October 7, 2016


'Hey Arnold!' Turns 20: Writer Michelle Lamoreaux Reflects on the Show's 'Magical Moment'

Nickelodeon/Craig Bartlett
Nickelodeon/Craig Bartlett

Hey Arnold!, one of Nickelodeon's most beloved shows, celebrates its 20th anniversary today (Oct. 7). The animated series brought us relatable characters like Helga, Gerald, Eugene, Phoebe, and—of course—the way-too-cool Football Head. Throughout its five seasons (and one movie), Hey Arnold! gave us blissfully fun moments that were tied together with valuable lessons.

In honor of its anniversary, Fuse spoke to Michelle Lamoreaux, who started out as show creator Craig Bartlett's assistant. She then moved on to be the writer and producer from seasons three through five. Read on as Michelle, who is currently the story editor on Nick Jr.'s Shimmer and Shine, reflects on the legacy of Hey Arnold!

FUSE: How do you think Hey Arnold! impacted other animated shows throughout the years?
Michelle Lamoreaux: Hey Arnold! was my first job in animation and I’ve been working in animation for 20 years for a ton of shows. I have to say that it is such a unique show. Looking back there was such an emotional realness to the show that you just don’t see in other shows. It’s kind of an amazing moment in time. There were these very, very flawed characters who lived in this world, and they were just allowed to make mistakes and do crazy things. But it always got to a happy place in the end.

That’s what I loved about it. It was of course a kids’ show, but it dealt with so many adult issues like poverty and depression. I think that’s what made it resonate so well.
We, the people who worked on the show, laugh because we often hear that there were themes of disappointment! Whenever I meet people who are fans of the show, they identify with specific characters so strongly. Like, "I’m a Helga!" Or "I’m an Arnold!" My family wasn’t traditional growing up, and showing Arnold in this very adult world, I think a lot of kids identified with that. Not everybody had the traditional happy upbringing, and Arnold was a great kid in leading that.

So, who was your favorite character?
I’m a not-so-secret Rhonda fan. I just think she’s so sassy and every time there was a Rhonda story I made sure I was involved. I also love Olga. But at the end of the day, it’s Helga all the way.

I loved Helga, but I always had this affinity for Stoop Kid. He was very underrated!
Aww, poor Stoop Kid! Will he ever get off his stoop? We’ll see. 

Do you have any favorite episodes or moments from the show that stuck with you throughout the years?
I loved the episodes that are musicals and performance-based. My all-time favorite episode is "School Play." I just love Helga obsessively bumping off the other Juliets so she had to kiss Arnold. It played out really funny and it’s just so her. I also like "Mr. Hyunh Goes Country" and "Eugene, Eugene!" The music is just so fun in those. And "Arnold’s Thanksgiving" is just one of the best episodes. It’s so deep and so real. You get to see Arnold’s and Helga’s families, which are not ideal. And of course they find the spirit of Thanksgiving. It’s such a lovely and well-done episode. I still see people talking about the show on social media and in conversation. 

Did you think Hey Arnold! was going to become as big as it did?
No, during the process I had no sense of that at all. I sensed that being part of the production was very special. Everyone was very close and we were like family. It was a magical project to be a part of. Did I think it was going to be a huge popular thing? No, but I can understand why it was. When people are working together on something they love so much, it really shows and stands the test of time. I think that has a lot to do with it. 

And are you working on Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie by chance? 
A little, but not much. I worked on helping to break the story of the movie. But I have to stay hush-hush on that! We’ll see what happens.

Arnold was grunge and he didn’t even know it!

Michelle Lamoreaux

I think one of the big mysteries about the show is what really happened with Arnold’s parents. Do you have any theories about that?
Well we know from ‘The Journal’ that they went off but I don’t know if we’ll ever find out what happened to them. But I don’t think it’s necessary, because the important thing is that—whether he has his parents or not—they live inside Arnold. He is who he is because of them. So I think that’s the important takeaway.

Did it ever bother you guys that people always thought Arnold was wearing a kilt? It clearly was a flannel!
It’s hysterical. He was grunge and he didn’t even know it.

One of my favorite parts of the show is his bedroom, and I remember putting glowing stars on my ceiling to replicate it.
That’s so cute! I was jealous of the idea of having big glass roof, I always thought that would be super cool.

Arnold and Helga’s relationship was a main storyline throughout the series. Did you think they were meant for each other?
I don’t know if they’re meant to be together romantically, but they’re meant to be in each other’s lives for sure. Arnold brings out the best in Helga.

Another funny thing about the show was Miriam and those smoothies…
I would say that Miriam was just a little checked out.

As the movie gets closer, is there anything that you would like to see?
I don’t know about storylines, but I love Grandpa Phil and Big Bob so much. I think it would be cool to see those two team up, that would be awesome.

Looking back at your experience working on Hey Arnold!, what would you say is your biggest takeaway?
Out of my entire working life, it was the single most enjoyable experience I’ve ever had. I think the show was run so well and the people on it cared about it so much. So far nothing in my work life has even remotely compared to it. There’s so much to be said about when people love something, and it really shows. I’m always trying to capture that, but I think it was just a magical moment.

Listen to an episode of Fuse's Back of the Class podcast where the guys dive into classic '90s TV shows: