‘Spongebob’ Seasons 1 through 3 remain the greatest cartoon of all time

September 17, 2022 — by Parav Manney
Photo by Google Play
A stunning picture of Spongebob with his friend Patrick.
Much of my childhood joy stemmed from this aesthetic and nostalgic cartoon.

The inaugural episode of “Spongebob Squarepants” aired in 1999, garnering a whopping 6.9 million views. Since then, the show has influenced millions of people across the globe, with many holding the show near and dear to their hearts.

The series is the brain-child of Stephen Hillenburg, a marine biologist who envisioned a cartoon revolving around aquatic creatures. In particular, he wanted the show to be centered around a cute sea sponge boy (aptly named Spongebob) and his adventures in the deep blue. 

The cast of characters includes a lazy starfish (Patrick, Spongebob’s best friend), a miserable, narcissistic octopus (Squidward), a penny-pinching crab (Mr. Krabs), a diabolical plankton (literally called Plankton) and a scientifically inclined squirrel equipped with gear allowing her to breathe underwater (Sandy).  

The show’s premise may seem unassuming, but it is a masterclass in storytelling, humor, maturity and aestheticism. Seasons 1 to 3 particularly exhibit these qualities in a refreshing and evocative fashion, marking “Spongebob” as a gem among cash-grabbing children’s shows.  

Each episode consists of a concept that is first introduced as a small gimmick and later developed through jokes and a vibrant atmosphere.

Take, for example, the “Hooky” episode in which Spongebob and Patrick become entranced by fishermen’s hooks and engage in dangerous activities involving them. The episode culminates with Spongebob learning his lesson (Mr. Krabs makes Squidward use a fishhook to rip off Spongebob’s clothes, embarrassing him in public). This simplistic formula allows the breadth of a concept (like the danger of hooks) to be explored fully and gives the episode an all-encompassing structure.

The humor in “Spongebob” is also remarkable. The standard for comedy for kids’ shows is a low bar, but “Spongebob” is actually funny. Excellent jokes — humorous enough to even amuse adults — are sprinkled throughout each episode. The show has molded much of Gen Z’s sense of absurdity, with its sometimes suggestive comments and bizarre uses of unexplainably funny gags. 

Furthermore, the morals in “Spongebob” are far more practical and memorable than those of other kids’ shows, which often include cliches such as “be nice to each other,” “appreciate differences,” “sharing means caring” and so on. 

“Spongebob,” instead, teaches kids social intelligence: that people won’t sit next to them if they smell bad, as in “Something Smells”; that using a joke too much saps its comedic potency, as in “Ripped Pants”; and that rather than wasting time getting irritated by people you don’t like, you should instead purposefully ignore them and move on with life (literally every Spongebob and Squidward encounter).

Additionally, the show includes superb aesthetics in three major categories: the atmosphere, the sounds and the animation. These components of the atmosphere are not only the most euphoric moments of my childhood memories, but also the reasons the show continues to capture me. 

“Spongebob” incorporates underwater sunsets, fluid, nightly reflections in the deep ocean and overall mastery of tropical imagery, making the show beautiful and sometimes even melancholic. Hillenburg’s background in marine biology surely gave him an edge in producing sounds appropriate to his setting.

One particular episode that I admire for its animation and audio is “Scaredy Pants.” The moon depicted against the backdrop of  a starry sky is like a dream, set before the rippling water of Spongebob’s aquatic world. The overhead waves, tinged with moonlight, cast flowing silver ringlets on the ocean floor. These overarching effects, and more, are what make “Spongebob” memorable to me.

The music and sound design, not just in the evening bits, cannot be stressed enough in their excellence. The sounds of water and Hawaiian blues in the background — especially the ones in the first three seasons of the show — enchant the resplendent landscapes. The artistic style in seasons 1 to 3 use frame-by-frame animation, meaning animators drew each frame by hand. This adds depth and charm to characters’ movements.

Moreover, the colorful Polynesian environments draw the viewer into a serene world, allowing them to forget about their worries and take part in a relaxing retreat. 

There are no perfect pieces of art, but if there was one, “Spongebob” would come extremely close. It accomplishes so many aspects that most showmakers struggle with and still manages to include comedy that outlasts even late night shows. “Spongebob” is not only a masterpiece, but an icon of pure expression for the ages.

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