SpongeBob soaks up the '60s and '70s on his new CD, enlisting everyone from a Beach Boy to a Ramone for ''The Best Day Ever''; plus reviews of books, TV, and DVD

By Chris Willman
Updated September 14, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT

SpongeBob soaks up the ’60s and ’70s on his new CD

SpongeBob SquarePants: The Best Day Ever (CD)

SpongeBob SquarePants: Season 4, Volume 1 (DVD)
When Brian Wilson created Pet Sounds, the album widely heralded as the Beach Boys’ crowning achievement and one of the great albums of rock, he and his cowriters really got inside the mind of the lonely adolescent in a way that few pop craftsmen have before or since. And now, four decades later, we can finally put a face to Wilson’s portrait of the innocent adrift in a strange world of grown-ups and cynics. It is the yellow face of SpongeBob SquarePants, rising high on a symphonic seawall of sound as he sings an ode to… ”My Tighty Wightys.”

The new SpongeBob CD, The Best Day Ever, is not quite a teenage symphony to God, as Wilson once described Smile, but it’s as close as a mainstream kids’ record is going to come. The ridiculously lush ”My Tighty Wightys” is the most obvious nod to the Pet Sounds sound, all the way down to such little touches as including the bass harmonica player from the Beach Boys’ original sessions. Meanwhile, Wilson himself shows up doing all the background vocals on a track that pays tribute to the Boys’ surf era, ”Doin’ the Krabby Patty.” The disc is pickin’ up good crustaceans thanks to the collaboration of Tom Kenny, a rock hound who provides the voice of SpongeBob [see our chat with him here], and producer Andy Paley, whose work with rock legends includes an unreleased but widely bootlegged Wilson solo album.

Together, they’ve created a collection that’s ostensibly for kids but may mean the most to the kind of rock cultists who slavishly read liner notes and pore over Goldmine magazine every month. The disc is formatted as a DJ-narrated hour on an old-school Top 40 station, but the music is not just all Beach Boys homages, all the time. Two of the best songs are garage-rock anthems that might have been taken right off a waterlogged copy of the Nuggets boxed set: Patrick belts out — well, blurts out — ”Under My Rock,” a paean to home, while Plankton gets a classic bad-guy number in the aptly titled ”You Will Obey!” where he sounds like a little like Eric Burdon, from the Animals, turned fascist. You can play Name That Influence throughout: Hey, there’s the keyboard line from ”I’m a Believer”! Hey, there’s the Farfisa from ”96 Tears”! Hey, there’s an homage to the Ramones paying homage to the Beach Boys! It doesn’t hurt that the session players include the likes of Tommy Ramone, NRBQ (their first full-band reunion in years), Nino Tempo, ex-Byrd Herb Pederson, and Elvis sideman James Burton.

It also just happens to be the ideal album for elementary schoolers, since each one of the beloved characters gets at least one terrific showcase number that transcends any in-jokiness in the musical bed. But if your 6-year-old wonders why you’re waxing on about Pet Sounds and you don’t even mean Gary the snail, or why an ode to briefs sung by an animate sponge is making you wistful for your own youth, smile politely and say, as Brian Wilson would, ”I guess I just wasn’t made for these times.”

The release date of ”The Best Day Ever” on CD coincides with the arrival on DVD of the series’ ”Season 4, Volume 1.” If you’re a little bit confused by the multiple numerals in that title, you’re not alone, While previous seasons of ”SpongeBob” have been released in one package each, Nick viewers are still in a gap between ”halves” of season 4 — with the season’s second half set to begin airing in late September — and the home video folks must’ve decided it was better to get a half-season in stores before Christmas 2006 than none at all. Few of the show’s most faithful fans would argue that it’s been reaching a creative zenith this year, but the 18 episodes on view in this two-disc set still make a good case that the series isn’t nearly ready to be sent off to Davy Jones’ locker? not when there are plot devices yet to be explored like Mr. Krabs molting (”Shell of a Man”) and Patrick undergoing a ”Charly”-like transformation into a raging intellectual (”Patrick Smartpants”). The Best Day Ever: A-; SpongeBob SquarePants: Season 4, Volume 1: B+
Recommended ages: 4 to? 94!


The Wild
(G, 81 mins., 2006)
When The Wild was first released, there was much fuss about it being a Madagascar rip-off. Truth be told, Disney was deep into its making well before that animals-escape-from-the-zoo caper made it onto the screen, but The Wild (unfortunately, for its creators) came out second, and a sloppy second at that. So let the comparisons continue: The Wild may have better animation and higher star wattage (voices of Kiefer Sutherland, William Shatner, Janeane Garofalo, and a scene-stealing Eddie Izzard as Nigel, the cutting koala, but its story line and dialogue, centered around a lion cub who is accidentally kidnapped and learns his always-revered dad Samson couldn’t survive a second in the jungle — where a herd of wildebeest decide they want to reverse their position on the food chain — are too depressing for a kids’ movie. What will kids get out of this film other than to borrow a recreational idea from Samson and his zoo pals to use turtles as hockey pucks? Beats me. D — Eileen Clarke
Recommended ages: None


Avatar: Secret of the Fire Nation
(Nickelodeon, Sept. 15, 8?9 p.m.)
Avatar is a top-notch cartoon that’s well animated, engaging, fast-paced, and not too heavy-handed with the lessons. For the uninitiated, the story goes like this: There is always someone who needs your help when you’re the Avatar (the spirit of the planet in human form meant to maintain balance), even if you’re just a 12-year-old kid. In this one-hour special, Aang, the last air-bender (there are also earth-, water- and fire-benders), along with his friends Toph and teenage brother and sister Sokka and Katara, end up escorting a family with a pregnant mother through the deadly Serpent’s Pass to the safety of the walled city of Ba Sing Se. Aang and company are on their way to tip off the Earth King that the war-mongering fire nation is vulnerable to attack during the solar eclipse. In the meantime, Aang has other concerns: He’s desperately suppressing the urge to go off looking for his kidnapped flying bison and friend, Appa. Aang goes cold trying not to feel any emotion because he fears a repeat of how out of control he got in his fury at the initial loss of Appa. Katara helps him see that learning to manage his emotions, not quashing them, is important. It’s nice that strong female characters abound. Sokka does share a kiss with a girl warrior, but it is viewer-age appropriately sweet. Fans of the regular Avatar series (Fridays at 8 p.m.), will not want to miss this. A — Abby West
Recommended ages: 5 and up


Coloring Book Kandinsky/Coloring Book Monet
When I saw these, my immediate reaction was, What a great way to teach drawing — through history! The books each reproduce, in simple black and white lines, works even children have likely seen (like Monet’s ”Water Lilies”) and talk a bit about the artists. Mostly, the children learn what shapes were used to create famous paintings. And the books encourage them to color any way they’d like. A — Tina Jordan
Recommended ages: 9 and up

By Jim LaMarche
”Mouse.” That’s what his family calls Daniel. His brother Michael shouts it disparagingly; his mother says it gently, but still: He’s little, and they remind him of it all the time. But then the strangest thing happens. Daniel discovers he has the power to lift things with his mind. First it’s oyster crackers, but soon it’s things like furniture. And finally, by book’s end, Daniel uses his ability to help a beached whale find its way back into deep water. ”His heart pounded. He seemed to feel the whale’s blood in his own veins. Slowly, so slowly no one even noticed it, the whale lifted up. Not much. But with everyone pushing, not much was enough.” A lovely, gentle tale about growing up, juxtaposed with LaMarche’s lambent art. A — TJ
Recommended ages: 3-8

Notes From the Midnight Driver
By Jordan Sonnenblick
Sixteen-year-old Alex Gregory has problems. His parents have split up (and, to make matters worse, his dad is going out with his old third-grade teacher). His mom is dating again too. So, after nipping at the vodka in his mom’s liquor cabinet, he decides to drive over to his dad’s to talk some sense into him. Never mind that he doesn’t have a license, or that he can barely drive sober. He doesn’t make it very far. ”The next thing I knew, I was hanging out the passenger door, puking up vodka and Ring-Dings. When I got my eyes sort of focused, I could see that the car was up on a lawn. When I got them even more focused, I could see that my last salvo of vomit had completely spattered two shiny black objects — the well-polished shoes of one angry police officer.” Alex isn’t sure who ends up the maddest — the cop, his mom, or the judge he’s hauled before: She crisply sentences him to community service at the Egbert P. Johnson Memorial Home for the Aged. A lot of community service. What happens to Alex as he tentatively befriends a crochety old man named Solomon Lewis makes for affecting reading and a valuable lesson — even for cynical teens. A- — TJ
Recommended ages: 12 and up

Your Personal Penguin
By Sandra Boynton
Fourteen years after I first began to read it, I still can recite Boynton’s But not the Hippopotamus by heart — that’s how popular it was with our tiny daughter. She’s not alone. Many little kids respond instantly to Boynton’s simple, cheery drawings and funny lyrics. And her latest board book is no different. ”I like you a lot/You’re funny. and kind./So let me explain/what I have in mind…./I want to be your personal penguin….” Though we don’t even have a copy of Hippopotamus in the house any more — I think the little board book was slowly worn down to mere nubs — Boynton’s playful prose still lingers. A — TJ
Recommended ages: Infants-3