I’ll admit it, I am an unabashed fan of the Sponge. In this day of cookie cutter anime and ugly computer generated graphics, this hand dawn cartoon is a very welcome change for the better. Having been raised on the classic Warner Bros. cartoons and esoteric underground comics by the likes of R. Crumb and S. Clay Wilson I am highly prejudiced when it comes to animation.
I was prepared not to like this cartoon for various reasons: 1) It’s on Nickelodeon 2) It’s on Nickelodeon and 3) It’s on Nickelodeon.
Then I sat down one morning with my 6 and 8 year old nephews and actually watched it. I almost laughed my sack off. The jokes are definitely above a grade school kids head very often but the sight gags and slapstick pull them in. Much like the universal appeal to kids of all ages in the Warner cartoons. While not every episode is great, the majority of the time it’s very funny.
In as far as the characters go, it should be quite obvious to any neophyte fan of cartoons where the inspiration for many of them came from. Before we go into that though, let me break down the main premise of the show for you. Basically, this is it in a clamshell: What we have here is a talking sponge named Bob who lives in a pineapple in a tropical lagoon in the town of “Bikini Bottom.” In between working his job as a fry cook at a burger joint called “The Krusty Krab,” Sponge gets into zany (are there any other kind ?) misadventures with his friend Patrick, a none too bright starfish, his grouchy neighbor/co-employee, a squid by the name of Squidward, and his gal pal Sandy, a land squirrel from Texas who lives in a biospheric dome (everybody knows that a squirrel cannot live underwater without one) and his boss, the money grubbing Mr. Krabs. We still on the same page here my little chumlies??? Well good, then let’s keep going.
Sponge Bob is R. Crumb inspired. If you are familiar with Crumbs work then you will recognize Bob as similar to how Crumb animates objects such as toasters and the like. Bob’s pal Squidward is pure vintage Don Martin of “Mad” magazine infamy. One look and that is obvious. Sandy looks kinda like one of the Go-Go Gophers. Mr. Krabs origin is a bit murkier but his laugh is pure Popeye, while his personality is like a cross between Capt. Bligh and Mr. Drysdale on The Beverly Hillbillies. The French accented narrator brings to mind those Walt Disney nature films, the kind they used to show you in elementary school when it was raining and you couldn’t go out to the playground.
The background music is supplied by the pseudo-Lounge/Surf band the Blue Hawaiians. In keeping with the tropical locale, it relies largely on the traditional sounding Slack Key Hawaiian music but delves into Surf, Rock ‘N’ Roll, Western Swing, Spy movie soundtracks and Martin Denny-esque exotica. Not surprisingly, the B.H.’s meld these influences and others into a VERY Raymond Scott-inspired soundtrack at times. Many artists & bands have contributed music as well. Ween, Sepultra, Junior Brown and L.A. surf ghouls the Ghastly Ones among others.
By this point in space and time I’ve either pulled you in or scared you off. So to the subject at hand. This November, SpongeBob and his pals are making their debut on the silver screen. Not to give away too much of the plot, it is something like this: King Neptune (voiced by Jeffrey Tambor) has had his golden crown stolen and the greedy Mr. Krabs is the suspect. If the crown isn’t found then Krabs is going to be history. Sponge Bob, loyal employee that he is, sets out with Patrick to find the crown and clear Mr. Krabs name. Compounding problems is the evil Plankton, who is after the top secret recipe for “Krabby Patties.” I don’t want to be spoiling this for anyone interested, so that’s all I can offer right now.
Celebrity voices for the movie include Alec Baldwin, the previously mentioned Jeffrey Tambor (Hank Kingsley of the “Gary Shandling Show”) and the lovely Ms. Scarlett Johannsen. Look for this in theatres near you around Thanksgiving 2004.