Wednesday, August 18, 2010

SpongeBob SquarePants 1.1 (Reef Blower / Tea at the Treedome) and 1.2 (Bubblestand / Ripped Pants)

It's something of a joke in my family that I like SpongeBob SquarePants. Somehow, even with the comics and the wreslting and the other geeky things I like, SpongeBob stands out. I simply find it to be a funny, inventive cartoon that has a shot of standing amongst the best of all time. A bold statement, but having just rewatched the first two episodes of the show, it's an easy statement to make.

I've decided to do short posts as I work my way through the DVDs I have (which is up through the first volume of season four plus The SpongeBobe SquarePants Movie) and discuss whatever occurs to me.

Episode 1.1 (Reef Blower / Tea at the Treedome)

First off, the DVD doesn't break the show down into the episodes it aired as, it simply presents each segment/story on its own. I'm grouping them together to try and get a sense of how they work within the context first shown.

Second off, this episode is missing a key part, the pilot of the show, "Help Wanted." It's not included on the first season DVD for copyright reasons of some sort. It does show up as a bonus feature in the third season set, so I'll discuss it then. Why? Because I am too lazy to switch DVD sets. Plus, while I'm trying to replicate the original airing feel, I also want to see how it works on DVD.

"Reef Blower" actually works very well as a first episode in an insane way that probably doesn't actually work. It's the show's only silent episode, which is part of the charm for me if it were the first exposure to the show that someone has. Something I always enjoyed about Looney Tunes and other classic cartoons was the mixture of regular ones and silent ones. The focus on visuals to tell the story completely is interesting and shows off how creative the makers of the cartoon are. Since SpongeBob is very strong visually, I'm kind of surprised they wouldn't do the occasional silent segment... then again, that probably doesn't play well with executives or, possibly, the voice talent.

This story revolves around Squidward noticing a piece of reef on his lawn and tossing it onto SpongeBob's. SpongeBob responds by usins his reef blower to get rid of it. This creates problems for Squidward as SpongeBob blows sand all over the place. The final result is SpongeBob's property looking great and the rest of the neighbourhood (especially Squidward's lawn) having big sand piles.

You get a good sense of the show's over-the-top antics with SpongeBob using his reef blower. One part that sticks out is the blower breaking and requiring some extra muscle to pull the ignition cord, so SpongeBob drags it a few blocks, let's go to wipe his hands off, but the cord stays in place, so he can be pulled back when he grabs it again. Basic visual gag, but done well.

"Tea at the Treedome" introduces Sandy Cheeks, a squirrel that lives in Bikini Bottom and acts, intially, as something of a love interest for SpongeBob. Sandy is a strange character in that she's a squirrel that lives at the bottom of the ocean and is apparently from Texas. Not exactly the sort of character you'd expect on a show like this. She walks around in a deepsea suit. The conflict comes when, in an effort to impress her, SpongeBob claims he loves air, not knowing what air is. His best friend, Patrick (a starfish) confuses it with 'airs' as in 'putting on airs' and instructs SpongeBob that he needs to act classy, mostly by holding his pinky up -- the higher the pinky is, the classier he is. When SpongeBob goes to Sandy's dome, he immediately begins to dry out, but tries to hide how awful it is from Sandy to avoid spoiling their time together. The dried up version of SpongeBob is pretty well designed. You also get to see the timing of the show as they often hold back those extra few seconds before having SpongeBob act to create some anticipation. His constant fakes towards diving into Sandy's birdbath to get rehydrated is fantastic as they keep teasing it and teasing it, making the payoff all the better. They also show their willingness to go beyond traditional animation when we see SpongeBob and Patrick both completely dried out and replaced with a real sponge and starfish.

All in all, the first episode (minus "Help Wanted") has some good gags, mostly predicated on visual storytelling. That's an area I find a lot of cartoons fall down on, but SpongeBob kicks it off with lots of wacky, over-the-top visuals.

Episode 1.2 (Bubblestand / Ripped Pants)

"Bubblestand" has some really funny character bits:

* SpongeBob trying to build a stand to sell turns at blowing bubbles quietly and not accomplishing anything.

* Patrick having to keep borrowing quarters to purchase a chance to blow a bubble and, then, lessons at blowing a bubble. For added humour, SpongeBob bites the quarter he lends Patrick after Patrick returns it as payment to see if it is a legitimate coin.

* The amount of time they spend on Patrick trying (and failing) to blow a bubble is insane. It never seems to end and it becomes awkward almost.

* SpongeBob's bubbleblowing technique is horribly involved, which makes it funnier. His pelvic thrusts while yelling "WHOOOOOOOOOOOO!" and his 'bringin' it around town' circular hip movement are highlights.

* A second punchline to the technique comes when SpongeBob blows intricate bubbles that also produce sound effects.

* Squidward dismissing the bubbles as pointless and childish before being tempted to blow some himself is done well. You can see him debating it in his head (not literally) and, when he goes to do it, SpongeBob and Patrick are there to charge him a quarter. He blows sad bubbles that fall to the ground immediately. In his frustration, after doing SpongeBob's technique he creates a giant bubble by screaming into the blower.

SpongeBob is insane and childish, while Patrick is a bit more serious/even more childish, and Squidward plays off both well. It's also hard to get Tom Kenny saying "Bring it around town. Bring it a-rouuuuund town!" out of your head.

"Ripped Pants" is a weaker episode, but deals with an idea that some could use against the show: running a joke into the ground. Jealous of the muscular Larry the Lobster, SpongeBob tries to lift some weights (well, a stick with marshmallows on it) and rips his pants. It gets laughs, so he keeps doing it until it doesn't anymore. It just bores people and, eventually, annoys them. This show sometimes runs jokes into the ground in a similar way, so this episode acts as a pre-emptive critique of sorts. One notable bit is the use of a musical number with a song produced by the Hot Olives, a group that occasionally opened for the Beach Boys. I used to say that SpongeBob SquarePants reminded me of Family Guy in its technique (the willingness to draw a joke out through extended silence, to break from traditional visuals/storytelling, and how it will go off on a tangent or run a joke into the ground through repetition) and this episode shows that off quite a bit.

So far, a decent start to the show. It hasn't stuck to the same characters too much beyond SpongeBob and we haven't even seen the Krusty Krab (though it was introduced in "Help Wanted"). I like the shorter stories/segments as well. I'm looking forward to watching more.

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