Absorbent and yellow and porous is he!
Absurdity is one of the traits of the best cartoons. And surreality. Absurdity and surreality are two of the traits of the best cartoons. I’ll come in again.
I’m still surprised to find people (like, virtually the rest of the DVD Verdict staff) who haven’t heard of Spongebob Squarepants. What is it, or rather, what is he? It’s an original cartoon on Nickelodeon, the home of that other breakout cartoon, Rugrats. It’s set in an undersea world full of undersea critters like a moneygrubbing crab, a cranky clarinet-playing squid, a dumb but loveable starfish, a spacesuit-wearing squirrel, and the star of the show, a pants-wearing sponge. It takes witty stories and dialogue, and combines it with the absurdity and surreality of the best Chuck Jones or Tex Avery cartoons. Ostensibly it’s a kids’ show, but it was popular enough with the older set that Nickelodeon plays it in primetime. Paramount has packed ten of the 10-12 minute shows on this DVD, along with a few seaworthy extras.
* “Ripped Pants”
Did you order 20 cases of ripped pants?
Spongebob and his squirrel friend Sandy visit the beach at Goo Lagoon. When a muscle-bound crab catches Sandy’s eye, Spongebob discovers by accident that ripping his pants causes quite a laugh. So he does it again. And again. And again. Until the joke just isn’t funny anymore.
Everything is chrome in the future!
Squidward, Spongebob’s cranky neighbor, just wants some peace and quiet so he can practice his clarinet. Spongebob and Patrick (his dim starfish friend) want him to join them jellyfishing. Squidward retreats into the Krusty Krab restaurant (where he and Spongebob both work) and is frozen for 2000 years. The future is very chrome, but he still can’t be rid of Spongebob…
Don’t you dare take the name of Texas in vain!
Sandy the squirrel is homesick for her native Texas. Spongebob and Patrick arrange for a party to make her feel more at home, but before they can get her to come, they insult her beloved Texas. Not much else happens, but it makes for some great jokes at the Lone Star State’s expense.
* “The Graveyard Shift”
It’ll be just like a sleepover, only we’ll be sweaty and covered with grease!
Mr. Krabs, the owner of the Krusty Krab, decides to keep the restaurant open 24 hours, so Spongebob and Squidward are on the night shift. Squidward resorts to telling ghost stories about the Hash-Slinging Slasher, only the joke’s on him when later all the signs of the horrible apparition begin appearing!
* “Something Smells”
Spongebob eats a ketchup-onion-peanut sundae, and can’t understand when no one wants to be around him. The olfactorily-deprived Patrick says it’s because he’s ugly, but then when he eats some of Spongebob’s sundae and people start avoiding him too, he thinks he’s caught ugly too!
Be the net!
Spongebob and Patrick try to give Squidward his Best Day Ever, with mixed results.
* “Dying for Pie”
If you drop one single slice of me booty, I’ll have…your booty!
For Employee Brotherhood Day at the Krusty Krab, Squidward buys Spongebob a pie from some pirates. Only problem? It was made in a factory…a bomb factory! When he thinks Spongebob ate the pie, Squidward tries to give Spongebob a nice final day.
Days like today come once, maybe twice in a lifetime. Savor every minute, and it’s all thanks to Wormy!
Sandy goes to visit her surface home and leaves Spongebob and Patrick in charge of her animal collection. The two make friends with a caterpillar, but when it metamorphs overnight into a butterfly, they think the new creature ate their friend!
Oh, tarter sauce!
Time for a new character: Plankton, the piece of plankton that is trying to steal Mr. Krabs’ secret recipe for krabby patties. Spongebob is convinced that the little guy is only evil because he doesn’t have any friends, so he tries to make with the friendship.
* “Club Spongebob”
Why must every 11 minutes of my life be filled with misery? Why?
Praise the magic conch! Spongebob, Patrick, and Squidward become stranded in the middle of a giant kelp forest. Squidward wants to try to find the way out, but the other two want to stay put because the “magic conch shell” (think Magic 8-Ball) told them to do nothing.
Most people are going to buy this for their kids. They’re only looking for something to keep the little tykes occupied for a few minutes. They might be surprised that they find it just as amusing as the little ones. Like the best cartoons, the humor is multi-layered, with slapstick sight gags for the kiddies, and obscure strangeness for the adults. Let me give an example. In “The Graveyard Shift,” the mystery of the Hash Slinging Slasher is explained, everything except the lights flickering on and off. Who do they find out was doing it? Nosferatu. As in, the vampire from the classic silent film, complete with a black and white picture of Max Schreck flicking a lightswitch on and off. I don’t think I’ve laughed at anything quite so hard in quite some time.
The episodes on this disc aren’t consecutive or a full season set like you’d expect or demand from most TV shows, but in this case, that’s entirely fine. Like most compilations, some episodes are better than others. My personal faves are “The Graveyard Shift,” “Dying For Pie,” and “Club Spongebob.” “The Graveyard Shift” has everything that makes the show great: funny dialogue (the whole story of the Hash-Slinging Slasher is hilarious), clever sight gags (especially Spongebob’s regenerating limbs), and that aforementioned outta-nowhere ending that made me bust a gut. “Dying For Pie” has all that (except the bizarre ending), plus Spongebob’s “Friendship List” of fun things to do with the extra-fun things in red (hint: everything on the list is in red). All of his fun things to do seem to involve the humiliation of Squidward, though the naïve dude has no clue that he’s embarrassing the guy he wants to be his friend. “Club Spongebob” has the conceit that the two idiots only do what the magic conch tells them to. Squidward mocks, of course, but everything seems to fall into place for Spongebob and Patrick while he’s miserable. The other episodes can be a little uneven, but they all have their moments of sublimity. I love the prehistoric versions of Spongebob and Patrick in “SB-129.” “F.U.N.” has a great musical number. “Ripped Pants” is pretty funny at first, but the gag gets old quickly; fortunately, it’s saved by a Beach Boys-esque ditty that closes it out. Even at 10 minutes, “Texas” feels a little long, but is redeemed by the cracks at the expense of Texas. Spongebob forms himself into the shape of Texas, and then…
Spongebob: “Hey Patrick, what am I now?”
Patrick: “Uh, stupid?”
Spongebob: “No, I’m Texas!”
Patrick: “What’s the difference?”
Now all they have to do is pick on Idaho and my joy will be complete.
Paramount has done a nice job of packaging Spongebob for DVD. The ten episodes are presented in their original full-frame aspect ratio. Colors are remarkably bright and vibrant, and the edge enhancement or pixelization that can plague some animation is nowhere to be seen. The only source defects are in the live-action footage that is occasionally inserted. Audio is only stereo, but there is noticeable separation between the channels as well as the occasional panning effect.
For features, there’s a whole passel of short behind-the-scenes clips showing the art design and voice recording. The clips can be watched from the menu, or with a “Backstage Pants” mode that pops up a Spongebob icon on the screen while you are watching (you know, like The Matrix‘s “follow the white rabbit” mode). There’s also a rendition of the show’s rollicking theme as recorded by the Violent Femmes. God, it’s good to hear them again, even if it’s only for 30 seconds.
Spongebob Squarepants is perfect entertainment for kids and for the young at heart with a sense of humor. Paramount has done a great job bringing these episodes home on DVD. Now I only hope they release another disc with “The Idiot Box,” the best piece of anti-television propaganda ever aired on television…because all you need is imagination!