued by them, I'm applying a lot of what I did to Hey Arnold and put it into Sky Rat, were working on a TV movie now, we've done the voice recording, finished the scripts and now working on storyboards, when we show the animatics to Nick it will be decided on whether this movie will pass or not and if the movie does really well they could order it to be a half hour series with many as 26 episodes, but right now it's still a bit early in the game to tell.
And now here's the good bit, the campaign of the petiton of many Hey Arnold fans wanting the Jungle Movie to come out or wanting the show to come back with new episodes have given a huge impact on Nick and them being very interesting for more Hey Arnold stuff and for about a year and a half we've been in talks and been developing a possible reboot series for Hey Arnold and it;s been going really great, were working on the storylines and settings for the possible reboot series and been meeting up with some old Arnold actors and I can say this first, it is very likely that the show will return to Nickelodeon in the near future, but I don't know when because I'm wrking on a lot of projects right now and I want to get them out of the way before I can do anything further with Arnold, but I can gladly say that I'm having a healthy relationship with Nick and look for more Arnold stuff in the near future.
Just one more thing, is the Nicktoons Avengers Movie happening?
No, that's just a whole load of garbage, I don't know who came up with that but, but I can tell you that there is no Nicktoons crossover movie in the works at this time but I can tell you that Arlene and Gabor are at Nick studios discussing with the Nick execs about a possible revival of Rugrats.
Well thank you for this lovely interview Craig
Thanks it was an honor to be here.