I’m not even going to begin to attempt to explain the cultural import of SpongeBob SquarePants, the unduly jolly anthropomorphic, animated undersea sponge in square pants (though they’re more rectangular prism shorts if we want to be factual). I’ve somehow managed to miss 189 episodes of the show that have been broadcast since 1999 and the one movie. From what I can tell after watching the show’s latest cinematic incarnation, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, is that it’s a billion dollar industry (they’ve made an absurd amount on merchandising alone) built upon bad puns and nonsense.
At least, that’s how the movie pans out — it’s almost too ridiculous to describe in a sort of bizarrely embarrassing way, but here it goes. Our hero, SpongeBob (Tom Kenny), is an affable fry cook at the Krusty Krab, which serves the wildly popular Krabby Patty. That is, until the Krab’s rival, Plankton (Mr. Lawrence), almost steals the patty’s secret recipe, which then magically disappears into the ether. With no more Krabby Patties, SpongeBob’s home of Bikini Bottom immediately falls into chaos (no, really, everyone instantly turns into leather clad savages), and it’s up to SpongeBob and Plankton to rescue the recipe and return Bikini Bottom to order.
This involves SpongeBob and Plankton traveling through time in a photo booth, encountering an omnipotent, floating dolphin and eventually battling a pirate who also happens to be a food truck entrepreneur (a game Antonio Banderas). And that’s not even mentioning all the goofy junk that flew by in a flash. The film’s commitment to silliness is a bit endearing — and occasionally honestly funny — but the nonstop, full-bore fashion of it all has its pros and cons. While it never slows down enough to fall flat, at 100 minutes the movie’s just too long and a bit exhausting.
This is especially apparent once the movie gets to its big climactic set piece where — thanks to some genuinely nice looking special effects — SpongeBob and friends end up in the real world. It’s not exactly novel (though it’s less schmaltzy than when last year’s Lego Movie went a similar route) and — in theory at least — wants to be a parody of big budget superhero movies. But it falls into a pretty listless and repetitive trap that doesn’t make it much different than whatever comic book movies it’s a take-off of. It really drags down the end of the film, something even more grievous since SpongeBob itself already obviously works best in small, TV-sized doses. Rated PG for mild action and rude humor.