Stopping short of the vein-popping gross-out antics of “Ren and Stimpy,” but edgier than “Rugrats,” “SpongeBob SquarePants” is a thoughtful and inventive cartoon about a hopelessly optimistic and resilient sea sponge. Square in personality and shape, SpongeBob resides in a two-story pineapple in the colorful undersea world of Bikini Bottom.
An unlikely toon hero, SpongeBob’s appeal grows with each episode, although things never get too complex in his underwater home. SpongeBob, with his pet snail Gary, spends his days with neighbor and friend Patrick the Starfish, tolerates his irritable neighbor Squidward, and tries desperately to win the affection of Sandy Cheeks, a land squirrel who lives in a biodome under the sea.
Devoid of the double entendres rife in today’s animated TV shows, this is purely kid’s stuff, filled with classic cartoon dialogue like “that’s the kind of smelly smell that smells smelly.” However, that’s not to say that SpongeBob is simplistic or even juvenile. It’s charming and whimsical, but clever enough to appeal to teens and college-aged kids as well.
Creator Stephen Hillenburg makes use of both physical and verbal stunts for the show, which is really a series of several cartoon shorts. The segments, ranging in time from 60 seconds to several minutes, cover such SpongeBob antics as opening a bubble-blowing stand and trying out for a job at the Krusty Krab.
The overall show design is pretty, although the characters are not, which has become a standard in the anti-Disney animation backlash. Still, the drawing is skilled, synchronizing complex physical stunts with fast-paced dialogue. The quirky stories also showcase a wealth of unusual sound effects, which add to the series’ outrageous flavor.
Comedian Tom Kenny has the difficult task of bringing to life a sponge, but he succeeds with flying colors. Kenny’s is the perfect cartoon voice, and he captures the show’s sense of whimsy. Rounding out the cast are Bill Fagerbakke as the sluggish starfish Patrick, Clancy Brown as restaurateur Krusty Krab, Carolyn Lawrence as Southern belle Sandy and Roger Bumpass as the ornery octopus Squidward.
Special praise should be given to the retro-like backgrounds and groovy soundtrack that give “SpongeBob” a Rat Pack-like flavor. Technical credits are first-rate.