STUDIO:  Nickelodeon
MSRP:  $99.99
RUNNING TIME:  2,233 Minutes (over 38 Hours!)
Audio Commentary on Selected Episodes
Square Roots: The Story of Spongebob Squarepants
Life Lessons from Bikini Bottom
“Help Wanted”: The Seven Seas Edition
Kick-Wham-Pow-Bob Music Video

The Pitch

In my imagination, Stephen Hillenburg just shows the folks at Nickelodeon the “Sailor Mouth” episode (I don’t care if it’s chronologically impossible) and they fell in love.

The Voices

Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbakke, Roger Bumpass, Clancy Brown, Carolyn Lawrence and a veritable “Who’s Who” of amazing guest voices.  Seriously, the show’s draw brings in some pretty big fucking star power.

The Nutshell

Spongebob Squarepants (Kenny) is a little yellow sea sponge who lives in a hollowed-out orange pineapple in Bikini Bottom – a cozy little undersea city.  He’s got a pet snail named Gary, a couple of best friends in Patrick Star (Fagerbakke as a retarded pink starfish) and Sandy Cheeks (Lawrence as a native-Texan squirrel who lives in a treedome and wears a fishbowl on her head so she can breathe underwater).  He works at the Krusty Krab as a fry cook with his pain-in-the-ass neighbor Squidward Tentacles (Bumpass) and his cheap and greedy boss Mr. Eugene Krabs (Brown).  They all get up to some weird and wild stuff.

“Hey guys, wanna play EXORCIST III?”

The Lowdown

So, I’ve been sitting here for about 20 or so minutes trying to think of a way to start this review.  Basically it all boils down to one idea and it’s an idea that doesn’t need articulation above and beyond my saying this:  I fucking love Spongebob Squarepants.

Created by Stephen Hillenburg – who got his start as a writer, animator and producer on Rocko’s Modern Life – the show is not only a near-perfect depiction of the pure, unfiltered magic of childhood, but also the value of staying “young at heart” once you’ve become a crotchety, old grown-up.  For all intents and purposes, Spongebob is a kid.  He sees the wonder and infinite possibilities of an empty cardboard box and is able to turn regular soap bubbles into ANYTHING, with just a little dance (“…bring it arooooound tooooown.”).  He’s extremely trusting and fiercely loyal and he always sees the good in people (and Plankton) even when they continually try to take advantage of him.  He’s completely free of pretense or cynicism – perfectly content to live his life completely enraptured in simplicity and sincerity.  The kid’s got HEART, and he wears it on his sleeve.


And it would be all well and fine if it were left at that, but what bumps the show up a notch thematically is that even though Spongebob is indeed a kid, he lives a very adult life with very adult responsibilities.  He has a job and he has a home of his own.  Presumably the guy has bills – money is a very real thing in Bikini Bottom, Spongebob gets a paycheck and buys groceries and such – but he never talks about them.  He has a crappy job and he works with some complete assholes, but he effortlessly finds the joy in all of it.  He goes to work and he hangs out with his friends and he indulges in his favorite hobbies.  Responsibilities obviously exist, but Spongebob doesn’t let them run (or ruin) his life.  He actually serves as a nice contrast with the other “adults” on the show: Mr. Krabs is relentlessly greedy and his pursuit of money controls nearly every aspect of his life.  And even though it‘s obviously mined for comedy instead of drama, it paints him as a total jackass.  He‘s likeable enough, but he‘s a buffoon.  Squidward is saddled with a mountain of insecurity and the sting of unfulfilled dreams and he falls back on making fun of Spongebob to make himself feel better.   And all the other adults on the show pretty much act the same way.  They’re bitter and jaded and narrow-minded and they represent every single reason why grownups suck.  But because they have Spongebob as an influence in their lives, they all suck just a little bit less.  And in the end, I think that, thematically, is what Spongebob Squarepants is all about: the notion that being an adult doesn’t have to suck.  It’s a subtle message but it’s there.

“Hey Squidward, me and Patrick were playing in here earlier and we think we left our…oh, never mind.  I think you already found it.”

With respect to the target audience, the show obviously isn’t all theme and subtext and cautionary tales for grownups.  It’s a cartoon first and foremost.  And a smart, clever, fucking FUNNY one at that.  The show almost always ventures into surrealism, which is only a natural place for a show dedicated to the wonders of imagination to go.  The jokes oftentimes come from the absurdity of it all, which is where Patrick really shines, but it never (well, RARELY ever – the show HAS been on the air for over ten years, and not every episode can be brilliance) panders or settles for the cheap laugh.  It’s a creative powerhouse – not only in the design of the characters and the world (again, Sandy.  Seriously – she’s a squirrel who lives in a glass dome under the sea, complete with a giant oak tree, grass, oxygen and butterflies.  She walks around underwater in a space suit with a giant glass bowl for a helmet and her southern accent is thicker than mine.  That‘s amazing.) – but in the way they present Bikini Bottom as an offshoot of reality.  Everything that takes place above the sea (and there’s a surprising amount of it) is live action.  It helps to make Bikini Bottom’s animated vibrancy serve as a loving allegory for everything we DON’T know, but are completely enamored with, about the sea.  And on top of everything else – it’s a treasure trove of nerdy references.  Genre fans of all ages will be able to find countless references to silent films, horror and science fiction movies, comic books, 80s hair metal and campy 60’s television.  Sometimes all in the same episode.  How many “kids’ shows” have a cameo by Nosferatu?  Or have fucking Pantera score an entire episode?  Think about that for a moment.

Aw shit – Gary’s got a proboscis.

The hallmark of a great cartoon is that it can entertain and amuse the kiddos, while giving adults something to appreciate.  Spongebob Squarepants is a great cartoon.  It isn’t afraid to be honest.  It doesn’t give into the temptation to pander or neuter itself.  Again, due to its longevity, it’s had its flat moments and weak episodes, but in the long run, Spongebob Sqaurepants will without a doubt go down in history as one of the greatest animated series of all time.

The Package

Given that this is the First 100 Episodes of the series, it’s a gigantic boxed set.  And what a boxed set it is.  14 discs packaged two-at-a-time in seven slimline cases.  The slimlines are tucked into a box, the box inside a sleeve and the entire set inside a clear plexiglass shell.  The shell has simple little painted bubble accents with “Spongebob Squarepants” in white along the bottom.  The sleeve is GORGEOUS – with a scene from the “walk-cycle” segment of “The Lost Episode” repainted and repurposed for the set.  The fact that “The First 100 Episodes” gets a Logo of its own, and not just a text accent under the show logo, starts to give you an idea of the amount of love put into this.  OH – and the image on the sleeve is ALSO lenticular 3D.  Badass.  Once you remove the sleeve, the box has the same image, only without the effect.  It’s the only piece of duplicated art, and subsequently, the only piece of wasted real estate.  Each case (along with the discs inside) is themed with one of the major characters, from Spongebob down to Plankton.  Seriously, the art on display here is lovely.

The ONLY missed opportunity (in my opinion) is that the disc menus don’t carry on the character themes of the cases, BUT, they’re all different.  Every single disc has a unique menu design and animation.  The fact that they’re ALL Spongebob-centric isn’t really even worthy of a complaint, it’s just the one thing I would have done differently.  It’s all a testament to the amount of time and love that went into the creation of this package.

As far as bonus features go, there’s a big Featurette called “Square Roots,” that basically acts as an EPK.  It goes into Hillenburg’s background as a marine biologist and his tenure on Rocko’s Modern Life.  It talks about how the show came to be and gives a little bit of info into how the characters were created and shows some early sketches and concepts, so the viewers can see how what we see now evolved.  It goes into how the voices were cast and shows a lot of footage of recording sessions and takes a look at the whole international cultural phenomenon the show spawned.  There are a lot of things here, but everything rolls into one another and they don’t really stop to elaborate on anything.  It’s fun and it’s informative to a degree, but you don’t really learn enough to want to watch it more than once or even share it with people.  Though it was rather worth it to hear LeBron James do the Squidward laugh.

Spongebob Squarepants:  Fuckin’ metal.

Life Lessons from Bikini Bottom is kinda cute – it’s structured like an old educational film reel and basically acts as a profiler for the various characters.  I’m not entirely sure of its purpose – was it made specifically for the DVD?  Was it a previously used EPK or sizzle reel?  I dunno – but it’s fine for the fluff that it is.

“Help Wanted”: The Seven Seas Edition is the pilot episode, but over dubbed in each of the various languages in which you can currently hear the show.  It’s a simple little concept, but it was executed really well.  The language changes randomly and intermittently, but they let you know what language you’re hearing with a little corner bug of the name and the flag of the country whose language you’re hearing.  It gives the kiddos a bit of exposure to different languages that they might otherwise never hear.  I dig it.

The Kick-Wham-Pow-Bob Music video is just a bunch of scenes edited together with the music that Pantera did for the “Prehibernation Week” episode in the background.  It was boring and obviously filler.

Well THAT’S creepy.

There are also a handful of audio commentary on selected shorts scattered throughout the discs.  All in all, I think the features were a tiny bit lacking.  I wouldn’t have minded seeing some in depth interviews or some more about the history of the show.  Hell, really anything more than what we got.  That may be my only actual complaint about this set, and it’s a pretty damn small complaint.  If you’re a fan of the show then this is pretty much a must-buy.  If you’re not a fan of the show, find the “Sailor Mouth” episode and watch it – you will be.  And if you’re not even after seeing THAT, then you’re a grownup who sucks.

OVERALL 9.5 out of 10