review by Zach B.
Running Time: 474 minutes
Starring the voices of: Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbakke, Rodger Bumpass, Carolyn Lawrence
Retail Price: $49.99
Specs: 1.33:1 Full Frame, English Stereo, Episode Selections, Three-Disc Set
Released: October 28th, 2003
I've gone on before on this very website about animation transending barriers. When people used to think of animation, they merely thought of it as a form of entertianment for children. However, in recent years, people have finally realized that animation is not just for kids and put that to use in various adult animated television series, adult animated movies and more. However, there has always been a select group of animated work that appeals to all audiences. During the 1990s, the empire that is Disney did this with their theatrical feature films be it hand drawn or computer animated (while more CGI films are popping up and raking in the dough from other studios and more adult audiences). More recently, however, television has been debuting and featuring cartoons aimed at both children and adults. Shows such as "Samurai Jack" and a lot of the cartoons made for Cartoon Network have been attracting a wider audience. More recently, however, Nickelodeon's own "SpongeBob SquarePants" has been breaking revolutionary barriers as far as demographics and popularity goes.
"SpongeBob Squarepants" was originally aimed for kids, but for some reason, older audiences have tuned in and can't resist its charm (myself included). The show, which debuted during the summer of 1999 on cable's Nick, has been giving its own "Rugrats" a run for its money and is arguably becoming more popular than their decade-old-plus Nicktoon. "SpongeBob" has only seemed to really gain its popularity in the past year or so. Just like "Rugrats," the show had a stable audience at first, but then blew up into something much more as time went on (a "SpongeBob" flick is due in theaters sometime in 2004). More than a third of its audience is made up of adults, even. But what makes "SpongeBob" so popular? What is so appealing about this very cartoon show? Let me try and find out why...
In case you are not familiar with the premise, "SpongeBob SquarePants" follows the adventures of a walking and talking sponge named SpongeBob SquarePants in the ocean area of Bikini Bottom. SpongeBob works as a cook at the Krusty Krab, has a pet snail named Gary and is always cheerful. Like most whimisical cartoon heroes, SpongeBob has good intentions but his intentions backfire. Of course, the backfires cause the comedy. Be it SpongeBob helping the lonely Plankton whereas Plankton is using him to get the secret Krabby Patty recipie or SpongeBob not realizing that jokes can grow old... fast. SpongeBob's compaions are his dimwitted friend Patrick Star who lives right near him, Texan squirrel Sandy and the easily annoyed Squidward, as well as his boss Mr. Krabs. So, adventures usually revolve around them, though Sandy and Mr. Krabs are more supporting characters and don't pop up as often as Squidward or Patrick.
I guess what appeals to me about "SpongeBob SquarePants" is that it's quite a unique show. I can't think of another show in history that was animated and its main star was a living sponge. The characters are well created and fun to watch, while the setting and idea of this weird, imaginary world on the ocean floor is pretty striking and easy to get into. But I think what kids and adults enjoy is the broad, weird and wacky humor the show features. It's more slapstick and crazy, and never tends to go over the top. Or maybe it's the same appeal that I have about the show being something different, and that it doesn't fail in what it creates and extends. It's just highly imaginative, original and entertaining.
For some reason, kids do identify with SpongeBob. However, SpongeBob is an adult. He lives alone, he works at a job and doesn't go to school or anything. Yet in many ways, he is a kid. He has those good intentions, he is playful and likes fun. He has this kid demeanor that I think younger audiences enjoy. He just acts like one big kid, and that's part of the fun I suppose.
After several DVD releases for the past year-and-a-half with a random mix of "SpongeBob SquarePants" episodes, Paramount has finally delivered what fans really want: a season boxed set. Hopefully they will keep releasing the show season-by-season (but they don't seem to be fading out the "best of" DVDs just yet), but fans are sure to clamor for this three-disc set that includes 40 cartoons (AKA 20 episodes) from the 1999 season (AKA when it all started before the show truly exploded).
Granted, some of these episodes have appeared on past DVD collections, but most of these cartoons actually haven't. Personally, I think this is a great season as it has a lot of cartoons that fans love, and it's important since these cartoons mark the debut of many of the supporting characters (like Mermaidman and Plankton). The episodes are very enjoyable, and while the show would only gain popularity in future seasons, the quality of the episodes haven't really dipped and the show's remained consistent, which is a rare and certainly excellent thing.
Anyway, whether you own all the past SpongeBob DVDs or have been holding out for this set, it's worth owning - even for the casual fan. Spread across three discs, it really is a good deal especially when you compare it to other TV on DVD boxed sets out there. So dive in to Bikini Bottom SpongeBob fans, and enjoy a very worthwhile and satisfying set of cartoons for all ages.
If you're familiar with the past SpongeBob DVDs, then you know Paramount has done a near perfect job with those transfers. If you haven't, then prepare to be blown away. The only real flaw with these transfers are the amount of noise which can be a bit distracting, but other than that these are pretty much perfect. Detail is fabulous, black levels are fine and the color saturation is really extraordinary. There is a variety of colors used on the show, and on this DVD set, they all really stand out and come together in a strong fashion. The colors are always fitting and bold, but are never underwhelming and don't bleed. The transfers themselves are very sharp and have a three-dimensional quality to them so it pops out a bit. Simply said, there are quality transfers to be found here that should delight everyone who views the set. As expected, well done.
Also excellent, as some of you may or may not know, are the English Stereo tracks for the episodes (just like on the past DVDs - kudos for Paramount's consistency). Even though these episodes don't have 5.1 tracks (though I'm sure they could be remixed into some great 5.1 tracks), they are rather robust. The tracks really do immerse you into the episodes despite their limits, as the sound effects really bring added punches and life to the show - there's usually a lot of crazy action going on. Be it the squeaks of some annoying boots, echo effects, some fighting or just characters running around - there's seriously a lot to enjoy. The dialogue is crisp and easy to hear, while the music does sound nice and brings its own ambiance. In short, the tracks are great and they all fit the cartoons perfectly, though again, I'm sure 5.1 tracks could make the show's soundtracks a bit more powerful - impressive tracks here that are really excellent. Also, no other language options or any caption options (not even closed captioning via your TV) is included, which is a bit odd.
There are two Audio Commentaries on this set, and I can simply say I wish there were more. For the episodes "Plankton!" (on disc one) and "Karate Choppers" (disc two) you get optional commentary from the voice cast: Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbakke, Rodger Bumpass, Carolyn Lawrence and Mr. Lawrence (Mr. Krabs himself, Clancy Brown, is only on "Karate Choppers"). I would describe these commentaries in one word: wacky. But they're hilarious. Since they're five people, someone is always talking or cracking a joke. There are a lot of laugh-out loud moments in these tracks - some of which are a bit blue and aren't for the ears of the kiddies (but those should fly over their heads). The cast points out their favorite parts of the episodes, the shows in general, inspirations for the voices, obscure references, dark ideas that were going around, parody their work (listen closely for a fun Scorsese parody involving Bikini Bottom) and just have a great time together (Mr. Lawrence arguably steals the track though). These are some of the most entertaining commentaries I've heard in a very long time - again, too bad the cast didn't do more for other episodes (but there's always season two).
The third disc houses most of the extras, though some are recycled from past DVD releases. The Origin Of SpongeBob SquarePants focuses on SpongeBob creator Stephen Hillenberg talks about how SpongeBob got started and his influences, as well as his love of marine biology. Hillenburg talks about working on the show "Rocko's Modern Life" (when's that coming to DVD?) and then branching off to try and do his own show. There's a lot on Hillenburg's beginnings and how the show developed as far as artistically and with the characters, and then pitching the show (and the rest they say is history). The ten minute featurette has a ton of stills, concept art and variety of clips. Also interviews are SpongeBob creative director Derek Drymon, Rocko creator Joe Murray, SpongeBob art director Nick Jennings, former Nick exec Kevin Kay, Albie Hect (also a former Nick exec who is now president of Spike TV) and Nick exec Eric Coleman. Do watch this - it's insightful and wonderful, despite the length.
Recollections From The First Season Crew is about six minutes and focuses on key crew who talk about their thoughts on why the show works and what they like about it. Storyboard director Ennio Torresan, writer/storyboard artist Erik Wiese and storyboard artist Sherm Cohen talk about pitching an episode. Editor Lynn Hobson, dialogue editor Tony Ostyn, color stylist Dene Ann Hernint, background director John Seymore, Aaron "Cartoon Genius" Springer (he's a storyboard director), background layour supervistor Kenny Pittenger, writer/storyboard director Paul Tibbitt, Mr. Lawrence, production assitant Derek Iversen, background painter Andy Clark, castic and music supervisor Jennie Monica and color supervisor Teale Wang also give thoughts on making the show and their own thoughts on it working so well. A brief, but interesting look at how the show is made. Lots of crazy behind-the-scenes footage is also included for your viewing pleasure.
Everybody's Talking: The Voices Behind SpongeBob SquarePants lasts a solid fifteen minutes as Stephen Hillenburg and the main cast are interviewed. The focus is on casting the show and the voices Hillenburg were looking for, and how it all came together. Clips from episodes and behind-the-scenes recording footage is shown (which is pretty neat). It's always cool to see the actual human actors do the voices of their animated counterparts. The characters in general are also discussed. Another very entertaining and informative featurette.
The Bikini Bottom's Up Tour is an interactive tour of SpongeBob's hometown, hosted by Patchy The Pirate (yay!). Click on a place and Patchy explains the place and then you can click on a bunch of things in the place, see stills and have Patchy make more hilarious comments. Seriously, this is pretty expansive. In The Key Of Sea: Krusty Krab Karaoke you too can sing along to the show's theme song, "The F.U.N. Song," "Ripped Pants" and "Doing the Sponge." You can listen to the songs with or without the vocals as the lyrics appear on screen. Just don't try to make a fool out of yourself in front of your friends for the love of God.
The rest is just recycled from other SpongeBob DVDs: SpongeBob's Life Strategies is a faux-infomercial of sorts lasting nearly two-and-a-half minutes. It's pretty funny as it uses clips from a variety of episodes. There is also the two minute piece Drawing The Goo Lagoon (hosted by show artist John Seymore) who explains the process of what he does, how he does it and how it gets incorporated with everyone else who works on the show. It's very nice, but definitely way too short.
The SpongeBob Scaredy Pants Music Video is in full frame and is a variation on the show's opening theme song and lasts a mere fifty-six seconds. Violent Femmes Sing SpongeBob is crazy, and has aired on Nick before (it's only a mere thirty or so seconds). Also, the SpongeBob Dancin' Pants Music Video is also a bit weird and lasts a minute and five seconds.
You'll also find Credits for the episodes and a Preview for other SpongeBob home video titles on the first disc. Also, the DVD menus are very nice and there's an insert with a few words from SpongeBob's creator in the keep case of the first disc.
Despite some strong "Best Of" DVD releases for SpongeBob, Paramount has done right by releasing the entire first season as a three-disc set. The episode transfers are exceptional, the sound tracks for the episodes are great and there are some very nice extras to be found here, even if some are from past DVD releases (at least the new greatly outbalances the old). The price is right and the quality's overall great, so if you enjoy the show just enough, then this set is worth getting. A strong job well done... now bring on season two!