Friday 24 January 2020

Good Cheer and Gusto: SpongeBob SquarePants

I'm happy to report that the grandsons' taste in animations remains solidly retro, the current favourite being Popeye, of which long-running classic they prefer the early episodes (as far back as the 1930s) to later incarnations. There is, however, one more recent animation that they both love, and that is SpongeBob SquarePants.
  I was glad to learn this, as it's something I heard good reports of when it began, back in the days when I was too busy to watch anything much beyond what I was getting paid to watch. Now, on the far side of the world, I was glad to get the opportunity to catch up and enjoy it alongside the grandsons. The early episodes, it seems to me, are every bit as good as everyone said they were, though later ones are usually disappointing (fans say the show 'jumped the shark' some time after its first three series).
  SpongeBob SquarePants is wonderfully old-fashioned, being a proper animation, not computer-generated and not Disney slick, and it celebrates good cheer and gusto, perseverance and kindness. But it is also gloriously weird. Seeing it properly for the first time, I had to wonder how on earth it got commissioned: it is, after all, an animation about a cheerful kitchen-sponge-shaped, er, sponge who dresses like a prewar French schoolboy, but works, with tremendous enthusiasm, flipping Krabby Patties at the Krusty Krab eaterie, an establishment run by Mr Krabs, a money-grubbing crab who seems to think he's in charge of a pirate ship. And SpongeBob's best pals are a vain and embittered squid, Squidward, who wants nothing to do with the endlessly bouncy Spongebob; and a cheerful starfish, Patrick (pictured), who shares SpongeBob's zest for life but is, alas, fantastically stupid. And there's Mr Krabs' teenage daughter, who is (mysteriously) a sperm whale, and Sandy, a squirrel from Texas, and the unscrupulous one-eyed copepod, Plankton, who runs the Chum Bucket, a rival establishment to the Krusty Krab... And all this takes place on the ocean floor, in a community called Bikini Bottom.
  So how on earth, I wondered, was this crazy scenario pitched? Surely it can't have been easy? Actually, I discovered from Wikipedia, the pitch went very smoothly, helped by show creator Steve Hillenburg's Hawaiian shirt and a terrarium mock-up of the characters. The Nickelodeon execs leapt at it, and the rest is history.
  I also discovered from Wikipedia that Hillenburg, when he created SpongeBob, was not some drug-crazed maverick but an experienced animator (Rocko's Modern Life) – and a marine biologist. Indeed SpongeBob SquarePants had its origins in an unpublished educational comic book created by Hillenburg, The Intertidal Zone. And, what's more, in 2011 a newly described fungus was named Spongiforma squarepantsii in honour of SpongeBob. Yes, this animation has scientific credentials, though I wouldn't altogether recommend it as an introduction to marine biology. But it is – or was in its prime – very funny, brilliantly imagined and wonderfully cheering. What more could you ask?

No comments:

Post a Comment