How Hey Arnold Makes Cartoon City Living Look Realistic

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Nickelodeon)

As any ’90s cartoon fan can attest to, Nickelodeon’s beloved football-head hero, Arnold, lived an idealized, but pretty realistic urban life. So how exactly did the show get city living so right? In an interview with City Lab, series creator Craig Bartlett discuss the making of Arnold’s idyllic urban environment.

The landscape of the show was largely inspired by Seattle, where Bartlett grew up, and Portland where he attended art school, with pieces of Brooklyn and Chicago. Bartlett is bringing the city back for Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie this month, and like many neighborhoods in the cities that inspired the show, Arnold’s hood is showing signs of early gentrification.

The interview provides some insight into how Bartlett built the world Arnold and his friends populate:

CL: Did you take any effort to study architecture to pick what went into the show?

CB: Yeah. Absolutely. When I started season one, I actually made a trip back to Seattle, Portland, and Tacoma. I went around and shot black-and-white pictures of building details—you know, cool window treatments, door treatments, fire escapes, rooftops. And I called it “Hey Arnold’s Little Book of Grunge.” It was just a little Xerox book that I made for all the artists for the show. I said, “Let this be your starting-off point.”

CL: So many of the people in Hey Arnold! are characters that could only exist in a city. Did you think about how the city shaped characters?

CB: Yeah, a lot of those we’d considered the urban legends, like Stoop Kid, Pigeon Man, Sewer King. That became a genre of story that we’d go back to. We made sure every season had a couple of those. It was fun in every way because it meant there would be an urban adventure.

Head on over to CityLab for the full interview.

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