SpongeBob SquarePants’s been around for either a decade or ‘eleventy-seven’ years, depending on whether you go by the calendar or by the irrational number thrown around in the absorbent and yellow and porous one’s tenth anniversary special, Truth or Square.
Scooby Doo aside, I can’t think of another TV cartoon character who’s broken into the mainstream with the same staying power as the classic Warner and Disney characters. The Flintstones and Scoob may be fondly remembered by many, but when was the last time you completely cracked up watching them? (For me frankly, never.)
Apart from laughing at the nonstop gags, I completely lost it at least four or five times during the special, which juggles two plotlines: the sponge and friends preparing for the Krusty Krab restaurant’s eleventy-seventh anniversary, and a live-action parallel story (rivaling some of SCTV’s more inspired episodes in sheer goofballiness) following Patchy the Pirate’s flop sweat-drenched attempt to put together an all-star salute to the Sponge.
One reason for Mr. Pants’ popularity: his protean ability to be anybody and everybody, from twinkle-eyed innocent to steely action hero to a drunken bum coming off a(n ice cream sundae) bender; the expressions Stephen Hillenburg and company put on their man-child’s face (or faces – in the special SpongeBob has a cabinet filled with one for each emotion), are nothing short of priceless.
Celebs love SpongeBob; the list of names who’ve done cameos or guest voices on the show could fill the Tonight Show couch for a month (David Bowie? Sure; Alec Baldwin? Why not? Jim Jarmusch? Yeah, the kids can’t get enough of him…) and there’s enough big-name talent in the special for a week’s worth of Jay Leno. Will Ferrell, Ricky Gervais, LeBron James, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog and a bunch of other folks have the pleasure of rebuffing Patsy’s desperate pleas (Tina Fay was all set to appear until Patchy realized he wasn’t talking to Tina Turner), forcing the pirate to abduct a relatively subdued Robin Williams. (“I know this place,” Robin cracked as Patsy led him through the studio basement, “it’s where careers come to die.”)
Truth or Square is filled with faux flashbacks recounting SpongeBob’s life story, from a pre-natal Bob peeking out of his mom’s belly button as if it were a tiny window to his first day working in Mr. Krab’s fast-food restaurant. Along the way SpongeBob appears as a bouncy, 1930’s-style Max Fleischer version of himself, Mr. Krabs stars in a 1950’s-style TV commercial done in 1950’s-style TV animation. (“I’m a doctor – as far as you know…”) and a trapped in a backroom Krabs and SpongeBob’s dimwitted pal Patrick have this priceless exchange:
Krabs: I’ve spent a lifetime working here and I know there’s only one way out.
Patrick: A high school diploma?
Patchy the Pirate’s SpongeBob salute may have been a major disaster (“Blackbeard would’ve gotten the real A-listers on his special”), but Truth or Square is a major treat; in fact, I’m so happy I think I’ll drop on the deck and flop like a fish…