Growing up as a kid in the late 90s and early 00s, I had no shortage of great cartoons to watch. I was there to see "Spongebob Squarepants" rise in popularity, I watched the many adventures of Scrooge McDuck on "Ducktales", I watched "Ed, Edd, n Eddy" get into trouble trying to scam the cul-de-sac for jawbreaker money, and I watched "The Animaniacs" annoy their target of choice. However, one cartoon actually has had more of an impact on me as an adult than when I was a kid watching it and that's "Hey Arnold!".
"Hey Arnold!" was a show that revolved around a boy named Arnold, his friends and classmates, and the everyday problems they would have to experience. Sometimes their adventures would take them out of the realm of the ordinary, such as searching for ghost trains and thinking they accidentally blew up a police station, but the show excelled at displaying real world problems many children and families would have to face in their day to day lives.
One of the best examples of this is the home life of the character Helga. Helga is usually a go to character for comedy. She has both an abrasive attitude and a hidden soft side where she obsesses about Arnold in hilariously creepy ways. However, we see that her home life is anything but funny. Her father has real anger issues and her mother is clearly a burnt out alcoholic (I know the show says she has a "smoothie addiction", but come on we all really know what was in those smoothies). They constantly neglect Helga in favor of her successful older sister Olga. In fact her family has been neglectful for years, to the point where her father can barely remember her name.
There was also an episode that dealt with a kid named Chocolate Boy, a boy who craves chocolate so much that he has become almost animalistic in nature. This episode clearly depicts how extremely unhealthy addiction can be, to the point where the Chocolate Boy is willing to humiliate himself just to obtain chocolate. Despite being a kids show about silly things like ghost trains, it wasn't afraid to tackle hard subjects like this.
The show, however, also has positive examples of unconventional families. Arnold's parents disappeared when he was a baby and he's been raised by his grandparents in a boarding house ever since. The boarding house also features various characters, such as immigrants in the form of Mr. Hyunh and Oskar, who act as a sort of surrogate family to Arnold. The show sends a positive message that it's love and caring that make a family great, even when it's an unconventional one.
I remember fondly enjoying "Hey Arnold!" for the humor and wacky situations as a kid. Now I appreciate the show a lot more as an adult for tackling serious subject matter and presenting it in a way that children would understands and empathize with. It's shows like this that have the opportunity to give real life lessons while not sacrificing the fun that give me real hope for the future of children's animation.