Review: The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (2015)

There’s always been something trippy about SpongeBob Squarepants, with its demented deep-sea characters, bright colour palette, and non-sequitor adventures. The show has always played fast and loose with notions of plot, embracing the strangeness of its characters and the open-ended possibilities of animation in crafting gags. However, it has never completely abandoned its own internal logic before, at least not quite like it does in The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water.

In this new feature film outing for the popular children’s show character, no idea is too strange: magical storybooks that allow the characters to literally rewrite themselves as superheroes, time-traveling photobooths, and interdimensional space dolphins who oversee the universe and live in triangles reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album cover or the alchemist’s tower in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain. All of these bizarre components are present here. And, as these elements imply, The SpongeBob Movie has more than a little resemblance to a drug trip. It’s shaggier than the first SpongeBob Squarepants Movie, but it’s still roundly entertaining.

The majority of the film’s plot is devoted to SpongeBob Squarepants (Tom Kenny) and Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) trying to recover the Krabby Patty recipe from some place in space-time. The film starts with Plankton up to his usual tricks, trying to steal the Krabby Patty secret formula from Mr. Krabs (Clancy Brown). However, just as he’s about to succeed, the formula disappears, molecularly dissolving before Plankton’s very eye. Following the loss of the secret formula and bereft of Krabby Patties, Bikini Bottom collapses into post-apocalyptic chaos. Immediately. When the townsfolk realize that the formula is gone, the film smash-cuts to a shot of the characters draped in leather, inhabiting a charred apocalyptic town, much like in a Mad Max film. Such bizarre, meta-humour fills out The SpongeBob Movie’s brief running time.

Interspersed with this quest are moments following an ornery pirate named Burger Beard—Antonio Banderas, combining Jack Sparrow with the TV show’s Patchy the Pirate played by Tom Kenny—looking for a magical book that allows him to rewrite the ending of SpongeBob’s story. Eventually the two plotlines merge, necessitating a trip to the surface where the characters appear as 3D animated superheroes who do battle to secure the Krabby Patty secret formula.

The sequences with Burger Beard are the film’s weak spots. Although Banderas is amusing as the campy pirate, his companions are CGI seagulls that bemoan his choices and threaten him with bird poop. SpongeBob Squarepants is a show that is often full of juvenile humour, but it rarely becomes scatilogical. Such dumb humour belongs in another, worse children’s film—perhaps one with a green ogre or irritating yellow villains.

Luckily, these scenes compose only a small portion of the entire narrative, which is mostly devoted to nonsensical, borderline psychotic, gags that take full advantage of the cinematic format. While much of the film merely opts for wider angles than usually displayed on the TV show, once the action hits the surface and the characters appear as 3D superheroes (commenting, inevitably, on our cinematic obsession with comic book movies), the film takes full advantage of the higher budget and flashier technology. It hits with multiple gags that deflate the supposedly cool nature of superheroes, instead showing how silly, and downright childish, they are. One such gag, involving a superhero-sized Plankton, is excruciatingly hilarious, essentially musing about how funny it would be to see the Hulk with a tiny head.

I am fully aware that at first glance it’s strange that I (a 24-year-old man) am writing about a children’s movie following an anthropomorphic sponge. But recent reports indicate that over 50 percent of the film’s audience has been over the age of 18, meaning that the SpongeBob Squarepants fanbase might primarily consist of young adults who were children when the show first premiered and have since grown up, as is the case with me. This being so, I’m almost convinced that the show is aimed at people my age, who may supplement the film with various substances in order to amplify its already trippy effect. In fact, I’m not even sure such hyperactivity would be good for a young child to watch, but it plays perfectly to my generation, which lives in a state of perpetual distraction. And if the film were directed at a young audience, surely there would be a moral to the film—as with most children’s or family films, whether implicitly or explicitly.

By the time the film ended with a strange musical sequence involving the space dolphin (voiced by British comedian Matt Berry), I was fully aware that the film had tried to impart no moral lesson to the audience (besides a rote argument for teamwork in crises). Instead, it merely assaults the viewer’s senses with oddball humour and colourful animation for 93 minutes. What a bizarre treat.

7 out of 10

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (2015, USA)

Directed by Paul Tibbitt; written by Glenn Berger & Jonathan Aibel, from a screen story by Stephen Hillenburg & Paul Tibbett, based off SpongeBob Squarepants created by Stephen Hillenburg; starring Tom Kenny, Clancy Brown, Rodger Bumpass, Bill Fagerbakke, Mr. Lawrence, Carolyn Lawrence, Matt Berry, and Antonio Banderas.