Screen Novelties, the hands behind the 2012 stop-motion SpongeBob SquarePants special, SpongeBob SquarePants: It’s a SpongeBob Christmas! have returned to Bikini Bottom for a new Halloween-themed stop-motion special. SpongeBob SquarePants: The Legend of Boo-Kini Bottom manages to outdo the previous special by upping the production values and introducing frights in addition to laughs, as one would expect from a SpongeBob SquarePants Halloween special.
Despite the attention grabber of a title, the name isn’t really indicative of the story. SpongeBob doesn’t understand the point of Halloween, and Patrick confuses the issue even further by explaining to him that “scary equals funny.” So SpongeBob and Patrick visit Sandy, Mr. Krabs, and Plankton, who are decorating their homes for the holiday, and SpongeBob only laughs when he should be scared. This eventually catches the attention of the Flying Dutchman, who decides that SpongeBob needs a good scare. It’s a fairly straightforward Flying Dutchman plot, and it doesn’t reveal any sort of mystic backstory about Bikini Bottom, or even involve most of the residents in any significant way.
The real draw of this special is watching just how experimental the crew gets with the animation and how various styles blend together. SpongeBob is no stranger to mixing unexpected forms of animation and even bits of live action for the sake of humor, and the 2015 film The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water took that idea even further. Animating the SpongeBob characters in stop-motion definitely takes the characters to places they’ve never gone before. Unlike the Christmas special, Legend of Boo-Kini Bottom goes for scares as well as humor, and succeeds at both. It’s fun to watch a physical object move and be animated, but there’s a creepy “Uncanny Valley” effect when figures, hand puppets, marionettes, and bits of traditional animation all interact with each other.
A SpongeBob special wouldn’t be SpongeBob if it didn’t have random humor and quick gags. From Sandy’s acorn-based Frankenstein creation to a close-up look at Patrick’s mouth, the animation techniques prove that they can match what a regular hand-drawn SpongeBob episode does. SpongeBob does do a lot of laughing, maybe even more than usual, and if you find his signature laugh annoying, here it will be simply excruciating (and the Dutchman would certainly agree: at one point, SpongeBob’s laugh manifests itself physically as a “HA HA” and smacks him in the face).
One of the highlights of the special is the musical number, “The Scare Song,” which plays as SpongeBob and Patrick are in the Dutchman’s ship. The song is reminiscent of Disney’s Haunted Mansion’s “Grim Grinning Ghosts,” and the atmosphere is even like “Halloween is Grinch Night” (the animated Grinch movie that doesn’t get talked about nearly as much as that other one). The visuals and animation are at its most impressive.
Stop-motion, understandably, takes a long time to make. And it’s clear that a lot of effort, imagination, and originality went into making this special. However, I feel that it could’ve been even longer and spent more time with the supporting characters and their set pieces. One gag that’s briefly glossed over is Plankton’s “Horrors of the Krusty Krab,” which argues that Krabby Patties are made out of people (well, fish), which is something SpongeBob fans have wondered. The joke comes and goes a little too quickly, and of course it’s completely over SpongeBob’s head, so there’s not much of a reaction to it.
The success and longevity of SpongBob SquarePants is unheard of, not just for a NickToon, but for a cartoon in general. Given that success, Nick is going to give fans more. That means doing some experimenting to keep the show fresh, but not so much that it loses what makes SpongeBob so unique and fun in the first place, which is its humor and absurdity. Fortunately, they’ve found an animation style that takes a unique approach to that. This special may not get the attention that the Christmas special did, since it aired on CBS and evoked the feelings of classic Rankin/Bass specials that play every Christmas, as well as being the first instance of SpongeBob in stop motion. However, The Legend of Boo-Kini Bottom is still an inventive addition to the SpongeBob franchise.
SpongeBob SquarePants: The Legend of Boo-Kini Bottom premieres Friday, October. 13th at 7:00 P.M. (ET/PT)