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"SpongeBob Vs The Big One": Lazy Day Beach Antics

Like most adults who enjoy animation, I appreciate it as a versatile medium limited only by the ideas of the people who work in it, and believe that it’s perfectly possible to make a story with dark and mature themes. But that doesn’t mean I’ve lost sight of the simpler fun you can have with a good old bit of well-written, slapstick fun. A show that manages to grasp this perfectly is SpongeBob SquarePants.

Possibly the most successful NickToon ever, SpongeBob is firmly cast with the same manic energy that went into such earlier successes as Ren & Stimpy and Rocko’s Modern Life. Insanity abounds in its silliness, sight gags and puns.

SpongeBob Vs The Big One is an extended episode, coming in at roughly 23 minutes. SpongeBob and the show’s core cast (dumb sidekick Patrick, cynical Squidward, money-hungry Mr Krabs and wondergirl Sandy) end up stranded on a desert island. A surfboard is the only way home, so the sponge heads out to find the island’s most legendary resident, the surfer king JKL (voiced by guest star Johnny Depp).

The episode plays out like a scaled down, made-for-TV-movie (something which Nickelodeon is no stranger to). The plot bounces along at a rapid pace, not feeling rushed but also not dwelling on scenes the way an actual movie would likely do. The humour is good but not the best we’ve seen from the show, with some of the SpongeBob and Patrick scenes coming off as trying too hard and putting out forced silliness. Mr. Krabs and Sandy also get subplots—they end up separated from the main group—that probably could have been cut. Mr. Krabs’ sub-plot is at least excusable because he gets to have some genuinely amusing cabin fever escapades with his cash register before his story ties back into the main plot, but Sandy’s role goes nowhere and serves up some fairly clichéd jokes. I get the feeling maybe some exec insisted she be included, because the writers generally seem to have no idea what to do with her once she appears.

Of course, most people will be interested in Johnny Depp’s appearance. Amusingly enough for a voice-acting role, Depp actually gets very little dialogue, and what there is he delivers in an intentionally subdued manner. That’s not to say he’s bad, but if you go into this expecting ‘SpongeBob Meets Johnny Depp’, you’ll definitely be disappointed. Depp does a great job with the material he’s given, and it feels like he’s working alongside the regular cast and not trying to eclipse them, as has been the case with many misguided special guests in television history. Plus the character is introduced with a wonderfully timed sight gag that I won’t ruin here.

The disc provides two fairly simple extras. The first, ‘Riding The Hook Now’, is a roughly minute-long music video with SpongeBob and Patrick singing a Beach Boys-like song over clips from the featured episode. It’s the kind of thing really aimed at young kids, which of course make up the bulk of the series’ fan base. The other extra thankfully has more cross-age appeal. ‘Plankton’s Sinister Commentary’ sees the show’s long-suffering villain commenting on a cut down version of the episode in Mystery Science Theater 3000 style. Plankton’s particular brand of comedy evil shines here, as he savours all the cast-in-peril moments and bemoans his own suffering. It might have been interesting for them to give the entire episode this treatment, but this condensed form helps the joke stay fresh and give the character the ideal scenes for him to riff on.

Rounding up the disc are a selection of episodes, the first two of which are at least loosely connected to the main feature by being beach stories. “A Life In a Day” and “Sun Bleached” both use the common plot device of SpongeBob and Patrick being belittled by some popular beach trendsetter, and resolving to follow their example in thrill seeking and tanning respectively. Both are generally amusing tales which retain the show’s core theme that it’s better to be true to yourself than follow shallow trends.

“Giant Squidward” uses a fairly stock cartoon plot (a regular character is accidentally grown to giant size and mistaken for a monster) but manages to play around with it enough to keep it fresh. (The short-tempered Squidward is already pretty close to being a monster, and its amusing how the blood-thirsty mob are quick to condemn him for even the most minor faux pas). “No Nose Knows” returns to the earlier ‘true to yourself’ message, with Patrick having an artificial nose attached and finding himself ill prepared to deal with the new odour sensations.

The two final episodes rely on one of my favourite pieces of narrative—mystery. It works especially well within an unpredictable cartoon world such as this, where the story can twist and turn in numerous ways. “The Patty Caper” sees SpongeBob on the trail of a stolen secret ingredient in the famed Krabby Patty formula. The Krabby Patty also plays a key part in “Plankton’s Regular”, which serves as an inversion of previous Plankton episodes when the diminutive villain gains a regular customer who claims to adore his sickly food. This sends Mr. Krabs into a desperate frenzy to learn Plankton’s secret to success.

I can’t honestly call “SpongeBob Vs. The Big One” the show’s best episode. There are some decent moments but they’ve done better, some of which are highlighted in the additional episodes presented. Depp’s casting is definitely a boon though, and he gives a performance worth checking out. As a DVD, it’s a bit bare compared to a more fleshed out season set, but again, given the fact it’s almost certain to attract Depp’s legions of fans, they can pick up the episode cheaply and get some regular episodes to give them a ranged sample of the show.

It might not be king of the beach, but it isn’t a sand trap.

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