Hey Arnold: Nickelodeon; Bartlett: M. Brown/Getty Images

The wait is over kids! After 15 years of anticipation, the Hey Arnold: The Jungle Movie will finally premiere this Friday, Nov. 24. The movie picks up a year after where we left Arnold and his friends during the series finale, as he continues his quest to find out the truth about his parents. But before then, Fuse spoke with series creator Craig Bartlett again, along with cast members Francesca Marie Smith (Helga) and Anndi McAfee (Phoebe) about their return to the classic franchise. 

Read on for our fun chat with Bartlett and the voice actresses that also includes a tidbit about the possibility of a sixth season, as well as enjoying a new clip from the upcoming movie!

FUSE: It was incredible to witness the first movie trailer premiere at New York Comic Con! How did you all feel about the reactions from the diehard fans?
Francesca: Their reactions? What about our reactions? [laughs] Anndi and I just started crying!
Anndi: It was very emotional, and especially being up there stage and feeling those reverberations of the sound and music from Jim Lang really just made it so impactful.
Craig: We were mixing and color correcting [the trailer] that week before we left for San Diego. But I remember it was that thing like “show me, don’t show me.” This time around, no one had seen it except for me. So it was funny to be in that theater with what 2,000 people and the cast.
Anndi: Yeah I loved that none of us had seen it.
Francesca: And I think that’s a really nice microcosm of what this whole experience has been about. It’s been in partnership with the fan community more than anything else I’ve ever done. So being able to celebrate right along with them…that’s been sort of the overarching narrative of this process. But to have it happen in the room
Anndi: Watching that trailer brought back so many memories!

Craig: I know! And you get little snapshots like Phoebe making that rig out of a hanger. There’s so many puzzles to be solved. I thought that was really cool. And there was something theatrical about it too—what a space that was.
Francesca: And I really loved that you [Craig] said, “Can we just watch it again?
Anndi: I think it was that moment where I was overwhelmed by the reaction of the audience. It really hit me.
Craig: You know why I asked them to run it again? A couple things: When it first started, those first few seconds of Arnold saying “Mom…dad?” and also the punchline where Helga goes “Arnold! Yeah we get it!” The crowd was too busy cheering when the title came up. They just went nuts! So they couldn’t hear anything for about ten seconds. So I wanted to play it again just so they could hear everything.
Anndi: I think in that moment we were all ten years old together again.
Craig: Even me!

This one is for Francesca and Anndi. You both are reprising your roles as Helga and Phoebe. But hard for the actors to reprise your characters as your voices may have changed as you’ve gotten older?
Francesca: For me, not at all. I admit I was a little worried about it just because I came in to do the audition just to make sure it would still work and that I still had the spirit of Helga. When we started I was so young, so it did sound different. But for me, I’ve always said to people that Helga’s voice is my own voice. She just goes to emotional extremes that I usually don’t. And what that means is that the thing that makes Helga is the attitude, the personality, the emotion. So that was all still there! It was like riding a bike. We’ve been talking about it through this process. It was magical how comfortable it felt and how rewarding it felt to get back into that character.
Craig: And we knew the script was going to call for all the things they knew how to do. It was very meta and checked all the boxes. Helga was going to do several monologues and solve a bunch of problems. So there was a lot of cool meta stuff for the characters where they could just get right back into it.
Anndi: And it all felt organic! It wasn’t very contrived or felt like, “Ah this was 20 years ago.” It felt exactly the right mix of old and fresh.” I think there’s a difference with playing around with that voice and there’s literally been two times I’ve done Phoebe’s voice since the show ended. And those were for fun reasons. But there’s a difference between doing a character for fun and doing it in a script where you are that character now. It wasn’t a shock to the system, but it was a bit of like “Oh, I’m doing this now! I’m Phoebe again!”

How do you think the friendship between Helga and Phoebe has grown from the beginning of the series up until this Jungle movie?
Anndi: Throughout the series, we find out that Phoebe knows Helga’s biggest secret. But she keeps it right there close to her heart. I do think something changes in their relationship where Phoebe imagines the perfect outcome for Helga and Arnold’s relationship, just holding hands in the sunset. There’s something really special in that friendship where I think they know each other so well so they accept each other for who they are. I mean they have their moments where Helga gets a little too forceful or a little mean and takes advantage of her. But she always returns back to that friendship. And I think it’s because they accept each other and balance each other out. So I think that’s the biggest change for them. There’s an acknowledgement and acceptance, and I think that’s what everyone wants in a friendship.
Craig: There’s a great moment in the Jungle Movie where you can see Phoebe knows exactly what’s going on with them. I knew it was going to be about Arnold and Gerald’s friendship, Helga and Phoebe’s friendship, Arnold and Helga, Gerald and Phoebe…I wanted all of those to be explored and reinforced. We just took it where we left off and kept going. It would be terrible if the series ended any of their friendships. It’s who they are. If anything they’re stronger than ever.

“It was left hanging 13 years ago and yet at the end of the story they were starting the first day of 6th grade. So if that isn’t an invitation to do a Season 6, I don’t know what is.”
-Craig Bartlett

We’re all excited to see all the old characters return but the trailer teased a few new ones. Who is your favorite new addition to the movie?
Craig: That was so great when Lane Toran [he voiced Arnold in season 1 and is returning to play Che] showed up in the exact outfit his character wears in the movie! And now Abner, Arnold’s pig, has a huge role and he’s really put on weight. Somehow fattening up Abner was really fun.
Francesca: I think it’s more about revisting characters that have been teased and getting to know them better.
Craig: And even though I don’t want to reveal too much, we finally get to meet La Sombra the villain and the green-eyed people who’s never been seen before. Once they get in the jungle, there’s a ton of new characters introduced. I can’t wait to see the reaction.

We’ve been waiting for The Jungle Movie for so many years, but would you say this is the final chapter in Arnold’s story? Can you see a reboot in the future?
Craig: That’s a great question! We want it to be a completely satisfying closure that everyone has wanted all these years. It was left hanging 13 years ago and yet at the end of the story they were starting the first day of 6th grade. So if that isn’t an invitation to do a Season 6, I don’t know what is. So if the movie does really well, so please ask all 6 to 11 year olds to tune in, then maybe we’ll reboot the series and do another season!
Anndi: I love that there’s a satisfying end for all the kids who are now adults. But there’s a possibility that the new generation can experience a new series that’s for them.

My final question is for Francesca. Were you ever frustrated about Helga not blatantly telling Arnold how she felt all these years?
Francesca: I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that before and I don’t think I’ve ever thought about it. So give me a second here! I can’t recall a sense of frustration about her not telling him. I think in some ways for me, Helga’s pain or the engine that gave her all those soliloquies was not necessarily about just telling him. I think she was grappling with something deeper that she kind of had to work through on her own. Whether it was okay to feel this way or whether it was valid. I don’t want to psychoanalyze her and I don’t think that I could. [laughs] But I’m not really sure I feel it was about that. Arnold was almost her inner guide that she could channel her own thoughts and passion towards. But like you said Craig, it was more about her.
Craig: It was so funny because when we wrote the first one, Hey Arnold!: The Movie, we were dying to have her tell. I remember [writer] Steve Vicksen and I wrote that confession scene that happens on the rooftop. I called Francesca and read it to her over the phone because I couldn’t wait to have her know how the scene went.
Francesca: I definitely remember that! And especially when you’re that age, at least I didn’t have that outside perspective of “Why isn’t Helga doing this?” I felt so much like I was embodying that character where I felt I was having these experiences. I think now with time and age I have that. But so many things, like the relationship with her family—and her mom in particular—it didn’t faze me. It was her reality.

Look out for the Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie debut on Nov. 24 at 7p.m. EST on Nickelodeon. And now, Listen to an episode of Fuse's Besterday podcast that celebrates the iconic series for its 20th anniversary: