'The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water'
Hard though it might be to believe, it’s been a full 15 years since the gang of lunatics over at Nickelodeon gifted the nutball ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ franchise to the world. Surely inspired in some part by the network’s ‘The Ren and Stimpy Show’ along with the decades of cartoon troublemakers like Tex Avery and the Fleischer brothers that inspired it, SpongeBob’s strange little world is silly and cute enough for kids, as well as surreal and trippy enough for open-minded adults (whether they need a substance to provide that mind-opening or not). You’d think that all these years later the series might be a little stale, but its second movie proves that’s not the case just yet. ‘SpongeBob’ might be an institution now, but the franchise remains fresh, funny and delightfully irreverent.
The plot for this second feature outing is pulled straight from a series staple. It hinges on little jerk Plankton attempting to steal the beloved Krabby Patties recipe from SpongeBob’s fast food boss, Mr. Krabs. The only difference is that this time Plankton succeeds a little too well. Not only does he steal the recipe, it mysteriously disappears. Within minutes, the entire land of Bikini Bottom is in disarray desperate for one more succulent bite of Krabby Patty. In one of the movie’s most inspired visual gags (and trust me, the movie has many of those), Bikini Bottom transforms into post-apocalyptic ‘Mad Max’ times in an instant, complete with facemasks and leather bondage gear. It’s up to SpongeBob, Patrick Star, Sandy and a reluctant Plankton to set things right. They embark on a journey that will take them deep within SpongeBob’s brain, out to the farthest reaches of the galaxy to meet a space dolphin, and even into the real world to face off against apirate named Burger-Beard (a vamping Antonio Banderas). In other words, it’s a ‘SpongeBob’ movie, and that’s a good thing.
The film is a sugar-high feast for the eyes designed to overwhelm the senses with surreal sensationalism. This time, the ‘SpongeBob’ creators even have a third dimension at their disposal to mess with their audience’s minds. Were it not for the fact that these guys have been filling their show with jokes and references for adults from the beginning, a ‘2001’ reference in 3D might feel like a subversive moment. That’s to be expected at this point, though.
The narrative is little more than a clothesline to hang jokes and bizarre sequences on, but those jokes and surreal sequences arrive at such a feverish pace with such a high success rate that it’s hard to notice, let alone care. The real world pirate plot also introduces some self-reflective humor playing with the very notion of this whole ridiculous romp being a movie in the first place, and it does so without navel gazing or shooting over the pint-sized target audience’s head. There’s quite a bit to love about the weird little world, yet never in a way that overwhelms the film’s primary goal of serving up candy-colored entertainment.
The vocal performances from the cast of longtime ‘SpongeBob’ veterans remain as charmingly goofy as ever, and the new addition of Banderas fits in quite well even though he’s pitching a lunatic live-action performance to match the animated characters surrounding him. The final 20 minutes or so bring the whole ‘SpongeBob’ gang into the “real world” with some nice faux-Claymation animation and a superhero-themed parody climax.
To be honest, the superhero shenanigans bring a little bloat to the finale and lead to a little seat-shifting. As fun as this movie can feel at its manic peaks, it wears out its welcome slightly towards the end and never quite matches the full-steam irreverent charge of the previous cinematic ‘SpongeBob’ romp. Still, the fact that a second ‘SpongeBob’ movie this amusing can still be made after 15 years of previous work feels like a minor miracle. It’s amazing that the ‘SpongeBob’ gang have kept the series going this long. Even if the series’ staples don’t quite feel as fresh as they once did, audiences of all ages should eat up this delightful little movie. You know what you’re getting with anything branded ‘SpongeBob’ at this point. With a team this consistently creative in charge, that’s a good thing.