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Nautical Nonsense and Sponge Buddies
review by Zach B.
Running Time: 123 minutes
Starring the voices of: Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbakke, Rodger Bumpass, Carolyn Lawrence
Retail Price: $19.95
Features: Backstage Pants, More SpongeBob SquarePants Secrets, Violent Femmes sing SpongeBob
Specs: 1.33:1 Full Frame, English Dolby Surround, English Closed Captions, Episode Selections
Released: March 12th, 2002
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.
Paramount has not disappointed with SpongeBob's first DVD release, either. It's the first two VHS releases jammed on to this DVD. The ten episodes you get are "Ripped Pants," "SB-219," "Texas," "The Graveyard Shift," "Something Smells," "Jelly Fishing," "Dying For Pie," "Wormy," "F.U.N." And"Club SpongeBob." They each run around 12 minutes.
Presented in 1.33:1 full screen, "SpongeBob SquarePants" is presented exactly how it's made and aired on television. Overall, these are spiffy transfers that brim with quality. Detail is very good while contrast is very good as well. The transfers on the episodes are rather sharp as hues are spot on and color saturation is very full, very deep and very bold. There's not much else to say here and not much else to complain about. The kids won't really notice, but you die-hard enthusiasts will be quite pleased.
There is only an English Dolby Surround track on this release, and I was surprised how active and dynamic it was. In a way, it felt like a limited 5.1 mix. Dialogue is crisp and clear, and is free of distortion and hiss. The music has a nice ambience in the background, but little noises from crunches to crashes sound quite good here. The sound effects bring a nice, subtle tone to the Dolby Surround tracks which I really enjoyed. From hearing the sand on the ocean floor to waves whispering in the background, you may be surprised how much these tracks hold. These are truly some of the best Dolby Surround tracks I've ever had the pleasure of listening too. Don't get me wrong, they still are limited compared to 5.1 mixes and the like, but they pack their own punch and fit the material well. The disc also includes English closed captions through your television.
This DVD release features a few things. First up is Backstage Pants. Like so many other "click the thing that deals with the medium while you watch" before it, when you see the SpongeBob icon while watching the episodes, click it and you'll be treated to behind-the-scenes short things on what you're watching. These deal with a variety of things and are pretty brief, but still fun to watch. Too bad you can't access the stuff through menus but are forced to watch through the episodes to see everything...
More SpongeBob Secrets is a little better. Divided into five sections ("SpongeBob's Start, Voice Overs, Drawing Characters, "The Graveyard Shift: In The Beginning" and "Show Design) you get to see the development process of creating the show. From this, we hear from show creator Stephen Hillenburg himself on creating the show (what was SpongeBob's original name now?), see the actors perform, how SpongeBob is drawn and more. These last about fifteen minutes in total, and some are chapter encoded (but not indexed, just use your Chapter Forward button on your remote to skip a section while watching). It's nice to see how some things for "The Graveyard Shift" are created, because you can then compare the process to the final episode (because that is included on the disc).
Finally, we have Violent Femmes Sing SpongeBob. This is crazy, and has aired on Nick before (it's only a mere thirty or so seconds). Enjoy!
Overall, I learned somethings on the creation of this unique show through bits and pieces. My only complaint? To keep in the theme of the setting, those interviewed/explaining are squeezed inside this tiny bubble against a sea background. I found that annoying... just let them fill the screen. Forget keeping the theme of it... maybe a border could have been more self sufficent.
"SpongeBob SquarePants" has made it's way to DVD. With fantastic transfers on the episodes, strong Dolby Surround tracks and some solid though limited extras, fans of the show will want to pick this up for their collections. I hope Paramount does more SpongeBob releases in the future, and hopefully with some of the earlier episodes of the show so newbies can get more of a background on the characters.