Who’s absorbent and yellow and on LSD?! SpongeBob SquarePants!
Or at least the writers of The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water. I, like everyone else on planet Earth, regard 2004’s The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie with due reverence. It is the epitome of artistic endeavor, so perfect in every way that I, like many, was understandably wary when I learned that another SpongeBob movie was being made, especially one that featured CGI versions of the main characters that bore no resemblance to their superhero iterations displayed in the classic “Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy V” episode. Thankfully, the faithful have nothing to fear.
Sponge Out of Water is, in a way, an almost spiritual experience, equal parts clever and insane. I will try to relate it as fully as possible, but it is truly something you should experience for yourself. The story begins when Captain Burger Beard (played by Antonio Banderas) steals a book that contains the tale of what happens to Bikini Bottom when the secret formula for Eugene H. Krab’s Krabby Patty spontaneously combusts due to a tug-o-war between SpongeBob and Krab’s culinary nemesis, Plankton. The story (which Banderas reads from the book to a group of talking seagulls) then details Bikini Bottom’s descent into anarchy and terror due to the disappearance of the Krabby Patty, turning Bikini Bottom into a desolate, Mad Max-esque wasteland (Mr. Krabs, dressed in a gimp suit, literally utters the words, “I hope you like leather”). Fuelled by a desire to restore order and reclaim the Krabby Patty, SpongeBob and Plankton form a tenuous alliance that harkens back to their “F.U.N.” episode, building a time machine with the help of Plankton’s Computer Wife, Karen, so they can travel back in time to stop the formula’s spontaneous combustion from ever happening. However, due to the wonky nature of time travel in general, their adventure takes a number of detours, the most memorable of which features a cosmic dolphin named Bubbles who is also the Protector of the Galaxy.
I’ll stop there for fear of spoiling the rest of the film (though I’m not certain that’s possible), but I will say that despite being nearly 16 years old (cue groans of twenty-something 90s kids), SpongeBob retains the same zany cleverness that has endeared it to so many people over the years. The main source of humor, as always, comes from SpongeBob’s unflagging optimism, innocence, and stupidity. The majority of the film’s cleverness and laughs can be found in the way SpongeBob’s character contrasts and interacts with the film’s wide cast of supporting players. Whether it’s Patrick’s stubborn dumbness or Squidward’s lazy, pretentious ambivalence, every interaction is humorous and there is not a single joke that feels out of place, immature, or falls flat (“A kid’s film without toilet humor you say? Impossible!”). This, coupled with great editing and smart juxtapositions, make the film just as satisfying as SpongeBob’s 11-minute outings, never feeling thin or contrived despite the seeming inanity of what’s occurring on screen.
For the SpongeBob enthusiast, there are a number of bit appearances by SpongeBob notables, including Bubble Bass (who may or may not be hiding pickles under his tongue), as well as Mrs. Puff, Gary the Snail, and more. Tom Kenny once again voices SpongeBob, managing to be endearing and somehow not insufferable despite SpongeBob’s shrill voice and cackling laugh. The rest of the cast is filled out with every voice actor from the show, and all of them turn in expectedly pitch perfect performances. The music as well, so memorable from the show as well as the 2004 film, is great, including N.E.R.D.’s psychedelic “Squeeze Me” which is every bit as memorable as the original film’s “Ocean Man” by Ween.
From an artistic angle, the film is beautiful, shifting between multiple animation styles that range from the classic 2d animation, to stop motion, to multiple forms of 3d CGI characters interacting with a real world environment. The 3d is also particularly striking, especially considering the work that was done to layer the two dimensional environments with depth and a sense of space. Directed by longtime SpongeBob producer Paul Tibbitt and written by Glenn Berger and Jonathan Aibel (who were responsible for the Kung Fu Panda films), SpongeBob feels every bit as polished and clever as the original film and the classic episodes that have made it such an enduring success. It is also refreshing to see a film that is unapologetic in its weirdness, harking back to the strange and often nonsensical animated films and television shorts of the sixties and seventies. Truly, this is a film for both children and adults and one that I enjoyed just as much as last year’s brilliant The Lego Movie.
I could go on, but really, like the best things in life, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water is something that is best experienced for yourself. So if the phrase “Cosmic Dolphin” makes you giggle or you’re in the mood to be confused, yet chuffed, go gulp a gallon of refined sugar and see this movie. You’ll be glad you did.