In the Dreamtime
When I first saw “Married,” I was confused and somewhat dumbfounded with Arnold’s dream, because from the start, not only do he and Helga look like their normal child selves, except for being much taller, but they were their wedding clothes during his entire dream, never anything else. However, it is just the opposite with Helga’s dream. She dreams that she and Arnold are grown up and look it very well, complete with Helga no longer sporting a unibrow and Arnold having his hair smoothed down, and they wear different clothes for the duration of her dream.
So what explanation is there on why Arnold’s dream features Helga and him looking so drastically different from Helga’s dream in terms of how they look and what they wear?
I think a lot of it relates to their personalities, including in what kind of imaginations they have and how much they think about the future. Helga and Arnold are both 9 years old, but Helga often acts a lot older than she really is, especially when it comes to her crush on Arnold. She loves Arnold to the extent that she wants to marry him. She sees him as a ticket to a better life, one where he loves her in return and they will live a successful, fancy, and happy life together. Since we know Helga wants to marry Arnold, she has lots of fantasies of what life would be like if they were together. She tends to imagine about how perfect and fancy her life with Arnold would be, so her dream is just an extension of her fantasies.
In Arnold’s case, however, it’s an entirely different story. Although the first season depicted Arnold as a heavy daydreamer, I don’t think he’s so much of a dreamer when it comes the future. Although Arnold acts mature for a 9-year-old, I think he is far more stuck on the present than Helga is. Because of this, he hasn’t really taken any time to think about who he will marry one day, how he will look as an adult (if he even thinks he and Helga will look very different from their current appearances), and what kinds of clothes he will wear. It may have just been a lot easier for Arnold to think he and Helga will be much taller than they are now while wearing the appropriate wedding clothes.
I think a lot of the dream differences also relates to Arnold and Helga’s respective personal lives and how they feel about it right now. In the case of Helga, she has a very dysfunctional family and unhappy home life, from which she is desperate to get away. So she dreams of a better life for herself, one with which she shares with Arnold because she believes she will have a happier life with him than she does with her family now. And of course, while Arnold’s family is dysfunctional and without his parents, he has a more stable and happier home life than Helga does. So I believe Arnold doesn’t think so much about the future because he is quite happy with his current life and doesn’t thoroughly consider about how much it will change for him one day.
Among other things, I have wondered if Arnold thinking he is still only 9 when his dream begins is a inside joke to the fact that characters never age more than year in a cartoon. In other words, since cartoon children never grow up, maybe Arnold thinks he will never grow up, either. 😉 Not to mention, cartoon characters seldom ever change their wardrobe, which also may explain why Arnold and Helga never change clothes for the duration of his dream.