In this Capraesque tale of little guys challenging the evil bigwig, football-craniumed Arnold and his cool dude pal Gerald find that their inner-city neighborhood is in the shadow of the wrecker's ball when a greedy industrialist targets it for transformation into yet another shopping mall. Can grit, ingenuity and secret-agent-style tactics (or, as it used to be called in the good old days, breaking and entering) win the day? Well, what do you think? Hint: Arnold's not an eternal optimist for no reason.
Along the journey to the inevitable conclusion, the script has an adequate amount of suspense, little false sentiment, a few good jokes--especially some that pay homage to movie and pop culture heroes--and only a blip or two of the type of scatological vulgarity that is, alas, too often slimed over kids' flicks. Sure, Arnold's feisty old hippie grandma has to use a toilet to escape from prison, but it fits the plot, so it's worth its laugh.
The television episodes explore with tart wit and a genuine touch of reality the type of everyday incidents, accidents, surprises, delights and downfalls of growing up, but, inevitably, going big time on the big screen means stepping into the world of mundane movie-inspired action adventure and overdoing the chase sequence. This is a disappointing choice, although the underlying message about the value of individual thought and community responsibility does still flicker beneath the pop motion surface.
The film's strengths are the series' regular characters, young and old, from Arnold and Gerald and tough cookie Helga--all mushy inside with her secret crush on the football-headed kid--to the oddball senior citizens and eccentrics who inhabit the tight-knit ethnically and socially diverse community. More obvious and less intricate in appearance and nature are the celebrity-voiced characters of this particular plot--including the big baddie businessman Mr. Scheck (Paul Sorvino), sleek spy chick Bridget (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and spooky history-buff coroner (Christopher Lloyd.)
The edging-into-ugly style of the animation is an acquired taste--the kids manage to be quaint and appealing because there is real definition to their personalities that translates into their appearance and actions, but the streets and buildings through which they travel remain very flat and dire. From one jug-handle ear to the other, Arnold lives large and cute and if not exactly well-rounded at least well-ovaled, but too often the world he inhabits is just still life. Voiced by Spencer Klein, Jamil Smith, Francesca Marie Smith, Paul Sorvino, Dan Castellaneta, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Christopher Lloyd. Directed by Tuck Tucker. Written by Craig Bartlett and Steve Viksten. Produced by Craig Bartlett and Albie Hecht. A Paramount release. Animated. Rated PG for some thematic elements. Running time: 82 min