Interview With Hey Arnold’s Craig Bartlett

Craig Bartlett

My inner child was freaking the eff out when I met Craig Bartlett at the Jim Henson lot. Craig Bartlett is responsible for one of the best Nickelodeon shows of all time, Hey Arnold!. Later, I asked him some questions about Paul McCartney, Hey Arnold!, and the golden age of Nickelodeon.

Craig, thank you for joining me on my weird corner of the internet. Can you please tell my readers your Paul McCartney story?

A lot of old rockers still record at Henson studios because this used to be A&M records, after it was Charlie Chaplin’s movie studio. They think this place has great mojo, and they’re right. Fantastic, classic records were recorded here. Last spring when we were writing on Dinosaur Train, Joe Purdy said “Guess who’s on the lot today? Paul McCartney.”

I thought I’d never actually see him – they’d whisk him from his car to the studio, so I kind of forgot about it (as much as one can forget that a Beatle is within 100 yards). I worked till about 7:30, and it was dusk when I walked out. I was heading to the Kermit bathroom outside the recording studio and I noticed a blue Stingray convertible parked in the middle of the courtyard. I thought, “That’s got to be for Paul.” So I peed as fast as I could (yes, I washed my hands) and went back to sit at the bench right in front of the Stingray.

I assume this is how Craig looked while waiting for Sir Paul McCartney.

I assume this is how Craig looked while waiting for Sir Paul McCartney.

Sure enough some little kids came running out of the studio, and I heard Paul calling to them in this unmistakable voice. Then he walked right by me. I said, “Oh, hey, Sir Paul,” as casually as I could. He said hi, then stopped at his car and asked me “Who owns this studio now?” I said the Hensons own it, and he said something, and now we were talking. He said he wanted to show the kids the Charlie Chaplin footprints in the cement, so I jumped up and said, “Oh, I can show you!” a little hysterically.

We walked (I ran) over to the footprints and Paul put his feet in them, telling the kids how Chaplin had this funny, characteristic walk, which Paul performed. The kids weren’t paying attention to anything, just running around, so I nodded and said, “Yeah! He did have a funny walk!” I then showed him how A&M built new steps that partially covered Chaplin’s footprints and he said, “That was rather shabby of them, don’t you think?” And I agreed. Then he pointed up to the balcony above us and said, “That’s where Olivia used to work, y’know” (George’s second wife). I said, “Really?” And he nodded, “Oh yeah, she and George met right here,” pointing at the ground. We talked about that for a moment. Then I asked him if he was recording something here, and he said, “Yeah, we’re having a blast.” And then he hopped in his car and zoomed away. And I went, “OMG THAT REALLY HAPPENED.” And started calling people on my cell.

And then, Paul said, "By the way, I hear you're friends with the incredibly attractive and smart writer, Almie Rose. Fancy setting us up? I'll leave my wife, of course. Thanks, chap!"

And then, Paul said, “By the way, I hear you’re friends with the incredibly attractive and smart writer, Almie Rose. Fancy setting us up? I’ll leave my wife, of course. Thanks, chap!”

SO FAB. Let’s talk about Nickelodeon. I have a few questions. You were on Nickelodeon in the Golden Age of Nicktoons — Ren & Stimpy, Rugrats, Kablam!, Rocko’s Modern Life, and so many others — what was that like?

It was great to be an animator in the ‘90s. We called it the “go-go ‘90s” because money was flying in all directions. The cable networks were getting millions in ad buys and MTV networks did what everybody else was doing: they built a big animation studio for us. Hot and cold running everything, cappuccino machines and sushi for lunch. There was more demand for new animated shows than there were good artists available, so it was an “artist’s market,” where we all could get paid well and make decent deals. Even crappy artists could draw storyboards for six months and then be all, “I want to direct.”

Helga Pataki, original badass.

Helga Pataki, original badass.

Do you have any favorites other than Hey, Arnold! from that era?

The first Nickelodeon show I worked on was Rugrats. That began in 1990, right at the start of the decade. Rugrats was one of the three original Nicktoons that started the whole 90s cartoon thing for Nick, though we were a year after The Simpsons, which debuted as a series in 1989 and really, really started everything.

I was story editor and director on Rugrats, and had a lot to do with that first season, so it’s dear to my heart. We took some shit from the “big kids” who also worked at Klasky Csupo and were animating those first seasons of the Simpsons – they called us “the baby show.” But Rugrats did great, like the other early Nicktoons, because baby show or not, there was nothing like it on TV. They were really different, warts and all.

I also am a fan of Ren and Stimpy – I even worked on three episodes in the months before Hey Arnold! was picked up, in the fall of ‘94. I’ll always appreciate that gig, I was broke and they saved my ass. I remember visiting the Ren and Stimpy studio on a Friday when they were drinking beer and watching the finally-completed episode 6, the “happy helmet” episode, y’know, “Happy Happy Joy Joy.” As Ren fumbled through the kitchen drawer and pulled out a hammer and started beating himself in the head, and everyone was laughing hysterically, I remember feeling like I was watching history being made.

I have to ask, what do you think of Nickelodeon now?

I want to reserve judgment on how I think Nickelodeon is doing now. I have a couple things in development with them and I want to see how we do.

Fair enough. What’s your favorite episode of Hey Arnold! and why? 

I have a lot of favorites, because I’m like the guy Kurt’s talking about in “All Apologies”: “I wish I was like you, easily amused.” I love watching the old episodes, even though sometimes it’s kind of spooky, like I’m reading old diary pages.

I guess I like “Helga on the Couch” best, because to me it’s about facing the fact that I loved Helga so much, I wanted her to do a therapy session with a wonderful, kind therapist, to explain to kids why she was the way she was: mean, brittle, a jerk to everyone and especially Arnold. The episode is really meta: it’s about why the character is the way she is. It comments on the whole series and makes Helga more human and real than ever. By that time (season 4) I had done more than 150 Hey Arnold! stories and I felt that I knew Helga better than most of my neighbors. And a lot of that is because Francesca Smith (who voiced Helga) was so good, and we had all been working on Helga together for years, and we trusted each other to come up with material like that. Everyone who worked on it was in love with Helga. Also, “Couch” was another opportunity to have Helga confess her love to Arnold in a huge emotional blowout – like the one in “School Play” where she tells Lila, and “Monkey Business” and later, “Married,” where she almost tells Arnold in a dream. The “Couch” confession was so big that when Jim Lang scored it, he finished with that big E major piano chord like the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” The only confession left was for Helga to tell Arnold face to face, and we were saving that for the movie.

Poor Helga.

Poor Helga.

What’s something you can tell us about Hey Arnold! that we don’t know? 

I love how I worked on that series for so long, it really seeped into my unconscious. Arnold’s attic room in the boarding house was me trying to create a room that any kid would die to have for their bedroom. [Note: achieved. His and Clarissa’s bedroom (Clarissa Explains It All) made me makeover my entire room.] I made up a backstory for it: Grandma and Grandpa put Arnold in that room once his parents disappeared, and to make it more cheerful they helped him decorate it, and installed that cool stereo and the fold-out couch, and all in some ingenious way with odds and ends they found around town. So it was very personal to Arnold and a refuge from sadness and danger, like a kind of tree fort. Also, he could climb out onto his roof and down the fire escape to the street, and so he’s more free to come and go than kids are in real life. Pippi Longstocking lived kind of like that – that’s what I was aspiring to. And I love that Sid wants to borrow Arnold’s room in that one episode – Sid’s like a real kid, he wants to live in Arnold’s room, too.

Anyway, over the years I’ve had some vivid dreams about that room. In one dream, we were making a live-action movie version of Hey Arnold! and I was inspecting the sets, and found myself in a perfect recreation of Arnold’s room. I realized that I wanted to live there myself, and that I had created it for this reason. I dream about architecture a lot – my Dad was an architect. I have a fantasy about buying 100 acres somewhere in Washington or Oregon and building a replica of the boarding house and the block that Arnold lives on. The whole place would be like “ArnoldLand.” People could visit, like Sundance, and we could put on musical versions of favorite episodes. It would be like going to the Shakespeare festival in Ashland or something. Hey, we could put on “School Play,” and then it would be a twisted kind of Shakespeare festival.

DO IT. Speaking of a “live-action” Hey Arnold! film, have you seen this fan-made trailer? What do you think? Would you be open to the idea of a live-action HA! film, and if so, who would you cast?

Yeah, that trailer is pretty damn funny. I liked the Stoop Kid bit, and how they used the secret handshake sound effect in the mix. As far as live-action cast, maybe I should cast the kids who voiced the characters, instead of using stars. I mean, they know their motivations really well!

What advice can you give to someone who wants to do what you do?

Ask yourself, am I easily amused? (See above). Because that is a real gift in this business, to be able to watch your shit over and over and over again, and see it fresh and be able to laugh at it for the 50th time. It works for me, and I guess that’s just the way I was made. Also, you really must be sociable and have a little charm and be able to work with people. I think that’s even more than 50 percent of the deal. It’s even more important than talent. Animation is a really collaborative medium, and we all have to communicate to get it done. Too many artists act like they were raised by ducks. You’re not going to get far if you behave that way, unless you’re so insanely talented that people will put up with you to get your stuff.

What are you working on now?

I’m finishing our third season of Dinosaur Train for PBS. This takes us up to 79 half hours. And we just opened Dinosaur Train Live, a stage show version, which is touring the country. The Henson Creature Shop built the puppets – the biggest one is King Cryolophosaurus, and he’s 16 feet long. It’s really cool to watch, the performers wear black and stand behind the puppets, except for King – he’s so huge the performer stands under him. The play is basically a musical with 15 of my songs in it!

Craig in his own version of Jurassic Park.

Craig, in his own version of Jurassic Park.

I’m also developing another show for PBS – a space show that I’ve been trying to get going for years. It would teach astronomy and Earth science and the love of space. And I’m developing two projects at Nick – we’ll see where those go. I hope to get back to normal with Nick – setting up offices there and getting my old team back together, so we could finish the Arnold saga finally.


The story of Arnold’s missing parents just kind of grew: when I first pitched Hey Arnold! to Nickelodeon, I was really glib about them. I just said that his parents were off in Africa or something, making wildlife films, basically being cool, do-gooding documentarians, “and that’s why Arnold lives with his grandparents.”

But as we got further and further in, I realized that I hadn’t dealt with them at all, and now kids were writing in and asking, “What happened to his parents??” So I worked on the idea for “Parents Day” in season 3, 60 half-hours in. And by then, it seemed to me that they must have gone missing, and it wasn’t their fault – in fact they were lost while trying to perform a crucial, humanitarian mission. So they are really good and courageous and kind. And that explains why Arnold is such a little Buddha. I was so deep into Arnold by then I was practically living it in my head. That’s why I played Arnold’s Dad – I kind of am Arnold’s Dad, after all. And Stella, his mom, was played by the co-writer of “Parents Day,” Antoinette Stella. It was all a kind of cool, inside joke with us.

But when we finished it, it was such a heartbreaker. It rips you up! What can I say? I’m sorry that Hey Arnold! is so freaking sad, but that was where we were by then. We’d come up with a show that could do “sad” really well. And the actors were up for it, and we were, too. So we just went down that road, knowing that was our “edge” – we could do emotional realism and that was our way to be different from the other kid shows.

So years of this passed, and when it was time to make the first Arnold movie, Nickelodeon asked me to do the “biggest” idea we could think of. We looked at the series, and the biggest question would be for Arnold to try to follow up on what he learned in “Parents Day” – to try to go to Central America and find his lost parents. I wrote several drafts of the story. When I first got the chance to write that script, I felt differently about the whole Arnold saga than I do now. I thought of more drastic solutions then, but I’ve had a decade to think about it, and now I want to close the loops and answer the questions and pay off the emotions in every way. Because animation is magic, so why not have a cool, magical ending happen? It’s my universe. Ha! Take that, Los Angeles.

Taken! Thanks, Craig. 

Just when I thought I couldn't get any more jealous, here's Craig with a giant David Bowie puppet.

Just when I thought I couldn’t get any more jealous, here’s Craig with a giant David Bowie puppet.


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67 thoughts on “Interview With Hey Arnold’s Craig Bartlett

  1. Craig Bartlett

    Well done, Almie! I like how you posted a pic of me in front of the very bench I was talking about, when Sir Paul sauntered past.

      1. Veronica

        Watch the jungle movie would be a dream come true…….. somewhere in my mind I been thinking about Arnold all this years :'(

    1. Tony

      We all want Arnold to reunite with his parents, Miles and Stella in San Lorenzo. We want to find out about his last name.

    2. Tony

      We want Arnold to reunite with his parents and bring his parents back home to the Boarding house so he can reunited with his parents and grandparents. Also make the Hey Arnold the series on Season 6, 7 and 8. I want to see Arnold’s parents on the Hey Arnold series. Pretty Please!

    3. Tony

      I want Arnold to reunite with his Parents. Please say yes Craig! Please!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If you do tell me ok.

    4. Tony

      Craig Bartlett! I want Arnold to Reunite with his Parents! Please my friend I beg you! Let Arnold reunite with his Parents Please!!! Reunite means Together as a Family! Please Mr. Craig Bartlett Please!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I want Arnold to be happy with his Parents and Reunite with his Parents!!!!!!!! Please Mr. Bartlett!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    5. Tony

      Please Criag I want Arnold to Reunite with his Parents!!!!!!!!!!! :) Let Arnold to let go of the past! So he can have the future with his Parents and so as Helga!!!!!! So Please Craig! :) I want Arnold to Reunite with his Parents! If you do tell me ok. Please? :(

    6. Tony

      Please Mr. Craig Bartlett? :( I want Arnold to Reunite with his Parents!!!!!!!!!!! :) Let Arnold to let go of the past! So he can have the future with his Parents and so as Helga!!!!!! So Please Craig! :) I want Arnold to Reunite with his Parents! If you do tell me ok. Please? :(

    7. Tony

      Do you think it’ll come out in 2016 Craig? :( Also I want Arnold to Reunite with his Parents Please Mr. Bartlett? :(

    8. Tony

      I want Arnold to Reunite with his Parents!!!!!!!! Reunited means come together! Please Mr. Bartlett!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Everyone in the whole white world wants Arnold to Reunited with his Parents!!!!!!!!!!!! Please Mr. Craig!!!!!!!! If you promise to be good!!!!

    9. Tony

      Craig Bartlett I want Arnold Reunited with his Parents Together. Reunited means come together and forever. Let Arnold Parents coming home back to the Boarding House with his GrandParents. So they can be a family reunion Together!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    10. Tony

      Thank you Craig Bartlett for bringing Hey Arnold The Jungle Movie in 2017!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I want Arnold to Reunited with his Parents if I got my wish!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If you do tell me ok. Thats all I ask.

    11. Tony

      Craig Bartlett,
      I wish Arnold will Reunited with his Parents so he can be happy as a Family. Reunited means come together and stay together as a Family. If I got my wish.

  2. michelle

    wow — wonderful story — love the whole thing! Craig is awesome! oh yeah and love that Paul wants you!

  3. Alley G.

    Hey Arnold! was and continues to be one of the greatest shows of all time. There was a brief window when Nickolodeon (sp but who cares) was showing re-runs of the show. That was a really good week for nostalgia.

    I miss the old 90s shows.. they really were the best. Less is more, in terms of simplicity.

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  5. Jessica

    I really enjoyed this interview! “Hey Arnold” was my favorite TV show growing up. I bought all of the episodes on DVD like a crazy hoarder when they finally came out on Amazon. Even though I’m in my mid-twenties now, I would love to see the series get a proper conclusion. It deserves it. I feel like maybe there’s more hope now for a conclusion than there has been in years past. Nostalgia projects seem to be coming into their own with the internet serving as its medium. I plan on showing all of the episodes of HA! to my niece when she’s old enough (she’s only two), as there is a severe dearth of quality children’s programming today. I didn’t realize Mr. Bartlett was associated with “Dinosaur Train.” I may have to get one of those DVDs for her.

  6. Erik

    “but I’ve had a decade to think about it, and now I want to close the loops and answer the questions and pay off the emotions in every way.” Oh sweet christ please tell us!

    1. Phil

      “I hope to get back to normal with Nick – setting up offices there and getting my old team back together, so we could finish the Arnold saga finally.”

      By the sound of it, you’re not the only one :3

    2. Tony

      We all want Arnold to reunite with his parents, Miles and Stella in San Lorenzo. We want to find out about his last name.

  7. Jin

    I’m a 90’s kid and Hey Arnold! was not only a cartoon, but an escape to a different world. Each character had it’s own unique personality and every situation was so real and relatable. It had it’s sad moments of course, but that’s what made it real. I’m sure if Hey Arnold was brought back to tie loose ends, 90’s kids would definitely support it. One of the most memorable shows!

  8. Huy

    I feel like a chapter in my life might be at rest if the Jungle movie could be made. Every passing year it pains me to know that we might never see a proper end to the tragedy of Helga. More so than Arnold because I felt like we saw her grow the most over the series and see her heart be broken time after time.

    But in a weird way this stalling has kept my inner child alive into an age where there’s no return :) I’ll always watch 90’s cartoons as a result because I was never willing to let go of an age where cartoons were so joyous and magical. People argue that it’s nostalgia speaking and yeah it’s partially true, but another part sees the time as a very high point in life for youth as big networks and gaming were still experimental and were given huge exposure, and as a result kids got almost everything in the spectrum for entertainment before corporate weeded out what made the most money and dumbed everything down to the most efficient flow of money in min/dollar rates.

    I digress but it’s just necessary to talk about a true golden age of youth that could be encapsulated in a tv medium because Hey Arnold was one of those capsules that still holds our childhoods so vividly because of its everlasting quality and draw on viewers. I’d give anything to have the movie made; shows were so much more unique then and had a true identity that makes it easy for us to go back and pick apart and relish in. I’ll always appreciate that we live in a digital era where we can constantly find outlets to go back and relive these glory days (admittedly I watch these shows on a daily basis, always hoping to find that “one episode” I never caught on the air back then).

    Having the Jungle movie would serve as sort of a true bookend or capstone to a great childhood that I had before it’s seemingly abrupt end. The best part is it’s too late for me to reverse and let go of my love for these relatively “retro” shows, even if the movie was made. But at least an infinite sadness inside for Helga could be left behind :)

  9. Huy

    oh and thank you for the article, almie and for keeping my youth alive with this interview. This is another bright point of my life in getting to see someone else share their interest to myslef in getting to talk to a giant and instrumental figure (behind the scenes) in my childhood.

    And thank you, Craig for being so dear to his fans to this day as to always being game in doing interviews and outings with fans the way you do. His enthusiasm and bright personality are another reason why the show still holds a huge place in my heart.

  10. Katrina

    Wow this was wonderful to read! And it gave me hope that the Jungle Movie might actually be made. To elaborate on what Jin said, it was/still is an escape to another world. I’m in my early twenties now and everything about HA! still resonates with me. When I’m feeling shit I like to go back and watch episodes, there’s something very comforting about it & I am so grateful to Craig for creating a world like that not only for us as kids, but now a decade later I’m still finding comfort in that world. Sounds corny af, but when “you’re caught in a downpour with nothing to live for” and you have little things like that that keep you going, it can truly mean the world.

  11. Raquel

    I could give anything to have a sit down with Craig Bartlett. Hey Arnold! was so important to me growing up. I had a bit of a speech impediment growing up, and I wanted so bad for it to be used on Hey Arnold!

    I remember reading that at one point they wanted to do an MTV spinoff on Helga’s family. that to me would be an amazing way to end the saga. I just feel like channels geared towards kids no longer have the adult allusions and hidden themes that Bartlett was so good at including. Everything is very G-Rated nowadays.

  12. Wendi

    I really loved this interview! Hey Arnold was a pretty big part of my formative years, and I haven’t seen anything like it since. It dealt with so many real-world tragedies that few kid’s shows ever dare touch on: bullying, diversity, family problems, alcoholism. socioeconomic inequality. These days, everything is squeaky clean and far less honest.

    Also, have you seen this (fairly new) animation test for The Jungle Movie?

  13. Sophia

    I loved the interview, and I love that Craig takes the time to talk about these things with his fans .

    1. Tony

      We all want Arnold to reunite with his parents, Miles and Stella in San Lorenzo. We want to find out about his last name.

    1. Tony

      We all want Arnold to reunite with his parents, Miles and Stella in San Lorenzo. We want to find out about his last name.

  14. Tonya

    Does anybody know if the hey Arnold jungle movie will be released for sure in june 2015? I need to know. I seriously wish they make that movie. :(

  15. Tony

    Do you think it’ll come out on June 19th 2015 or 2016? If you do just tell me ok. Also Do you think Hey Arnold season 6, 7 and 8 will come out? If you do tell me ok. Also We all want Arnold to reunite with his parents, Miles and Stella in San Lorenzo. We want to find out about his last name. Also I want Arnold to reunite with his Parents and bring Arnold’s Parents back to the Boarding house so Arnold’s Grandma and Grandpa could see Miles and Stella so they can hug together and reunite.

  16. Helgalala

    Ah thank you so much for the nice interview! I watched HA when I was in 6-7 th grade and I really LOVED it. It is a great cartoon- the themes and the characters were simple wonderful made! It is hard to find nowadays cartoon with so much depth (I always cringe whenever I see the latest cartoons in TV.. Really sad) . Currently, I’m back into HA fever although I am already in my mid twenties. Helga (one of the beat cartoon heroines ever made) and Arnold (such a sweetie) really need a proper conclusion since both are meant for each other! I hope you can produce the final movie, Craig! Greetings from Germany!

  17. Tony

    We all want Arnold to reunite with his parents, Miles and Stella in San Lorenzo. We want to find out about his last name.

  18. Tony

    Good luck Craig Bartlett and Nick! I hope you two will make Hey Arnold The Jungle Movie on June 19th 2015 or 2016! Hope you guys make Hey Arnold Season 6, 7 and 8!

  19. Chloe

    They Need to make an episode that revolves around Nadine she is one of the only characters who never ask Arnold for help or anything I would like to see her personal struggles

    1. Tony

      We all want Arnold to reunite with his parents, Miles and Stella in San Lorenzo. We want to find out about his last name.

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  21. LILLY

    Please make the movie .
    Bringing Hey Arnold the series back into production would also be great. just so long as there are not to many changes and every voice can stay the same if it can
    Ps Helga , Arnold , Grandpa Phil and Stinky are my favourites

  22. May b

    I always wanted to see Hey Arnold the jungle movie as a kid i was really disopointed it was never made . Even now that im 20 if it ever gets made i will certainly see it
    I really really really want to see this movie :)

    1. Tony

      Go to Care 2 Petition Site on and ok. So tell your friends, family and all the other people in the world to attach More Hey Arnold Episodes on 10,000 and Opruth: Green-light Hey Arnold The Jungle Movie on 30,000 on Facebook to show everyone to sign your name and press sign now. You have the power to create your change. Start sharing and watch your impact grow. So tell your friends, family and all the people in the world to put on Facebook to show everyone to keep on going ok. Also copy More Hey Arnold episodes on the goal 10,000 and Opruth: Green-light Hey Arnold The Jungle Movie on the goal 30,000 and put it on your face book and show it to everyone in the whole white world. It’s for your own good. We all want Arnold to reunite with his parents, Miles and Stella in San Lorenzo. We want to find out about his last name.

  23. Tynetta

    Thanks Craig for the Hey Arnold series, I still have hope that the with the petition going around that Nickelodeon will listen to the fans and the Jungle Movie will be made. Hey Arnold’s popularity is stronger than ever and you must be very proud. The fan fiction and artistry regarding the show that I have found online has been amazing and has kept the show alive for me as well as other fans and that is all due to you. Thanks for making my childhood enjoyable with an amazing show, amazing show and you the Creator.

  24. zariah

    I really hopes hey aronld the jungle movie comes out today because I love this show one of the best ever. I can’t wait to see it and please don’t make a year for this movie.

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