The animated series SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS has been incredibly popular for over a decade! Occasionally, I would get the feeling that I should see (…or, at least try to understand) what I was missing. Then, I would shake it off, go back to my classics and contemporary favorites, and not give the matter any additional thought.
Then, one day, when I saw the Spongebob DVD collection "The First 100 Episodes" (...Yes, that's the just the FIRST 100 Episodes!!!), I finally had to bite. After all, I'd sure be getting more than a representative sampling in one dose.
But, before indulging, I looked up THIS REVIEW of Season One -- and decided that I might actually like it! Once I read that review, I said this is at least worth a look.
And, OH YES, I sure do like it!
There are two cartoons per show and, unlike the way they are described in the review -- an "episode" consists of two cartoons. So, I've watched the first fifteen (of the 100) episodes -- or the first 30 cartoons described in the review.
It's funny and absurd in ways I never imagined a "contemporary kids cartoon" could be!
Pleasing designs, funny animation, sharp and entertaining dialogue (that's important to me)... and a core of three great characters -- and two more great peripheral characters!
I can see why it's so popular, and how its popularity has apparently sustained longer than DuckTales, Batman, Pinky and The Brain, and all of its other modern contemporaries!
Spongebob Squarepants is a happily unbridled “sponge-fish” living beneath the sea, in the village of “Bikini Bottom”, with a regular cast of friends – and a few sort of friendly enemies. Think of the unfocused yet buoyant, somewhat annoying – but always good-intentioned – nature of PINKY (of “Pinky and the Brain”) without The Brain to rein him in – and with the good-heartedness and remarkable diligence of the now-forgotten EEK THE CAT – and you have some idea of his personality.
Dumb and even less focused starfish friend “Patrick” and dour, ever-annoyed neighbor “Squidward” (who has the extreme misfortune to live BETWEEN BOTH Spongebob AND Patrick) round out the three main characters.
Spongebob is voiced by the talented and funny Tom Kenny, with COACH’s Bill Fagerbakke (Dawber) as Patrick, and Rodger Bumpass steals every episode in which he appears as the perpetually put-upon, curmudgeonly Squidward.
Sandy, a VERY spirited female daredevil squirrel (…who has apparently decided to live at the ocean bottom just for the hell of it) voiced by Carolyn Lawrence, and money-hungry Mr. Krabs – owner of “The Krusty Krab” restaurant and Spongebob and Squidward’s employer – surprisingly voiced by Clancy (“Lex Luthor”) Brown (!) round out the main cast.
The look of SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS is very pleasing to the eye. Attractive and inspired character designs are combined with lush, vibrant backgrounds and far better than average television animation. Imagine if a John Kricfalusi cartoon was GOOD, instead of existing only for grossness and shock value, and that will give you an indication of the look of the show.
Again, the humor, and especially the dialogue, is quite good. Certainly better than I imagined for a “kids cartoon”!
And audacity? Imagine reuniting Ernest Borgnine and Tim Conway of McHALE’S NAVY in a wonderful parody of Filmation's AQUAMAN ("Medmaidman and Barnacle Boy") - but now they're VERY OLD and in a nursing home! However, over-fanboyishly Spongebob doesn't know – or won’t accept – this because he just kept watching the old reruns on TV. He annoyingly and relentlessly urges them back into action. I suppose they couldn’t get Adam West and Burt Ward!
The great segment "Pizza Delivery" plays exactly like those Donald Duck and Goofy shorts where they're lost at sea, or in the desert – with Goofy continuously frustrating Donald with his upbeat attitude and remarkable adaptability. But with GREAT DIALOGUE between Spongebob and the alternatingly annoyed and dumbfounded Squidward! The reviewer I linked to above named this as his favorite episode. At this point in the run, I will “tie” it with the great “Suds”, described at the end of this post!
“Tea at the Treedome” finds Spongebob accepting an invitation from Sandy for Tea – not realizing that he cannot survive within the non-watery confines of Sandy’s “airlock dome”. He goes though extraordinary and hilarious lengths to hide his discomfort from his host. Patrick tries to help but, as expected, his help IS NO HELP at all. We actually get to see a shockingly funny, non-animated shot of Spongebob and Patrick DRIED OUT and seemingly lifeless, before they are revived in the nick of time.
“Hall Monitor”: A little authority goes to Spongebob’s head – and he becomes the very citywide menace he vows to vanquish.
“Scaredy Pants”: Thanks to Patrick, cowardly Spongebob becomes the scariest thing in Bikini Bottom, for Halloween! Then, “The Ghost of the Flying Dutchman” and his Soul Sack (for stealing souls, of course) – the REAL source of the undersea scary Halloween legends – shows up. Nice ending reveal on this one. No spoilers.
“SB-129”: Squidward just wants some peace to practice his clarinet. To escape the annoying Spongebob and Patrick, he accidentally locks himself in a deep freezer for 2000 years! Upon release, he learns that everything is made of chrome (a material he apparently abhors), and is confronted with “Sponge-Tron” and his 486 clones! Fleeing this nightmare in a nearby time machine, he travels back to the prehistoric sea, and smack into primitive versions of Spongebob and Patrick – who are driven to savagery by the sound of Squidward’s clarinet! Then he’s on to a “dimension of nothing”, where the surreal animation really takes over. Wonderful stuff!
“Suds”: Spongebob comes down with a bad case of “The Suds”, the aquatic invertebrates’ equivalent of a COLD! This condition is marked by powerful sneezing, which expels large quantities of BUBBLES. Spongebob is headed to the doctor, until Patrick terrifies him with tales of “The Waiting Room”. “Old Magazines”, and “Cold Stethoscopes”! Patrick attempts to “home treat” his pal, but the treatment is worse than the illness – and Spongebob relents, and visits the doctor after all.
I won’t spoil things but the doctor’s “cure” is a remarkable sequence, the likes of which has probably never been seen in television animation! So effective was it that Patrick feigns the same illness – and gets a very different treatment. (I guess sponges and starfish are treated differently!). In terms of outrageous concept and flawless execution, I’ll say that, if you’ve experienced the entire output of animation – from the early silents to the present day, you’ve NEVER seen anything that plays quite like this entry! A TRUE original!
SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS may be an omnipresent merchandising juggernaut and kids show icon, but don’t let THAT keep you from enjoying this unexpectedly clever series – on TV or DVD! (…I’d recommend DVD, to avoid the annoying commercials – and “all the rest” that’s associated with Nickelodeon!) It's surprisingly good and surprisingly funny (certainly for the small number of early episodes that I’ve enjoyed so far) – and I thought I'd share that!