WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
So, Paramount has finally decided to release SpongeBob SquarePants in season sets! Hallelujah! But what are we collectors to do with the seven "theme" discs that Paramount has already released? It's a conundrum. As you'll see below, only about a third of the episodes contained herein are new to DVD. That does take a little of the joy away from this new season set, and indeed, it might provoke a little justifiable anger toward Paramount. But if you're even a casual fan of SpongeBob, you're going to have to pick up this set, because it contains some truly hilarious never-before-seen-on-disc episodes, as well as a couple of fantastic extras.
SpongeBob SquarePants follows the nonsensical adventures of a certain square sponge as he and his friends frolic under the sea. It's a seascape in which characters can draw breath, light fires, and even befriend a squirrel in a wetsuit. SpongeBob is hopelessly square in more ways than one, always fantastically cheerful and juvenile and prone to misadventure. There's also SpongeBob's best buddy Patrick, an slothful starfish, and the feisty Squidward, the cranky six-tentacled octopus who wants only to play his clarinet but is foiled at every turn by the well-intentioned but blissfully unaware SpongeBob and Patrick. And over at the Krusty Krab is Mr. Krabs (Clancy Brown), money-grubbing crab and owner of the restaurant where SpongeBob and Squidward work. Rounding out the gang is Sandy, the aforementioned squirrel, who hails from Texas but has for some reason decided to join the crazy sea dwellers in the town of Bikini Bottom.
This set contains 40 episodes but is—annoyingly—missing the show's first (pilot) episode Help Wanted, in which SpongeBob lands his job at the Krusty Krab. Where is it? This is perhaps the only disappointment of the set. I was a little aggravated by the loooong animated menus that introduce all the characters, on by one, but it's really that missing episode that has me upset.
The DVD set presents Season 1's episodes in the following order. For the benefit of those who (like me) have already collected some or all of the previously released "theme" sets, I've included information about which discs some of these shorts have already appeared on. As you can see, only 14 of the 40 episodes are newly available in this first-season set.
Reef Blower (7-24-99)—New to this release
Tea at the Treedome (7-24-99)—Tales from the Deep
Bubblestand (7-17-99)—Seascape Capers (forthcoming)
Ripped Pants (7-17-99)—Nautical Nonsense
JellyFishing (7-31-99)—Nautical Nonsense
Plankton! (7-31-99)—Lost at Sea
Naughty Nautical Neighbors (8-7-99)—New to this release
Boating School (8-7-99)—Lost at Sea
Pizza Delivery (8-14-99)—Christmas
Home Sweet Pineapple (8-14-99)—New to this release
Mermaidman and Barnacleboy (8-21-99)—Tales from the Deep
Pickles (8-21-99)—Sea Stories
Hall Monitor (8-28-99)—Tales from the Deep
JellyFish Jam (8-28-99)—Sea Stories
Sandy's Rocket (9-4-99)—New to this release
Squeaky Boots (9-4-99)—Christmas
Nature Pants (9-11-99)—New to this release
Opposite Day (9-11-99)—Tide and Seek
Culture Shock (9-18-99)—New to this release
F.U.N. (9-18-99)—Nautical Nonsense
MuscleBob BuffPants (9-25-99)—New to this release
Squidward the Unfriendly Ghost (9-25-99)—Halloween
The Chaperone (10-2-99)—Lost at Sea
Employee of the Month (10-2-99)—New to this release
Scaredy Pants (10-28-99)—Halloween
I Was a Teenage Gary (10-28-99)—Halloween
SB-129 (12-31-99)—Nautical Nonsense
Karate Choppers (12-31-99)—New to this release
Sleepy Time (1-17-00)—Tide and Seek
Suds (1-17-00)—Lost at Sea
Valentine's Day (2-14-00)—Tales from the Deep
The Paper (2-14-00)—Tales from the Deep
Arrgh! (3-15-00)—New to this release
Rock Bottom (3-15-00)—New to this release
Texas (3-22-00)—Nautical Nonsense
Walking Small (3-22-00)—New to this release
Fools in April (4-1-00)—New to this release
Neptune's Spatula (4-1-00)—New to this release
Hooky (4-8-00)—Sea Stories
Mermaidman and Barnacleboy II (4-8-00)—Lost at Sea
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Paramount presents SpongeBob SquarePants: The Complete First Season in a nice full-frame transfer of the series' original TV presentation. The transfer delivers the show's animated image quite impressively, although I noticed that the colors weren't exactly vivid. Perhaps the look of SpongeBob grew brighter in subsequent seasons, but here, the title character often isn't the eye-popping yellow I'm used to. That being said, I found the rest of the color palette to be pleasing, with good color and deep blacks. Detail is exemplary, but I noticed stronger-than-usual aliasing on my 65" monitor. The line work generally looks solid, though, and there's not much distracting from this pristine image.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The disc's 2.0 stereo track is pleasing and occasionally dynamic. I noticed nice directionality across the front soundstage. Dialog is clean and natural sounding, and sound effects are crisp. However, some of the dialog and louder screams tend toward distortion.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
The first two discs of the three-disc set contain Audio Commentaries over only two of the episodes—Plankton and Karate Choppers. In the previously released theme sets, we got occasional commentaries from creator Stephen Hillenburg and Tom Kenny (voice of SpongeBob) that were pretty bland. As if to make up for that, this set presents two very entertaining commentaries featuring the show's key voice actors. I liked how one of the actors called the show "Gilligan's Island meets Faust." Given the pure fun of these commentaries, I wish the group had produced a few more.
Making my way through the first two discs, I thought I might be in for a season set that contained a boring array of supplements, but thankfully, Disc 3 comes through with a nice variety of extras.
First up is the 10-minute featurette The Origin of SpongeBob SquarePants, which is essentially a collection of talking-head interviews with series creator Stephen Hillenburg, creative director Derek Drymon, art director Nick Jennings, interspersed with early concept drawings that led to the creation of SpongeBob.
Recollections from the First Season Crew is a 6-minute interview piece that talks very briefly with many members of the behind-the-scenes crew. I felt like this piece could easily have been three or four times longer. Too much information and too many people in too short a time!
Everybody's Talking: The Voices Behind SpongeBob SquarePants is a wonderful 14-minute featurette about the show's voice cast. You get glimpses into recording sessions for all the major characters, and you get to know the ideas and inspirations behind the voices. You even get a very early recording of Stephen Hillenburg doing Squidward's voice! I enjoyed how freely the actors spoke to the camera in their character voices—unlike, say, the voice actors of The Simpsons, who are reluctant to share their talents outside the show.
The Bikini Bottom's Up Tour is an interactive map of the show's setting. Using your remote, you can visit all the key locations, such as SpongeBob's pineapple house and the Krusty Krab. Annoyingly, this feature contains short live-action video with Patchy the Pirate (Tom Kenny).
In the Key of Sea: Krusty Krab Karaoke lets you sing along with several songs from the show: the "SpongeBob SquarePants Theme Song," "The F.U.N. Song," "Ripped Pants," and "Doing the Sponge."
Drawing the Goo Lagoon is a 2-minute piece that looks at the show's backgrounds.
SpongeBob's Life Strategies is a 2-minute piece that features clips from the show.
Violent Femmes Sing SpongeBob is a 30-second music video/commercial of the band singing the show's theme song.
SpongeBob Scaredy Pants Music Video is a 1-minute music video featuring clips from the show.
SpongeBob Dancin' Pants Music Video is another 1-minute compilation of clips.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
Whether you should purchase this set depends on what level of fan you are and how many of the "theme" sets you've already purchased. If you already have all of those previous discs, then you're probably a completist (like me) and you'll buy this in a state of anger directed toward Paramount. The extras on this set are mostly new, although I hoped for more audio commentaries from the spirited participants. Because I love the show so much, I can't see any way around giving this one a recommendation. But why is Help Wanted missing? I suppose I'll have to buy a "theme" disc down the road to secure that one. Sigh.