Film Review: The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water

Written by Aaron Sarnecky

SpongeBob poster

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water Plot Summary:

Nickelodeon’s animated feature pits the aquatic characters against Burger-Beard (Antonio Banderas), a pirate who uses a magic book to steal the Krabby Patty formula.  SpongeBob (Tom Kenny) must team up with longtime enemy Plankton (Mr. Lawrence), as well as Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke), Sandy (Carolyn Lawrence), Squidward (Rodger Bumpass), and Mr. Krabs (Clancy Brown), and travel to the surface to retrieve the formula. 

Talk to many fans of SpongeBob SquarePants and they will tell you that the show started to deteriorate around the time Nick released The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (2004) and creator Stephen Hillenburg departed from the show.  Fortunately for these fans, Hillenburg returned to write the story of the follow-up, Sponge Out of Water.  But the question is, does Hillenburg work his old magic?

SpongeBob pic 11

It depends on what you want from the movie.  Like the previous movie and many Nickelodeon movies, the movie focuses on a large adventure instead of the ordinary character interactions.  This time around, the adventure contains several fantasy elements like time travel and superpowers.  This might seem out of genre for the series, but it makes as much sense as anything in a cartoon is going to make.

The story largely focuses on SpongeBob and Plankton, who do the most to try to retrieve the formula.  This means Plankton actually plays the good guy for most of the movie.  And while that might sound out of character, it works because Plankton can’t have the formula if someone else has stolen it, and Bikini Bottom, as a whole, can’t function without it.  The movie does cheat a little with SpongeBob, who is contractually obligated to not commit the formula to memory.  It is a cartoon, however, and continuity is fickle, even in the best of them.

Unfortunately, the comedy between SpongeBob and Plankton falls flat, which is centered on their need to work as a team.  Naturally, Plankton wants none of it.  In fact, he can’t even seem to say the words “team” or “teamwork” correctly, instead pronouncing it as “Te-Am.”  This is a recurring joke, and it gets tiresome very quickly.  There’s also a song about teamwork, but it’s not particularly memorable.  Honestly, the best part of this section is seeing Bikini Bottom descend into some strange leather-obsessed dystopia.

When we finally get to the out-of-water portion, the movie is already 2/3 over, making the title sort of misleading.  And since the series has run for such a long time, it has already done this scenario several times, all to funnier effect.  The characters’ disorientation on the surface is not given much time beyond one gag in which they think a sunbathing man is a beached whale.  The movie does makes sure to keep Sandy, the squirrel character who originates from the surface, in character, and this is greatly appreciated.

The real meat of the out-of-water section comes when the heroes gain superpowers through Burger-Beard’s magic book.  The characters’ powers do nicely correspond to their personalities and the battle against the pirate cook proves to be a worthy climax.  It seems like the writers’ saved their best comedy for this moment.  And to their credit, it is funny for Patrick to wreak havoc through his telepathic control of ice cream, and to see Sandy as giant photo-realistic squirrel.

SpongeBob pic 2

Still, if you wanted to see the heroes interact with humans, or see them duke it out with Burger-Beard, you might be disappointed.  The movie simply does not have enough of this content.  While the use of traditional animation is greatly appreciated, it really should have only made up 1/3 of the movie.  The movie also squanders any chance to use the 3D creatively, but that is admittedly a very minor issue.

Ultimately, the movie proves to be a disappointing return for Stephen Hillenburg.   It simply doesn’t live up to the premise shown in the trailers and commercials.  Kids might find some basic enjoyment, but it’s not fun for the whole family like the best of today’s cartoons.  If you can, convince your kids to wait for On Demand.

Perhaps Hillenburg’s supposed return to the TV show will prove more fruitful.  As a fan of the sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea, I remain cautiously optimistic.

Rating: 5.5/10 (Passable Entertainment)

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