When SpongeBob SquarePants first introduced audiences to the Krabby Patty back in 1999, I was just young enough to enjoy all the burger-flipping, song-busting, jellyfishin’ action for a few years, but as the silly yellow sponge continued to entrance Nickelodeon faithfuls, I found myself turning to more mature programming.
While I can still clearly recall SpongeBob and Plankton’s rendition of “F.U.N” for the first time, my strongest show-related memory is the look of bewilderment on my mother’s face every time she asked me why I enjoyed such a ridiculous television program. At the time, I’d shrug and assume she didn’t understand creator Stephen Hillenburg’s unique brand of comedy (juvenile stupidity), but after sitting through The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water years later, I now understand why my mother was so puzzled – because SpongeBob isn’t made for (sober?) older audiences.
Returning once again to Bikini Bottom, we meet SpongeBob (Tom Kenny) on the day of a great tragedy – the Krabby Patty recipe has been stolen from The Krusty Krab. As the town descends into Mad Max-inspired dystopia, with everyone dressing in leather, SpongeBob finds himself on the lam with Plankton, fleeing accusations that they’re responsible for the theft. Despite Plankton’s incessant protesting, SpongeBob and his unlikely partner team up to find the missing recipe. Their adventure gets a little too real, though, once SpongeBob exits the ocean in order to restore order to Bikini Bottom in the form of delicious burger patties.
Unlike Disney Pixar and DreamWorks Animation, Nickelodeon is a children’s network that doesn’t worry about catering to all audiences, just the devout “little tyke” viewership with whom they’ve built a following. There’s no emphasis on subtlety, as opposed to films like The LEGO Movie, which spin Star Wars references into jokes for all ages. Instead, this movie opts for bash-your-head-with-a-mallet comedy and seagull poop jokes.
Even when attempting a higher-brow brand of comedy, random side characters will cue a punch-line drum solo (ba-dum, tis!) to alert younger audiences that laughs are allowed. This isn’t a bad thing per se, but in a time where animated kids movies are finding heartwarming emotionality and depth on Oscar worthy levels, something so unapologetically simple-minded seems a bit unfortunate for the adults stuck babysitting four howling children hopped up on theater sodas bigger than their heads.
On a visual level, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water manages to blend live-action with animation surprisingly well once the characters start interacting with the show’s narrator (Antonio Banderas). 3D effects are rather flat and don’t add much depth to the scenery, but musclebound versions of your favorite out-of-water characters find themselves seamlessly integrated into our human world without a single trace of drawn-by-hand illustration. This also permits a pretty stellar gag once Sandy Cheeks finds herself on dry land again, assuming her normal form, while sleek effects work makes a metallic Mr. Krabs seem commonplace next to a giant pirate ship on wheels. At the helm of said ship is none other than the dread pirate Burger-Beard (Banderas, even goofier than he was in The Expendables 3).
While I can give Banderas credit for doing his best Pirates Of The Caribbean For Kids impression, but Burger-Beard’s over-the-top caricature exemplifies how goofy and slapstick the SpongeBob writers remain. Their love of “using the same word twice” jokes and evil Plankton’s mispronunciations shines through in almost every scene, and a song about teamwork reminds more mature viewers that they’re in for a dumbfounding comedy peppered with important lessons for growing young minds.
However, then you meet Matt Berry’s talking dolphin character, who shoots lasers out of his blowhole, and while Berry’s voice acting is utterly hilarious, viewers are reminded that there’s essentially no underlying moral subtext, let alone anything remotely resembling cinematic order, for even a second of this aggressively absurd journey. The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water is an exercise in sugary-sweet absurdity, complete with a cuddly, fuzzy kitten monster so aggressively adorable it’ll make your eyes bleed rainbows.
I’m not recommending that older audiences partake in any sort of illegal activity, but I’d assume that if anyone walked into The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water with bloodshot eyes, it’d be one hell of a trip. Now, this is a children’s movie through and through, which would make such behavior absolutely inappropriate for theaters, so if your plans involve munching on homemade Krabby Patties while dumbing down your intelligence level for two hours, wait until SpongeBob’s latest cinematic stint hits Blu-Ray. Talking dolphins, trippy time-warp scenes, and a talking crab dressed in S&M gear – maybe SpongeBob’s adventures were influenced by something more than childhood wonderment and nautical exploration?
For those of you with children, you’re safe to check out The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water with the kiddies in tow, because there’s no doubt that underage SpongeBob fans are going to eat up every fart noise, flying ice cream cone, and over-the-top gesture from Antonio Banderas – just don’t expect director Paul Tibbitt to care that you, unfortunate adult, are watching his film as well.
Eight-year-old me probably would have found SpongeBob's antics vastly more entertaining, but alas, I now need my seagull poop jokes coupled with something more substantial.