For December 10, we are returning to the theme of this year which is to revisit the best of the best. When I originally ranked my favorite Christmas specials, I had the recently released It’s a SpongeBob Christmas! ranked at #19. The years have been kind to this throwback Christmas special as last year I bumped SpongeBob and the residents of Bikini Bottom all the way up to #11! And from where I sit, it’s not in any danger of dropping back to 19, if anything, it’s a threat to move up into the Top 10 because this is a pretty fantastic way to celebrate Christmas.
SpongeBob Squarepants is a show, and character, that I missed. I wasn’t watching Nickelodeon when he premiered and I’ve never made it a point in my life to see what all the fuss is about. I’ve seen episodes here and there, enough to know how the show works, but the only appointment viewing this show has ever produced for me is this Christmas special. When I saw the promos for this special I immediately was interested because the show had made the decision to produce a stop-motion Christmas special in the same vein as the old Rankin/Bass specials. If you’re going to enter the crowded world of Christmas specials and you’re looking to stand out, nostalgia is a recipe for success! Now, not everyone can just up and decide they want to do something like this and it helps that SpongeBob appeared to have the backing of Nickelodeon and the Viacom company since this sucker was ticketed for a CBS premiere. Sadly, CBS hasn’t turned this one into an annual tradition, but at least for one night there was an air of importance attached.
The animation for this episode was produced by Screen Novelties and directed by two of the studio’s founders: Mark Caballero and Seamus Walsh. Screen Novelties is a modern producer of stop-motion and has worked with yesterday’s feature, Robot Chicken, as well as famed visual effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen, so SpongeBob found himself in good company for this one. Screen Novelties also participated in the restoration of some of the puppets from the original special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, so they have significant Christmas cred. A collective of writers worked on this story, and it was partially inspired by the song featured in the episode, “Don’t Be a Jerk (It’s Christmas),” which was recorded by Tom Kenny and Andy Paley in 2009. It’s a semi-conventional plot, where a bad guy and naughty list regular tries to trick Santa into giving him a present for Christmas. The unconventional part is the method utilized to get on Santa’s famed nice list.
The special begins with old friend Patchy the Pirate (Tom Kenny) and his parrot sidekick, Potty (Paul Tibbitt). We met both in the original Christmas special from SpongeBob Squarepants, and when we catch up with them here we find Patchy driving a mail truck. It’s design, and Patchy’s, is reminiscent of Special Delivery from Santa Claus is Coming to Town, though it has conventional tires. Patchy informs us he’s giving the mailman some time off, by tying him up in the back of the truck. He wants to get to Santa so he can ask him to introduce him to his hero, SpongeBob, and Potty seems to be just along for the ride. Unfortunately, they’re about to hit a literal fork in the road which causes the vehicle to spin out of control. While the truck is spinning, Patchy suggests we peek in on old SpongeBob and see what he’s up to this Christmas.
We then head under the sea, after a modestly festive rendition of the credits, and the stop-motion set looks gorgeous. SpongeBob (Tom Kenny) emerges from his bed singing a festive tune, “Santa Has His Eye on Me,” as he decorates his home. He spins his entire pineapple house to wrap lights around it, and there is an animation cheat when it’s done as the lights that wrapped around his door have vanished. He sprouts a Santa hat and hops his way over to Squidward’s (Rodger Bumpass) house to find his crotchety neighbor decorating as well. This seems like a change of heart since we last saw Squidward at Christmas, but he lets us know his decorations serve a purpose: to tell Santa to go away! SpongeBob then checks in on his buddy Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) who appears to be setting up a traditional box trap. It’s baited with a Christmas cookie, and Patrick explains to the tune of “The Nutcracker Suite” that he intends to catch Santa so he can have Christmas every day! He then sees his cookie and promptly traps himself. Also, an image of Santa dominates the “sky” momentarily while SpongeBob sings about Santa having his eye on him and it’s super creepy. Santa is some sort of sea elf. He looks like an old doll that was left to soak in the ocean and then dried out.
SpongeBob then pays a visit to his pal Sandy (Carolyn Lawrence) in her dome. She’s deconstructing the Christmas spirit or something via alchemy and seems to be having a good time. At the Krusty Krab, Mr. Krabs (Clancy Brown) is decorating the restaurant in anticipation of the “Season of getting.” When SpongeBob tries to correct him, he further corrects SpongeBob because he’s a greedy prick.
At the Chum Bucket, Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) continues our song as he sings about Santa watching him too. He punctuates the song by announcing that every year he gets a stocking full of coal! His computer A.I., Karen (Jill Talley), chimes in that he’d probably get presents if he wasn’t the biggest jerk in Bikini Bottom, and that’s when we find out Plankton has a plan. Since it would be too hard for him to just be nice, he’s going to make everyone in Bikini Bottom a bigger jerk than even he so that he looks nice by comparison. And just how is he going to do that? By lacing the most innocent of holiday treats, the fruit cake, with the substance Jerktonium. Apparently, just one speck of the stuff will turn an ordinary person into a colossal jerk!
Plankton prepares his fruit cake and then loads up a special dispenser he created that’s part oven and part go-kart. He takes it for a spin outside and immediately encounters SpongeBob. Upon seeing the little fruit cake cart, SpongeBob gets excited and asks if he can try some of his fruit cake. Plankton is happy to oblige and SpongeBob devours a slice. When Plankton inquires to see how SpongeBob is feeling, he finds he’s his usual cheerful, annoying, self and won’t stop raving about the fruit cake. Plankton gives him some more, but the result remains the same. Plankton then goes into a mini rage and starts firing fruit cake at SpongeBob who continues to devour it. Defeated, Plankton decides to retreat into the Chum Bucket, but before he does he hands SpongeBob the keys to his fruit cake cart since he’s so eager to share it with the rest of the town.
SpongeBob pilots the cart over to a trio of carolers (Kenny, Fagerbakke, Lawrence) and offers them some fruit cake. They’re all happy to be offered the most foul of holiday “treats” and eat a slice each as SpongeBob looks on. After they’re done eating, a change comes over the carolers and each ends up with angry eyes and a five-o-clock shadow. They bicker about what song to sing and argue over which “bells” song is superior: “Jingle Bells” or “Silver Bells.” The third chimes in about wanting to sing “Randolph the Red-Nosed Seahorse” and they start to fight. SpongeBob drives away content that they enjoyed the fruit cake, seemingly oblivious to the violence that has commenced, while Plankton emerges from the Chum Bucket pleased to see the Jerktonium working on these “jerks.”
SpongeBob then happens upon a festive, Christmas, parade. He decides that this would be a wonderful place to spread Christmas joy via Plankton’s fruit cake and hops right into the fray. SpongeBob goes into a new song about spreading holiday cheer as he fires off volley after volley of fruit cake towards the onlookers. They all eat their fruit cake and immediately turn into jerks. We see some minor stuff like a kid popping a balloon and another smashing a present. We also get to see Mr. Krab’s whale daughter, Pearl, get angry and start blasting others with her blowhole (that’s a weird sentence to type). Soon the town is in flames as fish grapple in the street while a kid (Carolyn Lawrence) seated on a fake Santa (Brown) details the stuff he wants for Christmas. SpongeBob gives him some fruit cake and the Santa turns into a jerk and tells the kid to get a job. SpongeBob then gives the driver of the float some fruit cake causing him to abandon his responsibilities sending the float to drive off a cliff. The kid seems happy about it though as he starts bouncing on the semi-conscious Santa like a trampoline.
Plankton then returns to the Chum Bucket pleased with how things are going. He just has one problem: SpongeBob. Karen refers to the sponge as a fatal flaw pointing out that he’s immune to the effects of Jerktonium. Plankton assures her he has an answer to that problem and unveils his latest creation: Robot SpongeBob! The robot looks just like SpongeBob, only he’s all steel and probably twice as big. A reasonable person wouldn’t confuse the two, but that’s the joke! Plankton winds him up and commands his creation to go ruin SpongeBob’s good name as it blasts a stream of fire from its nose. He then heads for the Krusty Krab, smashing a boat along the way. Mr. Krabs meets the mechanical sponge at the door and immediately mistakes him for SpongeBob, but seems to assume he’s not the one responsible for the commotion since he’s SpongeBob and all. The robot then knocks over the Krusty Krab sign which lands on the restauranteur while Plankton looks on with glee.
We then hop back to check-in on Patchy and Potty. Their mail truck is still spinning but it eventually crashes into a snowbank allowing the mailman to escape. The hogtied mail carrier hops away while Patchy inspects the damaged tire which still has the fork stuck in it. He tells the viewers to go make some coco while Potty builds him a fire. When we return, the duo are freezing around a fire in the middle of the night. Patchy laments he hasn’t eaten anything for 20 minutes and could really go for a plate of Buffalo wings. He then hallucinates Potty as a plate of just that and tries to eat the bird, but gets a mouth full of log instead. When he comes to his senses, he apologizes to Potty who then in turn hallucinates Patchy as some sort of pizza slice covered in bird seed. He hops onto Patchy’s head and starts pecking at him as we dissolve back into the undersea world.
SpongeBob is driving around in Plankton’s fruit cake buggy and is surprised to find everyone acting like jerks. Mr. Krabs sees him and lets him know he’ll be garnishing his wages to pay for repairs to the restaurant. SpongeBob then comes across Patrick who is setting up a more elaborate trap for Santa. He’s also stuffing his face with fruit cake and acts like a jerk towards SpongeBob. Dismayed, SpongeBob heads home in confusion. He wakes up the next morning, Christmas Eve morning, hopeful things will be better, but when he heads out the door he sees two fish fighting in the street. He decides to check-in with Squidward who won’t even answer the door. He tells him to go bother Sandy and SpongeBob remarks he’ll have to thank Squidward for the advice when Squidward gets home – stupid sponge. As he bounds away, robo-SpongeBob shows up and knocks on the door. When Squidward won’t answer, the robot simply rips the door off of its hinges. Squidward shows up now, and I feel like I should point out he isn’t under the effects of Jerktonium – he’s just a regular jerk, and demands SpongeBob put his door down. The robot does as it’s told by smashing it over Squidward’s head and leaves.
SpongeBob then goes to bother Sandy, as Squidward instructed, about how everyone is acting like jerks. He then finds the squirrel also under the effects of Jerktonium, but she’s at least lucid. Still, she’s a jerk towards SpongeBob and he frets he needs to go find someone who isn’t a raging jerk. As he goes to leave, he slips on an acorn and a piece of fruit cake he was holding goes flying into Sandy’s Christmas analyzer thing-a-ma-jig. She gets pissed at him for getting fruit cake in the machine, but then pauses her anger when the machine reveals the cake is laced with Jerktonium. She then asks where SpongeBob got the cake, and he says from Plankton. When she questions in an incredulous manner that he fed everyone fruit cake made by Plankton he just blankly says “uh huh,” prompting her to call him an idiot. SpongeBob then panics for a moment because he’s eaten a ton of the fruit cake, but Sandy points out the combination of SpongeBob’s pure heart and tiny brain have rendered him immune. She then turns to her machine for an antidote and it spits out sheet music. Sandy gets angry, but SpongeBob (rather surprisingly) recognizes the tune for what it is and can even read it. As he hums it aloud, the Jerktonium affecting Sandy wares off leaving SpongeBob overjoyed. He then sets out to spread the antidote around town.
SpongeBob arrives with an “Ahoy everybody!” and goes into the flagship song of the special: “Don’t Be a Jerk (It’s Christmas).” It’s a plenty delightful little song that will definitely stow away in your brain and pop up at the drop of a hat. It’s a real banger in my household. As SpongeBob sings, he does good deeds around town and and we see everyone shaking off the Jerktonium. By the end of it, the whole town is singing and dancing along!
Sandy congratulates SpongeBob for saving the town from Plankton, and just in time, because Santa is here! Despite being under the sea, he arrives via conventional means though only sporting six reindeer. As SpongeBob races over to welcome him to Bikini Bottom he finds a rather sullen Santa. He has the unfortunate responsibility of informing everyone they’re getting coal this year because they’ve all been a bunch of jerks. And much to his surprise, only Plankton is on the nice list! Plankton shows up to get his gift: the secret formula for the Krabby Patty. Delighted, he takes his prize while Mr. Krabs asks Santa how he got that. When he informs the crab that he has his ways, we see an ugly little elf pick his pocket.
SpongeBob then pleads their case with Santa, but he’s not interested in hearing an explanation from the naughtiest person in town. He then points out that SpongeBob is being naughty right now and gestures to the robot which is wreaking havoc still. It smashes through a crowd of people then begins to target Santa. SpongeBob jumps in front of his hero willing to defend him with his life, which he may need to expend. The robot SpongeBob doubles in size, apparently going into assault mode or something, and karate chops SpongeBob right between the eyes. The dazed and disfigured SpongeBob still stands ready and the robot picks him up and flings him off into the distance.
Santa then beats a hasty retreat, but rather than fly away, he tries hiding in the Krusty Krab. The robot simply lifts the restaurant up and pulls Santa out. When all hope appears lost, SpongeBob returns! Now driving the fruit cake cart once again, he whirls and fires away at the robot with sticky fruit cake. It appears to gum up the exhaust ports and the robot soon explodes!
Santa shakes SpongeBob’s hand and thanks him for saving his hide. He’s now convinced that SpongeBob is indeed a very good boy, but frets over how his list could be so wrong. The elves then bring something to his attention: the wind-up crank leftover from the exploding SpongeBob robot. Santa inspects it and finds a message stamped onto it, “If found please return to the Chum Bucket.” He then shouts out for Plankton in an angry tone, who sheepishly tries to duck away still clutching onto the bottle that contains the secret formula. Mr. Krabs gets to him and orders him to hand it over. When he initially refuses, Mr. Krabs pinches his head with his claws and takes it away then flings him up against the Chum Bucket like a freshly picked booger.
Back in his sleigh, Santa is ready to take off. He wishes everyone in Bikini Bottom a merry Christmas as the reindeer take flight, or swim, or whatever. As Santa flies off, we see Patrick has stowed away on the back of the sleigh armed with a net. As they fly in front of the full moon, Patrick strikes! If he is successful at catching Santa, we don’t know, but he sure gave it a good try.
We then check-in with Patchy and Potty once again. Patchy appears to have stumbled onto Santa’s workshop which is in a snowy cave. He races inside to find the fat man seated on a throne. Patchy immediately whips out a list and tells Santa that what he wants for Christmas is to meet his hero: SpongeBob Squarepants! When he finishes his request, he finds Santa is pouring salt over his head. The screen then dissolves and we find out that Patchy is hallucinating again and the creature gently salting him isn’t Santa, but a very hungry polar bear! He runs out of the cave with the polar bear chasing after him The real Santa and Potty are standing outside the real workshop while Santa checks his list. Noting that stealing a mail truck definitely counts as naughty, he adds Patchy to his list as he and Potty share a laugh. They then turn to the camera and wave wishing us all a merry Christmas!
And so ends the very special It’s a SpongeBob Christmas! Many Christmas episodes feel just like that, an episode that just happens to feature Christmas. Few are worthy of the term Christmas Special, and this one certainly qualifies. The music and festive scenery go a long way in conveying that special Christmas magic, but it’s the animation that really takes this one to another level. Stop-motion lends itself very well to Bikini Bottom. When your main character is an actual sponge, that certainly helps because it’s wonderful to see this character have actual texture. It works for the other characters as well and the ones who shouldn’t be squishy or furry are done in a different style. Mr. Krabs is a good example there as he has a smooth texture befitting an actual crab and the robot SpongeBob looks like an actual wind-up toy. The only character I wasn’t enamored with is Santa himself, who just features a weird design. He looks like he’s falling apart or something and is kind of gross, but he’s not in it that much in the end.
The interesting thing about this special is if you strip away what makes it so special it would still work. If this were traditionally animated and without songs it would be a fun Christmas episode. It works as just a soundtrack, and I would totally buy a set of figurines made to look like the puppets in this special and make a Christmas display out of them. It’s a rare example of a show going all-out for Christmas and totally nailing it. It’s one I recommend to fans of SpongeBob and to people who have never watched a second of the show. It’s easily one of the best Christmas specials of the past decade and deserves to stand alongside the classics as well.
If you want to catch It’s a SpongeBob Christmas! this year, and I obviously recommend that you do, then tune into Nickelodeon and its various offshoot channels all month long as it’s guaranteed to air multiple times. The entire show is also streaming on Paramount’s streaming platform and this episode can be found in Season 8. I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if a special holiday channel is also featured on the network that makes finding this one even easier. If neither option works for you, then you can also buy the special on physical media or rent it via other streaming platforms. However you choose to view it, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.