Explaining the widespread appeal of the long-running animated Nickelodeon children’s series Spongebob Squarepants to those who take displeasure in its self-proclaimed “nautical nonsense” is one of the most difficult tasks a person can embark on.
It is a challenge that brings to mind the sentiments of Grateful Dead bandleader Jerry Garcia, who claimed that everyone either loved or hated his equally trippy and folksy musical concoctions with no in-betweens. Therefore, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, the series’ second feature length incarnation, will convert no skeptics to embrace the sponge.
Yet for those who enjoy the quirky cartoon and 2004’s confusingly, similarly titled The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, this film will not disappoint. Though the departure of showrunner and marine biologist Stephen Hillenburg resulted in years of mediocre episodes, Hillenburg has returned, and Sponge Out of Water is up to the standards of the show’s golden age.
Like many episodes of the show, Sponge Out of Water sees the optimistic and spontaneous SpongeBob (Tom Kenny) saving the reputation of fast food establishment the Krusty Krab from the conniving and inconsistently miniscule rival business proprietor Sheldon Plankton (“Mr.” Doug Lawrence), who persistently plots to obtain the coveted Krabby Patty secret formula in a hapless way not unlike Wile E. Coyote. Unfortunately, for both of them, a much more competent third party in the form of the outrageous live-action pirate Burger Beard (Antonio Banderas) steals the formula instead, causing the fast food-addicted citizens of the underwater town of Bikini Bottom to destroy their civilization and enter an anarchic post-apocalyptic lifestyle. With even his dim-witted best friend Patrick Star (Bill Fagerbakke) betraying him in a gluttonous rage, SpongeBob teams up with his former foe Plankton in a quest for the lost formula.
This loose and unusual plot allows for a plethora of styles of animation, including a hallucinogenic series of time travel sequences and ultimately a mixture of CGI and live action in which SpongeBob and friends step onto a beach and interact with human beings, which the naïve sponge mistakes for “land porpoises.” Add in a handful of pleasantly forced references to early episodes and a superhero showdown complete with Patrick’s superpower being the ability to conjure ice cream cones, and you have one of the most entertaining, if inessential, children’s films of the year.