Parents Day is a special half-hour episode of Hey Arnold!.
When Craig Bartlett originally pitched Hey Arnold! to Nickelodeon, the story of Arnold's parents was really vague, only saying that they were explorers in Africa, and that's why he lived with his grandparents. However, fans eventually began writing letters to Nickelodeon asking what had happened to Arnold's parents, and Craig realized that this needed to be addressed. So in order to provide an explanation for their abscence, he developed the idea that Arnold's parents were tragically lost in the wilderness while performing a humanitarian task. "Parents Day" was made directly in response to the fans and ended up being one of the most heartbreaking episodes of the series.
At the Parents Tournament Weekend, Arnold learns that even though he doesn't have "real" parents, his grandparents are just as good as everyone else's parents.
Every night before bed, Grandpa tell stories to Arnold about his mom and dad and the many adventures they had. After Grandpa finishes the story about how his parents saved a village from the sleeping sickness, Arnold asks what happened next. However, Grandpa says he'll finish the story tomorrow night.
The next day at P.S. 118, Mr. Simmons announces to the class about the upcoming "Parents Day" tournament weekend. Stinky tries to ask Arnold if he's going to bring his grandparents because he doesn't have any parents of his own, until Gerald nudges at him to stop.
Gerald is excited about the tournament. However, Arnold isn't and is not going to show up. Gerald says he should bring his grandparents, reminding him that his Grandpa can bench press 210 lbs and that his Grandma is a Karate master. Arnold isn't convinced and hopes that his grandparents have forgotten. Arnold walks in to see Grandma and Grandpa getting ready for the tournament weekend.
Arnold is ready for bed and Grandpa walks in ready to finish the story from last night. However, Arnold says he doesn't feel like having a story. Grandpa becomes concerned, but then reassures Arnold they will strike fear and terror into the hearts of his classmates in the tournament weekend.
The next day, the tournament weekend begins with Big Bob proclaiming that whoever wins are the best parents. In the sack race, Helga and Big Bob come 1st while Arnold and Grandpa come last. However, Grandpa then beats Big Bob in the ring toss.
Phoebe and Arnold's team are tied for 2nd while Helga's team is 1st. The next event is the egg toss which Grandpa is keen to compete in with Arnold, while Helga and Big Bob start to fight. During the egg toss event, Helga becomes distracted by Arnold and gets hit in the face by an egg. Big Bob has an outburst and calls Arnold "Orphan Boy", which distracts Arnold and makes him lose the egg toss.
Grandpa asks what happened out there but Arnold just says he "got turned around". Helga tries to apologize to Arnold about the incident but it only makes him feel worse, even though Helga thought the apology went well.
During dinner, Arnold hasn't touched his food. When Grandpa asks what wrong he tell them that he doesn't want to continue with the tournament tomorrow, and that while he thinks that Grandma and Grandpa are great, they aren't really his parents. After Arnold leaves, Grandpa doesn't know what to do. Grandma tells him that Arnold need him and that he'd better go talk to him. Grandpa agrees but doesn't think a story about his parents is going to help.
Grandpa enters Arnold's room and suggests a few bedtime stories but doesn't get much response. Arnold says he wants the real story about what actually happened to his parents. Worried, Grandpa asks Arnold if he's sure. Arnold says he is sure and Grandpa begins to tell him the truth.
Arnold's father really was a scientist. One day he went out with his friend Eduardo to find a cure for a terrible illness in the Central American country of San Lorenzo. It was there that he came across Arnold's mom after coming across another research party. Arnold's dad soon said goodbye to her in order to continue his research, but during the journey up a mountain, a donkey kicked over some giant rocks that fell under Eduardo and him. The two of them are rescued by Arnold's mom and her group and are given shelter for the night. Arnold's mom and dad continued to talk and laugh together until finally they share their first kiss.
Grandpa said they were meant for each other and that they travelled the world together. They really loved each other and decided to get married and have Arnold. Arnold wants to know what happened after that. Grandpa then realised that Arnold might have been too young to remember at the time.
One day while a young Arnold played with his parents in the park, Eduardo arrived bringing news that some mountain people were suffering from a terrible illness, and that only they could help. Arnold's dad refuses saying that Arnold's mom and him have a baby now. Eduardo says if they can't help then these mountain people could die out forever. He says to do it for the sake of the children. Arnold's parents look at their son and make a decision. Arnold's parents pack up to go on the rescue mission. Arnold's mom reminds him to be good for Grandma and Grandpa and Arnold's dad tells him he'll take Arnold to the park when they return. They each give Arnold one last hug and both hand him over to Grandma and Grandpa. In another country, they both board their small plane and fly off into the jungle.
Arnold asks Grandpa what happened next. Grandpa said they never came back and were never heard from again. Their plane was never found. Arnold thanks Grandpa for telling the truth, to which he responds that Arnold's really growing up.
Later that night, Arnold dreams about his real parents and the day they suddenly disappeared. At the same time, Arnold realizes that while Phil and Gertie aren't technically his parents, they've been like a mom and dad to him since Miles and Stella disappeared. The next morning, Arnold tells his grandparents that he wants to still compete in the parents tournament weekend and with that said, they head straight to the park.
In the last event, Arnold's grandparents go head to head with The Patakis. After an argument breaks out between Helga and Big Bob, Helga gives Grandpa a tip on how to beat her dad by focusing on his weak ankles. Grandpa beats Big Bob but Phoebe's team is declared the winner due to winning most of the other events. Even though Arnold didn't win the trophy and is still sad about his folks, he was still glad he competed with his grandparents.
Later that night, Arnold has a dream of a small plane being on the roof of the boarding house. He gets in and flies off into the sky.
- Arnold's parents are named Miles and Stella, but this isn't revealed until much later, in "The Journal", which is an extended story about them.
- A photo of a production cel from the episode indicates that there was a deleted scene where Helga hugged Brainy, as the scene isn't present in the actual episode.
- The flier Mr. Simmons hands out says "PARENTS DAY" on it, but it's always referred to as "Parents Tournament Weekend".
- Big Bob cruelly calls Arnold "Orphan Boy". According to legal definition, a child may only be considered an orphan because of the death or disappearance of, abandonment or desertion by, or separation or loss from, both parents.
- Baby Arnold wears a light blue shirt and diaper; the same attire as Tommy Pickles in the Rugratsfranchise.
- Baby Arnold is voiced by then-child actor Rusty Flood.
- This episode makes some references to Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novel One Hundred Years of Solitude; from the sleeping sickness to the fictional island (country, in the episode) of San Lorenzo. Though the name of the country isn't mentioned until the episode "The Journal".
- Miles' use of the phrase "aye-aye-aye!" after falling down the cliffside is most likely a reference to The Gods Must Be Crazy, wherein a character similarly uses that phrase with frequency.
- Grandma refers to Grandpa as "Anjin-San" while cooking in her karate outfit. This is a direct reference to the main character, "Anjin-San" (John Blackthorne) of James Clavell's novel and popular TV miniseries Shogun; which tells the story of an Englishman who becomes a samurai in 17th century Japan.
- The music used during the last part of the real story is called "Mom and Dad" and was written by Jim Lang.
- The music in the plane scene of Arnold's dream has the same melody as "Look Up" from the episode "The List". Arnold's dream with his grandparents also features a variation of the song.
- Instead of the usual ending theme, Jim Lang wrote a more emotional piece for the credits. The same theme was then remade for the episode, "The Journal". Other episodes that include emotional credits songs (to match the nature and feel) include Pigeon Man and Helga on the Couch.
- In the credits, this episode paid a special thanks to "Our Parents".
- This is Phillip Van Dyke's last episode to voice Arnold due to puberty. Spencer Klein takes over the role afterwards.
- The character Dr. Iron Claw, that Grandpa invents while telling Arnold the story of how his parents met, is a possible reference to the Inspector Gadget villain, Dr. Claw.
- This episode was produced at the end of Season 3, but was held over for about a year and a half, airing in 2000 as part of Season 5 in the US. However, this episode did air as part of Season 3 in several other countries, such as the U.K., where it aired in December 25, 1998. While the exact reason for the delay is unknown, it is speculated that Nickelodeon planned for this episode to serve as a lead-in to the planned Hey Arnold theatrical movie (similar to how The Rugrats Movie and it's sequel had an prequel episode), but was ultimately turned into a Mother's Day / Father's Day episode (as proven by its May 10 airdate), and another "prequel" episode was later ordered. Nowadays, this episode is aired as part of the regular rotation of episodes, and isn't considered a holiday special.
- At the park, the camera strap was in front of Miles, but when he picks Arnold up, it's around his arm.
- The camera turns from black to brown after putting Arnold down, and then it's black again.
- In the scene where Arnold's parents leave for the last time, Grandma's hair is dark at first, then it becomes purplish-gray.
- Patty and her parents are in the crowd when Grandma almost falls off the wall, but the tournament is limited to fourth graders.
- Arnold and Helga's families are the only ones to participate in the final round of the competition.