Classic stop-motion Christmas fun, SpongeBob-style!
By Paul Mavis
When you’re rooting around for some fun Christmas-themed stop-motion animation, you can’t go wrong with Nickelodeon‘s It’s a SpongeBob Christmas!, the 2012 special that originally aired on CBS.
Unless I’m reading the scheds wrong, I don’t see Nick or CBS re-running this elaborate special this week, but luckily you can still grab a nice Amazon Blu-ray for a stocking stuffer. If you used to be a big fan of the little sponge, but have worried over the last few years that the series has kind of lost its way, you’re in luck: It’s a SpongeBob Christmas! is on par with your better-than-average SpongeBob SquarePants episodes, with the seasonal background and particularly the sensationally real (not computer-faked) stop-motion work here making this a must-buy for some lucky kid this Christmas.
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Patchy the Pirate (voice talent of Tom Kenny), hijacking a Christmas mail truck, hosts and narrates this SpongeBob Christmas special. While SpongeBob SquarePants (voice talent of Tom Kenny) greets a new Christmas morning with a song (Santa’s Eyes), Plankton (voice talent of Mr. Lawrence) has a much less benign plan to ring in the New Year.
Plankton has discovered a new element, Jerktonium, which he plans on feeding into his Jerk Maker 9000, a combination fruitcake oven/shooter, lacing the delectable cakes with Jt, which should cause everyone to become, whatelse…a jerk. That way, by simple process of elimination, Plankton and his previous year’s evil deeds won’t look so bad, and Santa will have to bring him some presents…instead of the coal Plankton always gets in his stocking. There’s only one problem: the Jerk Maker 9000 doesn’t seem to work. Plankton shot SpongeBob with several laced fruitcakes, but he remained as sunny and kind as always, prompting Plankton to give SpongeBob the keys to the 9000 in disgust. Naturally, clueless SpongeBob carries out Plankton’s plan anyway, turning the whole of Bikini Bottom into a chaotic, rioting jerk-fest, so Plankton has to turn to Plan B: MechaSpongeBob, a clanking metal robot ready to destroy Christmas.
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An affectionate take-off on all those beloved 1960s-1970s Rankin/Bass Christmas stop-motion TV specials (as well as a nod to those great old Toho Godzilla movies), filtered through the silly/sick humor of SpongeBob SquarePants, It’s a SpongeBob Christmas! is a welcome return to form for those fans of the Nickelodeon toon series who lament the sometimes scattershot feel of the last few years. Having covered many, many SpongeBob seasons for a different verkakte review site (oy vey…), and having seen the general downward trajectory of the long-running series, I was more than a little apprehensive when it came to reviewing this holiday entry (factor in, too, that so many of the new Christmas TV specials, quite frankly, stink). Luckily, I was more than pleasantly surprised at how well It’s a SpongeBob Christmas! came off.
Like any SpongeBob toon, It’s a SpongeBob Christmas! has its share of expected juvenile silliness; throwaway jokes that are so stupid they make the kids groan and laugh at the same time. When Patchy pilots that mail truck down the icy road and hollers, “There’s a fork in the road!”, that’s exactly what pops his tire and sends him hilariously spinning out of control: a three-tined fork (the stop-motion effect here is beautiful). And when completely brainless Patrick (voice talent of Bill Fagerbakke) wants to set a trap for Santa Claus to keep Christmas going all year long, you can be assured that Patrick will fall into his own snare. Those kinds of childish-but-funny gags are de rigueur for SpongeBob episodes…as are the sly, smart, deadpan jabs that still make this almost 20-year-old series still adult-friendly viewing. Critically, It’s a SpongeBob Christmas!‘s central gag–fruit cake is so hateful a Christmas tradition it literally turns people into jerks–is quite clever (“Hot from the oven and full of lovin!” Plankton booms), topped by the hilarious transformation of the poisoned fruitcake victims, their heads momentarily dazzled by a furious whirl of Christmas lights, accompanied by a loud Bronx cheer.
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Fortunately, plenty of other jokes and gags keep the pace up here–something that doesn’t always happen in later SpongeBob special episodes. Plankton’s “Naughty Deeds” list has “littering” at number one, followed by “world domination,” “puppy taunting,” “‘mispelling’ words,” and “neglect grooming.” A SpongeBob trademark, the bystanders throwaway gag, has Frankie wishing Johnnie a “Merry Christmas,” before he whips an iceball in his face. Patchy steals a mail truck and trusses up the postal worker (“I gave Mr. Mailman the day off!” he offers as we briefly see the frightened worker gagged in the back). Starving Patchy sees Potty as a plate of buffalo wings (starving Potty sees Patchy’s head as a birdseed cone), before he hallucinates meeting with Santa (it’s actually a vicious polar bear, salting Patchy).
No Christmas TV special would be complete without Santa (voice talent of John Goodman), so when he shows up, he’s right out of the sick SpongeBob playbook: possibly the grossest-looking kids’ movie Santa ever, with a bald head covered in liver spots, rubbery, grouper balloon lips, and baggy, goggling eyes that look like hard-boiled eggs. Santa’s no hero saving the day here, either; when the marauding tin robot SpongeBob breathes fire like MechaGodzilla, Santa is the first to deadpan, “I’m outta here,” before he skedaddles. Best of all, the makers of It’s a SpongeBob Christmas! deliver all of these funny situations in first-rate puppet stop-motion, getting the Rankin/Bass look down pat (they even drop in some cell animation-looking snow effect that’s R/B letter-perfect). When I first saw It’s a SpongeBob Christmas!, I was hoping it would become a TV classic watched year after year: it gets better every time I see it. Too bad it doesn’t seem to be on the TV scheds: plenty of funny gags and beautiful stop-motion animation add up to a Christmas winner.
PAUL MAVIS IS AN INTERNATIONALLY PUBLISHED MOVIE AND TELEVISION HISTORIAN, A MEMBER OF THE ONLINE FILM CRITICS SOCIETY, AND THE AUTHOR OF THE ESPIONAGE FILMOGRAPHY. Click to order.Read more of Paul’s TV reviews here. Read Paul’s film reviews at our sister website, Movies & Drinks.