Evil capitalists, dirty political tricks, police riots, civil disobedience, sabotage using explosives and jailbreaks. This sounds like another summer thriller, doesn’t it? Actually, these are all elements of Nickelodeon and Paramount Pictures’ latest animated film, Hey Arnold! – The Movie based on the Nickelodeon animated series created by Craig Bartlett. Originally intended to be the final two-hour episode of the series, it was decided to release Hey Arnold! as a theatrical feature.

The plot of the film centers on the efforts of the hero, Arnold, and his best friend Gerald, to stop the powerful developer Scheck from razing their neighborhood to build a huge super-mall. At first it seems impossible to stop the plans, until Arnold learns from his grandfather that the street was once the scene of a battle between the residents and the British. Because of that, the area had been declared a historical area and supposedly safe from developers.

Of course, we all know that when capitalists want something, almost nothing can stop their plans – not the law, not pleas from the citizenry – nothing! That is, until Arnold steps in to save his neighborhood!

Throughout the movie there are funny takes on the films Mission Impossible, Men In Black and Speed. Helga, the tough girl who secretly loves Arnold, eventually helps Arnold thwart Scheck under the guise of “Deep Voice” – something that will require an explanation to the younger set.

It is amusing that the film is being savaged critically. After reading several major reviews in the national press, I realized that the film was being trashed for several reasons that seem unfair to the efforts of the filmmakers. We are to believe it is bad because it doesn’t have the “Disney” look or because it seems like a big episode of the TV show.

Granted, I would have liked a little more effort made to bump up the animation quality, since the film was going to be on the big screen. It definitely looks like a television cartoon. I think that can be overlooked since it isn’t unpleasant to watch and the story’s momentum moves you along.

I believe that the dislike of the film has more to do with its underlying politics. The theatrical preview for Hey Arnold! even announced, “ They’ve got 48 hours to take on the system and cut the corporate big shot down to size.” Could phrases like that have caused outrage in the corporate pressrooms?

There is a touching scene where several characters lament the loss of their history once all of their homes and little shops are gone. There is not much history to be had in the refrigerated, mirrored and neon thoroughfares of America’s shopping malls, but, as voiced by Helga’s dad, Big Bob Pataki, “We’re going to be rich. What’s more important than that?”

It is refreshing to see a film for children that has a social consciousness and isn’t afraid to display the fact. It is also great to see that the producers haven’t heavily merchandised the characters. I practically had to bulldoze my way through the merchandise for the newest Disney release to get to the theater to see Hey Arnold!

Another good note is no product placement in the film. You can feel safe knowing that you aren’t spending money to view a 75-minute commercial. If your kids are politically savvy or Arnold fans, definitely send them to the cinema to support this film. Sadly, it probably won’t be on the big screen for long but it will make an excellent addition to your video library when it becomes available.

The author can be reached at marxist_ink@hotmail.com