It’s been almost 15 years since the hit Nickelodeon cartoon Hey Arnold went off the air. As fans of the show will remember, the series ended with Arnold finding out the whereabouts of his estranged parents, but never attempting to reunite with them. A movie to conclude the series was planned, but the show was cancelled and the movie was shelved, until now. The cast and crew of Hey Arnold have reunited to give fans of the show the movie that they have all waited for: “Hey Arnold: The Jungle Movie.”
At this year’s New York Comic Con, Young Entertainment Mag sat down with cast members of the show and new movie to discuss the legacy of Hey Arnold and what fans can expect from the new movie. Below is our interview with Lane Toran [original voice of Arnold, seasons 1&2, voice of Che in “The Jungle Movie”], Olivia Hack [voice of Rhonda], and Anndi McAfee [voice of Phoebe].
Young Entertainment Mag: What was it like being back in the Hey Arnold universe?
Lane Toran: Being around Craig [Bartlett, creator of Hey Arnold] again was awesome. For me, it’s been about 20 years since I’ve been in the studio with him. He’s like family, so it’s like a big family reunion.
Anndi McAfee: It was so fun to finally be able to do an actual movie as Phoebe. Because we’ve fooled around a couple times doing a few videos as our characters over the years, using our character voices to say hi to fans and whatnot. Once you get back into that muscle memory and once you get back into the character and you physically become the character again because you have a story, it feels so good!
Olivia Hack: It’s so cool to be around Craig again. He is the heart and soul of Hey Arnold and he’s why the show has the magic that it has. It was a little bit of pressure to go back because we had to re-audition for our parts to make sure that our voices hadn’t changed. So to get that call that we passed the test, that was great. It was a magical experience. And to all be back together again is great. All of us really haven’t been together since we were kids. It’s like a big reunion.
Anndi: It’s like a different kind of magic now because we’re not just together working, we’re together celebrating! We’re celebrating the years that we never know how popular this show was for so many people. Now we get to experience it together, and that’s so different than when we were recording as kids. So it’s a whole different kind of experience. I know how lucky we are to be able to be together now in this way.
YEM: Have the fans recognized you over the years? Do you still get approached by Hey Arnold fans?
Olivia: They don’t recognize our voices much because when we originally did the show, there was no Internet. So you didn’t get any fan feedback. We knew it was popular because it was on TV, but we had no idea to what extent. So now it’s cool to se all the love now like memes and Instagram and Facebook and ‘Save the Jungle Movie’ groups. It was really the fans that were able to bring this back. That’s the coolest part that now we get to interact with fans, whereas we never got to do that before.
Anndi: People definitely don’t recognize my voice because Phoebe was always a character that sounded different than my own kid voice. But I have to admit that one of the best parts about coming back and doing this in this day and age of social media is that I have one Hey Arnold shirt. And I kind of like to wear it because I never got to have that feedback. And everybody recognizes it! And people come up to me as say ‘Oh I love your shirt! I love Hey Arnold!’ Sometimes I’ll just say ‘Oh that’s great! What do you love about it?’ And I’ll engage in conversation with them. But when I tell them that I’m in it and that I’m Phoebe, they don’t know what to do! I love that I get to have that experience with them now. And I’m getting a little bit more comfortable with it because I never really believed…it didn’t feel real to me that we were as popular as people said we were. So I love having that fan interaction.
Lane: In the 90s, we did one live commercial for Nickelodeon where people could see our faces. So back then people would kind of recognize me from that. But it’s been years and years and years since then. I think the last couple of years, because of interviews that were done online, people will come up to me.
YEM: Did you work with each other in the studio?
Lane: Back then in the 90s we got to work together in a big room to fed off each other’s energy. In this movie, I got to work with Jamil [Walker Smith, voice of Gerald] when we recorded. But for the most part, I think everyone was kind of isolated.
Anndi: I hadn’t seen Lane until the day of San Diego Comic Con. I recorded by myself for the movie. I was in New York at the time so I didn’t even get to see anybody face to face. Not even Craig. I did everything over the phone. But Olivia and I got to pick up some of the lines together with the new kids so we finally got to hear the new cast!
Lane: The new kids are so good.
Anndi: It was just like being back in the room in the 90s.
Olivia: We had so much fun, great energy, the new kids are spot on.
YEM: Were the new kids familiar with the show?
Lane: You know, it’s funny, I don’t think they were.
Anndi: They’re just kids!
Lane: They’re really young.
Anndi: I think some of them watched it when they got the part.
Lane: Oh no, they did their research for sure. They binged watched it.
YEM: Did you have any input on your characters and what they would be like in this new movie?
Olivia: As actor we put all our trust in Craig, and he really is a genius. We knew he were serve the characters well.
YEM: Do you have a favorite episode from your run on the show?
Lane: I have a couple. I think ‘Downtown as Fruits’ because that was the first one we did. I love that one. Of course the Christmas episode.
Olivia: That’s my favorite one. The Christmas episode is pretty special and pretty unique.
Lane: It’s heavy.
Olivia: You kind of can’t believe that it’s children’s programming. Not only that, but it’s a Christmas episode! Craig really went for it, and that’s really awesome.
Anndi: It almost didn’t get made actually. They really had to fight for that. The studio wasn’t sold on it. They thought ‘what kid would want to watch an episode about the Vietnam war?’
Olivia: But we knew we had to do it.
Anndi: I think for me, performance wise, my favorite episodes were the ones with moments between Helga and Phoebe where you got to see that Helga really cares about her. Every though she can be terrible to her most of the time, she is there for Phoebe when anybody else makes her feel less than, Helga will be there to tell her she’s the smartest or she’s the best. I liked those episodes. Francesca [Smith, voice of Helga] and I pretty much grew up together. We were on another series together. It was great being able to preform that friendship. That was so special to me.
YEM: Will there be Helga and Phoebe moments in the movie?
Anndi: We’ll always have Helga and Phoebe moments! She’s always there to back her up, so there will be some moments.
YEM: Since the series ended in 2004, the fans really wanted to see this movie for a long time.
Olivia: Craig had wanted to make this movie forever and had it brewing in his head for many years. Since he had so much time to really perfect it, it’s brilliant.
YEM: Did you make up backstories in your head for what your characters had been doing since the series ended?
Anndi: I honestly had no idea what to expect. Olivia’s been talking about this, about how you can get so nervous. It’s been all this time, we know there’s a lot of fan expectations, they had years to imagine what’s going to happen in this movie. You open the script and you’re like, ‘Okay, this is big. Bring it on.’
Olivia: And it’s absolutely perfect. I finished the last page and I just went ‘Wow.’ As actors, we’re always involved in projects where we say ‘Oh, it’s great,’ but this really is great because we have the original composers, the original editors, the original writers, Craig helming the whole thing, a lot of the original actors. It really had that heart and soul and it feels authentically “Hey Arnold.”
Anndi: And some of the new editions behind the scenes like the writers and directors, they are fans of the show. So they’re infusing all of that love that they had for the show as audience members into this as well. So it’s the perfect mix.
YEM: Can you tease us a little something from the movie that fans can look forward to?
Lane: A lot of their questions will be answered.
Anndi: Just the fact that the characters they love we’ll probably see. Just a lot of resolution and room for new stories as well.
“Hey Arnold: The Jungle Movie” airs Friday at 7pm on Nickelodeon, and reruns of “Hey Arnold” can be seen on iTunes and Teennick’s The Splat nightly line-up.