The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie
For the uninitiated, SpongeBob SquarePants is the talking, Post-it-yellow namesake and star of the phenomenally popular and, in smaller circles, rigorously loathed Nickelodeon animation series. His theme song (the most mind-clogging ditty since the opening tune of It’s Garry Shandling’s Show) tells us that he lives in a pineapple under the sea. He wears cardboard pants and is sort of the anti-Tom Cruise of jockey shorts. He is an optimistic, giddy, good-natured knucklehead in an unabashed celebration of nerdism, primitive cartoon imagery and absurdity.
Marine biologist Stephen Hillenburg came up with the conceptual undersea universe of Bikini Bottom and its oddball denizens in the late 1990s. As director and co-writer, he squished his idea into colorful 11-minute episodes of both silliness and sophisticated wit that often echoed the Seinfeld mantra of being something about nothing. He has now pumped up this format into a feature-length adventure film whose playfulness and lunacy is somewhat muffled by a rather standard quest-and-rescue story line.
The movie begins with an exhilarating live-action pirate sequence that plays like Monty Python-lite and then segues into SpongeBob’s wacky, expansive habitat at the bottom of the sea, where the food chain is a suppressed reality and fires inexplicably do ignite. SpongeBob (voiced by Tom Kenny) works as a fry cook at Bikini Bottom’s most popular diner, the Krusty Krab, which specializes in serving the wildly popular Krabby Patty. Greedy owner Eugene H. Krabs (Carnivàle’s Clancy Brown) is opening a Krusty Krab 2 next-door to his prized establishment. SpongeBob really wants to be manager of the new fast-food spot but is snubbed by his boss, who thinks he lacks the maturity (and certainly the corporate tunnel vision) of upper management.
Plankton, the little one-eyed owner of the failing nearby Chum Bucket diner, thinks the new Krab will force him completely out of business. He concocts a complicated scheme involving the theft of Neptune’s crown to topple Mr. Krabs’ growing dynasty and mind-control gizmos disguised as promotional headwear that resemble the red plastic flower pots worn upside-down by the members of Devo. SpongeBob sees the retrieval of the crown as a chance to prove that he is not a child, but a responsible adult, and he takes along his dimwitted starfish sidekick, Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke), on a dangerous journey into uncharted waters and even onto dry land.
Series regulars such as the curmudgeon Squidward (Rodger Bumpass), who lives in a huge tiki head, do their best to deaden everyone’s spirits. SpongeBob’s pet snail, Gary (who mews like a cat), and the squirrel Rusty make only brief appearances. Other characters popping up in this extended cartoon include a mean, dictatorial King Neptune; his compassionate mermaid daughter, Princess Mindy; and a hired assassin (Alec Baldwin).
This underwater road trip has two surrealistic touches that help keep the pedestrian plot from becoming overwhelmingly familiar. The first involves the appearance of a deep-sea diver known to the Bikini Bottomers as the Cyclops (a scare for the kiddies, heightened by never exposing the face behind the suit’s single glass portal). The second is the self-mocking arrival of Baywatch’s David Hasselhoff, who becomes a sort of human motorboat and then a pectoral launch pad for the thoroughly amazed SpongeBob and Patrick. Another highlight is a bubble-blowing musical number with a subsequent scene that addresses, in its own unique SpongeBob way, the existence of our inner child (“Are there any bubble-blowing babies here?” we are asked).
The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie includes an ice-cream-eating binge in which SpongeBob and Patrick get sloppy “drunk” and assault a Goofy Goober Ice Cream Shoppe employee dressed up like a peanut (a comment on how not to handle disappointment). Plankton’s computer wife can be taken as either a very strange joke or a social skewering. And underneath all the nutty shenanigans are lessons in growing up (such as that actions rather than mustaches make the man) and a seriocomic philosophy that nerds do rule and that cluelessness, in some cases, may be closer to innocence, and hence godliness, than we ever will admit.