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"The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie": Invertebrates Have More Fun

by on March 14, 2005

Chances are you’re acquainted with the cheerful sea sponge known as SpongeBob SquarePants, even if you don’t have a SpongeBob plushie on your desk. I mean to say, even if you don’t have young children. You leave my plushie out of this. The four-cornered, bucktoothed marine fry cook with bulging eyes has been topping kids’ TV ratings since 1999, winning over throngs of fans enthralled by his joyful innocence and zany misadventures. Instantly recognizable by appearance and voice, he might be considered the Mickey Mouse icon of parent Nickelodeon. His arrival on the big screen in The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie was surely only a matter of negotiating the most lucrative licensing deals.

Some have called SpongeBob a kindler, gentler version of Nickelodeon’s irreverent Ren & Stimpy series, while others have suggested it is a sort of modern Looney Tunes. In fact, SpongeBob himself is something of an amalgam of the gullible geniality of Porky Pig and the manic energy of Daffy Duck. What sets SpongeBob apart from other Happy Meal mascots is that he is a kid who lives a mostly adult life. He lives alone and works fulltime, but spends much of his free time playing pranks and eating sweets. While the TV show focuses on the goofy mishaps that pervade his day-to-day activities in the town of Bikini Bottom, the film sets him on his first truly larger-than-life adventure, on a perilous quest to save his hometown and find the hero inside him. It is an entertaining romp with plenty of typically wacky SpongeBob humor and only a few concessions to the mainstream demands of a “feature film.”

SpongeBob gleefully anticipates realizing his dream of dreams with the upcoming announcement of the manager of the newly built restaurant Krusty Krab 2 (“I’m ready, promotion!”). As it turns out, elder co-worker Squidward gets the promotion instead, and boss Mr. Krabs deems SpongeBob to be still just a kid (“I’m ready, depression…”). Meanwhile Plankton, the evil genius owner of rival restaurant Chum Bucket, launches his latest diabolical plan to obtain the legendary Krabby Patty sandwich recipe by stealing the crown of draconian ocean ruler King Neptune (Jeffrey Tambor) and pinning the deed on Krabs. King Neptune, believing that Krabs has sold his crown to someone in the forbidden Shell City, soon arrives to exact his revenge. SpongeBob begs for clemency, and promises to retrieve the crown in 6 days in return for sparing Krabs, whom Neptune merely freezes instead.

SpongeBob and best friend Patrick Star then set off for Shell City while Plankton steals the unguarded patty recipe and unveils it to huge crowds at his restaurant along with complimentary Chum Bucket helmets. Squidward accuses Plankton of stealing the patty formula, but he is quickly subdued by legions of customers when Plankton reveals the helmets to be brain control devices. As an insurance policy, Plankton dispatches the biker hit man Dennis (Alec Baldwin in Raising Arizona mode) to eliminate SpongeBob.

The reason SpongeBob has been such a hit is undoubtedly its cast of lovable oddballs, none more lovable or odd than SpongeBob himself. Ever naïve, innocent, hardworking, kind, optimistic, and just an all around goofball, SpongeBob is a sponge we can alternately laugh at, sympathize with, and seek inspiration from. A radiant beacon of positivity, it’s nigh impossible to keep frowning with him in the room. Then again, we don’t have to share a property line with him. It’s impossible to say enough good stuff about SpongeBob actor Tom Kenny, whose frenetic and endlessly varied vocal stylings craft one of the most distinctive and hypnotic performances in animation. SpongeBob’s astonishingly dimwitted and often self-absorbed copilot Patrick the starfish would grow tiresome on his own, but together they form a classic comedy team a la Laurel and Hardy. To their Costellos, neighbor Squidward the octopus and manager Mr. Krabs the crab both play Abbotts, the former a pompous curmudgeon and the latter a moneygrubbing tyrant (Krabs’ self-introduction: “Hello, I like money”). Whereas the two of them deep down ultimately have a soft spot for SpongeBob, unscrupulous megalomaniacal copepod Plankton is pure evil, albeit it endearingly ineffectual most of the time.

The characters newly created for the film do not leave nearly as lasting an impression. Apart from the one note bald joke, King Neptune is just a bland blowhard and daughter Mindy (Scarlett Johansson) a similarly generic goody-two-shoes with an uncanny resemblance to Scooby Doo‘s Velma. Baldwin has a bit of fun oozing menace as the tough as nails Dennis, but of the new arrivals it is the hilarious late appearing cameo that really leaves the others in his wake, if you catch my drift. There is one major writing slip-up that sees Neptune and Squiward suddenly acting way out of character, but perhaps the studio mandated that every character had to have a gooey, soft center.

SpongeBob has always maintained a relatively simple and yet creative and engaging visual style. This is kicked up a couple of notches for the film, but viewers expecting Disney level wonders will have to look elsewhere. Not that it matters, as the movie looks more than fun and attractive enough. The one real piece of eye candy is an extended scene that takes SpongeBob into the world of live action. It isn’t quite Roger Rabbit, but as with everything else in the film it’s the source of much merriment.

Although not a musical in the Disney vein, the movie does contain a good number of songs. Nothing quite as weighty or memorable as the Disney classics, but all infectiously fun and singable enough that you may have to remind Junior that you like the horses and have access to his trust fund. SpongeBob’s relentlessly upbeat Best Day Ever cannot help but turn a frown upside down, and it’s funny to hear Motorhead tear through You Better Swim. One of the film’s absolute highlights is SpongeBob’s phenomenal performance of Goofy Goober Rock, featuring one of the most smoking guitar solos this side of Eddie Van Halen. That sponge can shred! Just try to stay in your seat.

SpongeBob‘s TV adventures rise above the morass of children’s programming in their ability to be consistently funny on levels appealing to both the young and not-so-young-but-still-skips-to-the-sports-section-anyway. The film carries on this tradition ably, if not quite as spectacularly as one might have expected in a jump to the big time. When Neptune demands that SpongeBob retrieve his crown in 10 days, Patrick proudly boasts his friend can do it nine, and begins to bid the number down as the horrified SpongeBob and Krabs frantically try to clamp his mouth shut. Near Shell City, some hick gas station attendants taunt SpongeBob and Patrick, saying they won’t last ten seconds past the county line. Their Pattywagon is in fact immediately stolen, but when it’s discovered they did, in fact, make it twelve seconds across the line the disheartened boys kick up their heels and dance a victory jig. Nearing the end of their journey, SpongeBob asks Patrick if he still has the magical bag of winds that will carry them home. He replies, “I sure do!”, sticking out his backside to reveal a large lump in his shorts as the two share a chuckle. To SpongeBob’s subsequent amazement, Patrick then produces the aforementioned bag from a front pocket.

Surprisingly, the special features on hand for such a huge franchise are very limited. The Absorbing Tale Behind The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie is an excellent feature, giving background on the development of the characters and the movie from creator Stephen Hillenburg and the main voice actors. Although SpongeBob fans will know most of this info already, there is an entertaining breakdown of the incredible stunt performed by that bronzed mystery star. After this the extras go downhill. Case of the Sponge “Bob” is a lighthearted documentary on the types of marine life represented by the SpongeBob cast. It is informative, yes, but the patronizing tone and appallingly cheesy attempts at humor really make this one for the kiddies. The disc includes limited animatics, or storyboards from some of the key scenes acted out by the artists. As much as I enjoy concept art, these are rather primitive sketches and not much to look at. Saving the Surf reiterates SpongeBob‘s ocean friendly theme with a brief spiel from some environmental group called Surfriders about preserving the marine environment. It’s a nice message to be sure, but dull. Finally there is a demo of the video game based on the movie, and though I didn’t try it, I’m fairly certain that any opportunity to get behind the wheel of a Krabby Patty is one to be jumped at.

Still, this is one disappointing set of features. There’s no look at the animation process, no videos for the many songs, no deleted scenes, and no commentary. It’s only marginally better than some of the cut-rate TV show releases, and a joke next to the sumptuous packages afforded films like Shrek 2 and Brother Bear. This fry cook deserves better.

The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie is great fun. Fans will love it, parents will be happy to have their kids replay it ad infinitum, and darned if there aren’t a few registered voters who will have to suppress a giggle or two. It has been a bit domesticated in its trip to the sliver screen, and isn’t quite as outright nutty or consistently hilarious as the show’s best episodes. Still, that’s coming from a fan with very high expectations of this ingenious franchise. You couldn’t really ask for much more, except perhaps another ten minutes of goofiness. The film’s big, yellow, square, and it rocks. Or is that rolls? Oozes? Aw heck, just see it.

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