There are many people who, like me, know the name of individual Spongebob episodes. They have hundreds of quotes memorized, saw the 2004 movie when it came to theaters (and own the DVD and soundtrack), and they can sing the closing song from the legendary “Band Geeks” episode. “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water,” was made for us.
This might be the strangest, most surprising, and most complicated thing to come out of the “SpongeBob” camp. Original creator Stephen Hillenburg’s return brings out the best and the weirdest in the proceedings of Bikini Bottom. The show throws in references to art-films, amazingly varied styles of animation, and some of most left-field jokes I’ve ever seen in a kids’ movie.
But boy, it is a mess. The basic plot outline is business as usual in the “SpongeBob” world. Sheldon Plankton (Doug Lawrence), Bikini Bottom’s resident tiny criminal mastermind, launches an all-out assault on local eatery the Krusty Krab. Perhaps this day he will finally get his hands on the treasured Krabby Patty “formuler.” But no! The formula is protected by its owner, Mr. Krabs (the incomparable Clancy Brown), and the trusty fry cook, SpongeBob himself (the equally incomparable Tom Kenny). However, at the last minute, the “formuler” vanishes! It’s gone! How will the people of Bikini Bottom survive without their beloved sandwich? Short answer, they don’t, and the town descends into a post-apocalyptic wasteland, where burning buildings and “Mad Max”-style clothing abound. “I hope you like leather,” says Mr. Krabs to his long-suffering cashier, Squidward (Roger Bumpass). He doesn’t. In the wreckage, Spongebob and Plankton are on the run, trying to reclaim the lost treasure before they are torn apart by angry townspeople. Those who have never seen the show may be confused, but this is generally what to expect from an eleven-minute “SpongeBob” episode.
But then it gets weirder. The movie throws in a SpongeBob-Plankton duet, a time machine, a dinosaur with the likeness of one of the show’s most popular characters, the exploration of SpongeBob’s nightmarish mind, an evil pirate named Burger Beard (Antonio Banderas, having the time of his life), an Avengers-style superhero action in CGI form, and an immortal, all powerful sea creature whose voice resembles a strange English pop star from the 70s.
Does “Sponge Out of Water” manage to successfully juggle all these strange, amazing things? Not really. The film is inconsistent and incongruous, to say the least. But this mess is colorful, and, most importantly, it is funny. The film is rich with comedic gold, from a seagull getting into a tiny cab and telling its driver to “just drive” to Sandy Cheeks (Carolyn Lawrence) proclaiming before the entire town that “WE HAVE ANGERED THE SANDWICH GODS.”
Then there’s the ending. All of this film’s advertising has focused around the fact that parts of this movie render these familiar characters in CGI. It certainly seems like a gimmick to attract new “SpongeBob” fans, and there is nothing in this movie that disputes that. Even so, the CGI works, and it is a lot of fun. Smartly, Hillenburg and company only use this animation style in the movie’s last 20 minutes. It’s not as good as the traditional animation of the rest of the movie, but it’s still truly enjoyable.
“The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water” makes up for its own incoherence and inconsistency through its amazing, overwhelming attention to the detail and strangeness of every joke. The creative minds behind this multibillion dollar institution know exactly what the fans want: beautifully composed weirdness. With this movie, that is delivered in spades.