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The debut of SpongeBob SquarePants in 1999 kept 14-year-old A.J. tethered to Nickelodeon for a few extra years, just as his interest in the kiddie channel began to wane. While not button-pushing in the same way that Shrek was, its surreal gags, colorful art direction, and strange references instantly grabbed my interest, and I was an episode-memorizing, quote-spouting fanboy in a flash. But it pains me that I can't say the same about the newer seasons, which are easily more conventional and kindergarten-oriented than the show's initial run. The bizarro charm just isn't there anymore, especially not in the series' latest stab at a holiday spectacular, It's a SpongeBob Christmas! Now before I'm bombarded with mail from parents griping that I'm too old to pass judgment on something so obviously aimed at children, let me say that It's a SpongeBob Christmas! is far from the bane of family entertainment; all things considered, it's not a terrible episode,  and it's certainly less simplistic than what Nickelodeon usually airs. But much about it still struck me as flat, which -- to a fan like me who loved how weird things got in the early days - is doubly disappointing.

SpongeBob SquarePants: It's a SpongeBob Christmas!
The Christmas season has come to Bikini Bottom, and the eternally-affable SpongeBob SquarePants (voice of Tom Kenny) is on hand to spread some holiday cheer. But there's one Scrooge who's seething at all the rampant yuletide joy, and that's Plankton (voice of Mr. Lawrence), a would-be supervillain who launches his latest scheme to stamp out happiness throughout the land. He tricks an unsuspecting SpongeBob into feeding Bikini Bottom's populace fruitcakes laced with Jerktonium, an element that turns them into meanies with furrowed brows and five o'clock shadows (yep, even the ladies). With everyone busy being miserable to each other, Plankton is free to worm his way into some extra presents -- not counting on SpongeBob's naïve purity to shield him from Jerktonium's effects and send him searching for a cure before Santa's arrival.

SpongeBob's last holiday-themed episode – Christmas Who? - was something of a compromise. It had all the usual Christmas special clichés (songs, curmudgeons being shown the true meaning of the season, etc.), but the show's signature style still shone through. It's a SpongeBob Christmas! tries to work around its conventional side by presenting itself as an homage to the glory days of Rankin-Bass stop-motion cartoons. It definitely has the look down pat (Kenny's Patchy the Pirate serves as a narrator modeled after Fred Astaire in Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town), but the series' subversive humor is at bare minimum here. Sure, the finale somehow works in a fire-spouting Mecha-SpongeBob, Santa (voiced by John Goodman) looks like a nightmarish elf, and the amusingly-titled Don't Be a Jerk, It's Christmas stands out in the soundtrack. But make no mistake, this is straightforward, factory-fresh, holiday fluff, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. If anything, the special is never cynical, and kids will respond well to SpongeBob's selfless devotion to making sure all of Bikini Bottom remains in good spirits. It's a perfectly nice episode all in all, but save for the swap in animation, it's just not that exciting or memorable overall.

SpongeBob SquarePants: It's a SpongeBob Christmas!

Video


For the life of me, I can't find the aspect ratio anywhere on this Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. One might not expect much, considering this is a made-for-TV affair, but It's a SpongeBob Christmas! sports a rather sharp 1080i High Definition transfer. The color scheme really pops, which should please fans used to the show's vibrant design. Minor details really stick out too, especially with the characters; you can tell SpongeBob, Plankton, and the gang were respectively created through their own specifically-designed materials. It's a SpongeBob Christmas! is only the second SpongeBob-related property to make it to Blu-ray, but it follows in the 2004 feature's footsteps as a visually-bold piece of work that really utilizes its high-def boost.

Audio


It's a SpongeBob Christmas! employs an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. I can't say I noticed any particular drops in quality, nor was it an exemplary track for the ages. Bells jingled, songs were warbled, and SpongeBob's evil robot double crashed through town, all sounding pretty solid overall. The disc also has an option to be played in French or Spanish, both being 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo tracks.

SpongeBob SquarePants: It's a SpongeBob Christmas!

Extras


  • Change of Sea-Nery (7:21), your standard-issue behind-the-scenes featurette. It's basic stuff, though it's kind of interesting to hear the crew discuss the process of maintaining the characters' trademark designs in their 3D counterparts.
  • An option to let you watch the main feature alongside its hand-drawn, storyboarded form.
  • A presumably never-ending loop of SpongeBob staring at a burning yule log.
  • Two MP3 compatible songs you can download onto your computer.
  • A music video (0:35) featuring the Violent Femmes performing the SpongeBob theme song.
  • A variety of making-of mini-docs centered around the SpongeBob show, covering SpongeBob's origins, recording the cast, drawing characters, storyboarding an episode, and the art direction.
  • Ten episodes of the show, presented in standard definition: Ripped Pants, SB-129, Texas, The Graveyard Shift, Something Smells, Jellyfishing, Dying for Pie, Wormy, Club SpongeBob, and F.U.N. (all around 11:00 in length). Ironically, none of these bonus episodes revolve around snow or the holidays, even though the show has quite a few it could have packed in (e.g. Christmas Who? and The Snowball Effect).

(NOTE: The DVD packaged with this release contains all of the features above, except the Violent Femmes video, the mini-docs, and bonus episodes.)

SpongeBob SquarePants: It's a SpongeBob Christmas!

Overall


I'm not sure forking over nearly $20 for It's a SpongeBob Christmas! out of the gate is worth it, considering the price will cover the inevitable DVD season set in which this will presumably be included (not to mention the fact that none of its bonus cartoons are in HD). The special looks great, sounds fine, and is harmless to watch, but it's nothing that isn't worth waiting to catch a rerun of as the winter months loom on the horizon. Neither a nadir or high water mark of the series, It's a SpongeBob Christmas! will keep the little ones preoccupied for 30 minutes and have seasoned fans eager to queue up their favorite episodes quickly thereafter.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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