Reviews

'The SpongeBob Movie' Works for the Five Year Old and the 55 Year Old

There's little subtext in this tale of the pineapple under the sea, but there is plenty of clever humor and scenery-chewing to rile up audiences of all ages.


The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water

Director: Paul Tibbet
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Tom Kenny, Clancy Brown, Bill Fagerbakke, Rodger Bumpass, Carolyn Lawrence, Mr. Lawrence
MPAA Rating: PG
Studio: Paramount/Nickelodeon
Year: 2015
UK Release Date: 2015-03-27 (General)
US Release Date: 2015-02-06 (General)
Website
Trailer

Like a renewable energy source, the 15-plus year old SpongeBob SquarePants animated TV series shows no signs of disappearing anytime soon. Salvaged from the remnants of Rocko's Modern Life, creator Stephen Hillenburg has crafted a monster out of a mollusk; or, more specifically, an anthropomorphized porifera with an obnoxious laugh and geometric quasi-lederhosen filled with bad puns. Along with pals Patrick the starfish, Squidward the octopus, Sandy the squirrel, and his boss Mr. Krabs, SpongeBob is Bikini Bottom's best known resident, and the reason Nickelodeon has maintained their status as a premiere kid-vid outlet for the last 30 years.

So it's odd that The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, is only the TV series' second full-length feature film foray, the first since The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie 11 years ago. Apparently, what works in small, 22-minute doses is difficult to adapt into a 90 minute narrative. However, director Paul Tibbet gives it the old school of fish try. For those of you sold on the trailer and waiting impatiently for the gang to take to the "real" world and become pumped up superheroes, you'll have to wait on such a gimmick. Most of the movie is animated, with only the very bits of the last act bringing SpongeBob and his buds to 3D CG life.

The main storyline revolves around a magical book, an angry pirate named Burger Beard (Antonio Banderas, having fun with this bonkers buccaneer), and -- as luck would have it -- the secret recipe for Mr. Krabs' (Clancy Brown) famous Krabby Patties. It seems the mythic tome only works when all the pages are accounted for, and the last one just so happens to be missing. Coincidentally, this last page also happens to be the means of achieving the trademark taste of this underwater fast food phenomenon. While Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) is, of course, still eager to get his tiny mitts on this material, SpongeBob (Tom Kenny), as usual, defends his employer.

Naturally, the piece of paper goes missing, and without their daily allotment of Krabby Patties, Bikini Bottom turns into the desolate Outback in the vein of The Road Warrior. In a desperate attempt to set things right, SpongeBob gets his pals Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke), Squidward (Rodger Bumpass), and Sandy (Carolyn Lawrence) to join him and Mr. Krabs in a wacky journey through time, through his own muddled mind, and, finally, into an universe filled with human beings, human temptations, and an ornery salt who flies the Jolly Roger and wants nothing more than to harness the power of the book and take over.

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water is a family film in name and in design; it works for the five year old and the 55 year old. It offers up colorful moving objects to stimulate baby's tiny brain and enough post-zygote zingers to keep the usually annoyed adolescents and the put-upon parents giggling to themselves. This is a movie where wordplay is used for great comic effect, even if a few of the jokes induce more groans than giggles. Considering the average age of the demo, this is more than excusable. Unfortunately, the film has little more than its look and its longevity going for it. Had the series not spent 15 years setting things up, it's hard to imagine this material getting a greenlight today.

In fact, the whole gimmick of having SpongeBob and his pals hit the "surface" and, with the help of some happenstance and hocus pocus, turn into the Aquatic Avengers, reeks of the reality of 2015. Sure, it looks cool, and Tibbet does his best imitation of Michael Bay et al, but we expect more from this movie. This is SpongeBob SquarePants after all, a Simpsons-like phenomenon which shows no signs of slowing down. The writers (Monsters vs. Aliens and Kung Fu Panda 2's Glenn Berger and Jonathan Aibel) could have done anything; instead, they mimic movie mannerisms we are way too familiar with.

Now, we aren't asking for some radical reimagining of the characters or their circumstances. After all, nothing would doom a SpongeBob movie faster than not being able to recognize our goofy hero. On the other hand, there is an aura of over-familiarity here, a "haven't we seen this before" concept that hinders a bit of the fun. Still, for those brand new to the SpongeBob dynamic, this will be an enjoyable spree. It's not The Lego Movie or a Pixar production, but when you look at other recent releases (the awful Strange Magic), it's on par with Paddington, if not as memorable. Besides, Banderas is a hoot as the scenery-chewing Burger Beard.

On the other hand, there's also no subtext here. Some of the best animated films have an undercurrent or commentary that lets the older audience members know that the makers find their material suitable for allegory and/or metaphor. Yes, the ending smacks of our obsession with Marvel and their movies, but that's not enough. Indeed, this is just a big fat kiddie matinee with the still-developing audience anxious to enjoy just about anything shown on screen. Still, when you look at the overall health of the genre, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water proves that, with a little imagination and consideration for the characters, you can create something magical, not merely marketable.

7
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