Plot: Arnold has chosen the quiet and reserved Mr. Hyunh in the secret Santa selection, but he has no clue what to get him. Mr. Hyunh seems to be especially down around the holidays, so Arnold decides to sit down with him and ask him what type of special gift he’d want for Christmas. Mr. Hyunh shoots down every suggestion, and the conversation eventually leads to the real reason behind his sorrow.
When Mr. Hyunh still lived in Vietnam, he had a very young daughter named Mai. While trying to escape Vietnam during the war, he was only able to pass off his daughter to an American rescue worker without being able to escape himself for over 20 years. The rescue worker tried to relay information about where they’d be taking Mai to Mr. Hyunh, but he was unable to hear under the roar of the choppers. Ever since he made it to America, he’s been looking for her, but has been unsuccessful.
Arnold decides to take it upon himself to give Mr. Hyunh the ultimate Christmas gift; reuniting him with daughter. But can he really handle such a huge task before Christmas arrives?
Breakdown: I really cannot emphasize enough how much Nickelodeon means to my childhood. I basically lived and breathed Nickelodeon for most of it, and despite its problems I still hold a precious place in my heart for Nickelodeon today, especially when it comes to the classic NickToons.
Hey Arnold! was one of my favorite NickToons. It was such a great blend of realism and embellishment. It wasn’t laugh out loud funny most of the time, but it was relatable and interesting. It taught me a lot of lessons and felt like a show to watch when you just wanted to mellow out and feel like another friend in the city.
Arnold’s Christmas is one of the most, if not the most, well-known and emotionally impacting Christmas special to ever come out of Nickelodeon. It’s beloved to fans of the show, non-fans and even people who have never seen any other episode but this one. From start to finish, it really is such a beautifully written, wonderfully directed and simply amazing Christmas special.
Arnold has a huge heart of pure gold doing everything in his power to find Mr. Hyunh’s daughter. It’s not a totally unrealistic goal; it’s just an incredibly difficult task to achieve in the time frame they have. It’s touching how much work Arnold will put in to find Mai, and you also have to deeply respect Gerald for sticking by his buddy and helping him the whole time, especially when he could be spending this time with his family.
The story of Mr. Hyunh’s daughter is also just terribly sad; on the same level of Arnold losing his parents. To think that they’d actually include heavy references to the Vietnam War in a NickToon is just amazing to start with. To have a character being immersed in that event, seemingly experiencing all of it since he wasn’t able to escape until it was over, is even more amazing. I always love when they actually make emotional, realistic and impacting backstories for side characters. It gives them a lot more depth and makes them real people, creating a more realistic social circle and environment.
Then there’s Helga’s part in this story. For those not in the know, Helga is basically the school bully who puts particular focus on Arnold, but is secretly deeply in love with him. Pretty much any time that she does something nice for him, it’s in secret since doing such nice things would maybe lead on that Helga is nicer than she seems and would maybe give her secret away.
I won’t spoil it, but basically she holds the key to Arnold succeeding in his mission, and it’s up to her to take a blow in regards to her big Christmas gift in order to make Christmas magic happen for Arnold. It makes for one of the more touching Helga moments of the series.
I guess I can’t get around spoiling the absolute ending, which is Mai actually being found and brought to Mr. Hyunh before Christmas is done. I only say this because, well, this is a part that brings up a huge flaw in this episode. Yes, Mr. Hyunh being reunited with his daughter, who is now in her early 20s, is beautiful and touching, but the sad fact of the matter is, Mai is just a one-off character.
She never, ever appears in the series again. Which is not only disappointing on so many levels considering how much crap and sacrifices Arnold and even Gerald and Helga made to make this whole arrangement happen, but it’s also a bit infuriating because the guy that they need to do a bunch of stuff for in order to find Mai, Mr. Bailey, does reappear in the series; in the damn movie no less! And Mai only gets a brief appearance at the end and never shows up again. She can’t live too far away considering how quickly she arrived, so what gives?
I would also really like to know what happened to Mai’s mother. There is no mother present in those flashbacks to Vietnam and Mr. Hyunh in the states is single. I guess I can assume she died, but I’d really like some follow-up.
Another criticism might be in how Arnold and Gerald did manage to get Mai found in just a few days. Like I said, pulling that off really is a great show of the power of Christmas spirit, maybe even going so far as to say it’s a Christmas Miracle, but how much was Mr. Hyunh actually looking for Mai over the past few years if he’s never managed to find her? Or did he really not have the sleuthing skills of a nine-year-old?
Not really a criticism and moreso a confusing note; snow boots are the big ‘gotta have’ Christmas item of the year? I know they’re signature Nancy Spumoni (spoof of Nancy Kerrigan?) snow boots, but really? Every kid is clamoring to get boots for Christmas?
Overall, this is a beautiful, touching and interesting Christmas special that can stand on its own just fine but is also a staple for Hey Arnold! fans. It doesn’t rely on the same topics of Christmas specials like Santa (in fact, they note on the Wiki page that Santa’s never even mentioned in the special) or consumerism (though it is kinda touched upon) and it doesn’t try to shoehorn in musical numbers or carols. It’s just a simple story of a little kid trying to make a perfect Christmas for someone who deserves it, even if he doesn’t know him too well.
For the record, I’m aware that they’re finally releasing the Jungle Movie in November of 2017. I am indeed excited for it, but I won’t get too far ahead of myself until I see clips of it or something. There’s a lot of plans and stuff for revivals and continuations of classic NickToon stuff, and until I see something substantial, I’m not getting my hopes up. Last time I did that, we got The Last Airbender and I will not go down that road again. I can’t afford that much alcohol.
Recommended Audience: You could say there are dark themes what with the Vietnam War and everything, but there’s absolutely nothing violent or anything. 5+