The SpongeBob Movie is essentially a kid-friendly stoner comedy, but also one that's clever and inspired enough to keep SpongeBob fans entertained.
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water takes us back to the underwater city of Bikini Bottom, where life for the child-like fry cook SpongeBob SquarePants (Tom Kenny) and his peers remains a constant. However, during Plankton's (Mr. Lawrence) latest attempt to steal the Krabby Patty formula from SpongeBob's boss, Mr. Krabs (Clancy Brown), the formula mysteriously vanishes without a trace - quickly leading to a breakdown in social order, as the citizens of Bikini Bottom turn savage without their favorite snack food available to keep them satisfied.
SpongeBob then convinces Plankton to help him on his quest to recover the Krabby Patty formula, forcing the latter to learn just what it means to work as part of a team. But, unbeknownst to the citizens of Bikini Bottom, the true culprit responsible for their problems is one Burger Beard (Antonio Banderas), a pirate who has acquired a magical book that allows its user to change their life's story however they so choose...
Nickelodeon's popular cartoon series SpongeBob SquarePants was previously adapted to the big screen in 2004 with The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie: a live-action/2D animated hybrid that features plenty of "nautical nonsense" (as the original TV show's theme song describes it), but does make an attempt at a proper three-act narrative - one originally intended to serve as a finale to the series. However, things changed and the show is still going today; hence this year's release of The SpongeBob Movie.
The SpongeBob Movie's screen story is credited to SpongeBob creator Stephen Hillenberg and the film's director Paul Tibbitt (the original series' current showrunner), but the plot bears only a vague resemblance to a conventional kids feature narrative. Instead, the movie plays out closer to a Harold & Kumar-style irreverent comedy that's (technically) appropriate for younger audiences. Meanwhile, the film's screenwriters Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger (Kung Fu Panda 1 & 2, Alvin & the Chipmunks 2 & 3) give the proceedings just enough structure to work as more than a feature-length SpongeBob episode.
Generally, though, The SpongeBob Movie is far more entertaining and inspired when it's embracing the trippy humor of the original series - which can vary from surreal visual comedy to light satirical jabs at consumerism to even fourth wall-knocking jokes - rather than attempting to teach meaningful lessons to its target audience. The film's climax ties the whole thing together in fittingly madcap fashion, but it does feel like a bit of a let-down after the more creative zaniness that precedes it (like multiple nods to Mad Max and related post-apocalyptic genre fare).
Tibbetts and his production team - which includes cinematographer Phil Meheux (The Smurfs 1 & 2) combine different animation methods (cartoonish 2D, stylized CGI, and even hallucinogenic stop-motion) with exaggerated live-action filmmaking in order to bring this world properly to life - and the results are as batty, but memorable, as was intended. For that reason, if you're going to see this movie in theaters, then you might as well see it in 3D to get the proper cinematic acid trip experience.
The SpongeBob voice cast - also including Rodger Bumpass as sardonic Squidward, Bill Fagerbakke as dim-witted Patrick, and Carolyn Lawrence as adventurous Sandy - have more than mastered how to handle their respective characters at this stage; and here, they're as solid as ever with their vocal performances. Meanwhile, Antonio Banderas doesn't blink an eye playing Burger Beard - bringing the ridiculous character to life with the perfect straight face - and animation fans will appreciate the seasoned voice actors who fill out the supporting cast.
The SpongeBob Movie is essentially a kid-friendly stoner comedy, but also one that's clever and inspired enough to keep SpongeBob fans entertained. Its larger budget allows the filmmakers to incorporate cinematic flourishes and material that are simply beyond what a single episode of the SpongeBob TV series can deliver. That, in a nutshell, is what makes Sponge Out of Water worth seeing on the big screen for those who love the eponymous character and his strange world.
... Just don't expect this film to appeal to anyone else (or to rejuvenate the original SpongeBob SquarePants series in its current state anymore than The Simpsons Movie did for the TV show that inspired it).
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water is now playing in 2D and 3D theaters. It runs 93 minutes long and is Rated PG for mild action and rude humor.