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"Coconut Fred's Fruit Salad Island!": Spongebob's Ugly Stepbrother

They say if something ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Taking this maxim to heart, Warner Brothers has “adapted” Nickelodeon’s runaway hit SpongeBob SquarePants and given it a much cleverer name. The result is Coconut Fred’s Fruit Salad Island!, and that noise you hear is lawyers sharpening their pencils.

Fred fails another drug screening.

To be fair, Fred is not an exact duplicate of Spongebob. There are many subtle differences. Fred is not a square with pencil-thin limbs and bulging eyes, but a circle with pencil-thin limbs and bulging eyes. Fred doesn’t live in a pineapple under the sea; he lives on a pineapple-inhabited island in the sea. Fred doesn’t have a neurotic neighbor and a village idiot, but an acquaintance that is both. Fred’s not a hyperactive loudmouth whose best intentions often cause more harm than good. Oh wait, yes he is. Still, that’s surely nothing to sue over is it? Knock on wood.

Fred lives on the (presumably) remote, tropical Fruit Salad Island, inhabited by numerous sentient fruits like him. He is Spongebob at his most obnoxious, shamelessly aping his voice and mannerisms. He even copies Spongebob’s ambiguous sexuality, revealed in one scene to be wearing a bra. He seems to run a souvenir stand, but has little time for it because whatever crazy fantasy pops into his head becomes real. The watermelon Mr. Greenrind is the island’s much put-upon authority figure, whiny and wary like Squidward and with a voice much like Patrick Star. The supporting cast includes dopey hick bananas Slip and Slide, cuddly cute and innocent cherry Bingo, and the paranoid lemon Wedgie who fears Fred as Mrs. Puff does Spongebob.

Like SpongeBob, Fred‘s first episode is composed of two 10-minute shorts. In “No News is Good News,” Fred decides to start his own newspaper, causing great trauma for the other islanders when his zany stories of monsters and pirates come to life. In “Master of Disaster,” Fred imagines a fiery volcano and leads a frantic effort to stop it from destroying the island.

I wish someone would refill the writers’ Ritalin prescriptions. Fred races along at an insane pace filled with nonstop chatter. Perhaps Fred is intended for younger viewers than SpongeBob, and thus the intent was to keep them from getting bored. The real question is whether kids will relate to Fred as much as they have Spongebob. His adult job and occasional wackiness aside, Spongebob is really just a sweet, innocent kid with the same dreams and insecurities as his audience. Fred on the other hand is a total nutcase, and he’s “on” 24/7. Sort of like Jim Carrey, only with far less talent. The only kids able to relate to Fred are likely to be tuning in from padded cells.

One big departure from SpongeBob is that Fred isn’t particularly funny. Again suggesting a younger audience, Fred dispenses with SpongeBob‘s more subtle humor and goes straight for the cheap laughs like fart jokes. I have to admit that the jokes are cleverer and more creative than most of what I grew up with, but they fare poorly against today’s higher standards. In a mildly amusing scene lifeguard Fred swims out to rescue his friends from a monster and pirates, then promptly “rescues” the monster and pirates as well, only to have them terrorize the island. I must confess I did chuckle when Fred and company are sucked into a deadly whirlpool and Fred gleefully circles the vortex on a broom à la The Wizard of Oz.

Another area in which Fred suffers by comparison is the animation, which is unfortunately Flash. It is probably the best use of flash I’ve ever seen in a cartoon, but it still looks shoddy. As in SpongeBob, real objects are sometimes inserted for close-ups. I don’t know if Fred‘s going to be able to build a SpongeBob-sized merchandising empire. Wild-eyed Fred looks more like a psychopath than a cuddly kid’s best friend. The endearing Bingo might go well on a Burger King glass though, and I’m sure NASCAR can find some use for the bananas.

Coconut Fred’s Fruit Salad Island! is not a bad show, but it’s impossible to see it as anything other than an inferior copy of SpongeBob. It may do well with very young children, but it’s unlikely to interest older kids and adults. Like Spongebob’s archenemy Plankton, Fred does his best, but in the end nothing satisfies like a Krabby Patty. Especially when you’ve been on an all-fruit diet.

Coconut Fred’s Fruit Salad Island! premieres this Saturday, Sept. 17, at 9:30 a.m. ET on Kids’ WB.

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