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Since its founding in 1979, Nickelodeon has developed many good-for-you programs—Blues Clues, Dora the Explorer—aimed at spurring kids’ education and development. SpongeBob is not one of those shows. But it’s the most funny, surreal, inventive example of the explosion in creative kids’ (and adult) entertainment that Nick, Cartoon Network and their ilk made possible. Animator and marine-biology teacher Stephen Hillenburg translated the objects of his study in to the Dadaist world of Bikini Bottom, where the title character flips Krabbie Patties, creates disasters and gets by on good-natured innocence. SpongeBob may not have a spine, or much of a brain, but he’s all heart.

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