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Television review: Tide pool runs amok with 'SpongeBob'

Television review: Tide pool runs amok with 'SpongeBob'
A scene from an early episode of "SpongeBob SquarePants." (Nickelodeon)

Editors note: Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of SpongeBob SquarePants, died Tuesday at age 57. The story below is the original “SpongeBob SquarePants” television review that ran in The Times on July 17, 1999.

He's big-eyed, buck-toothed, long-nosed, rectangular, full of holes, and his pants are,well, square. Meet the star of "SpongeBob SquarePants," Nickelodeon's newest cartoon series of the same name.

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Starting today, it's a bubbly half hour of inventive silliness set in Bikini Bottom, an undersea city around Bikini Atoll, where scallops chirp, the fish wear clothes, the underwater "sky" is patterned like a Hawaiian shirt, and the Krusty Krab diner has the best burgers in town--just ask the anchovies.

Offbeat animation is the norm today, but creator Steve Hillenburg — animator and former marine science educator — has come up with some fresh wackiness in the detailed tide pool fantasy environment, the zany characters, and the unexpected injections of 3-D images and real-life film footage into the animation.

Sly humor mitigates the more obvious silliness and use of old and new, goofy, good-time music — tropical slack key, ukulele, rock 'n' roll — is positively inspired.

In the simple premise, little well-meaning SpongeBob, who dwells in a pineapple on the ocean floor, tootles along in his world, creating unintentional havoc for himself and everyone else.

In the first half of today's two-cartoon episode, SpongeBob's crabby, clarinet-playing neighbor, Squidward, succumbs to vanity and tries to match SpongeBob's fantastic bubble-blowing skills, with roof-raising results.

Next, SpongeBob, trying to compete for the limelight at Mussel Beach with weightlifting hunk Larry Lobster, goes overboard with a ripped pants joke. He makes a big splash, though, singing falsetto in a Beach Boys-type musical finale.

It's the usual 'toon slapstick delivered with a whimsical twist that just might hook adults, too.

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