SpongeBob SquarePants (Tom Kenny) is a sponge who wears square pants and who lives in a town on the ocean floor called Bikini Bottom (get it?). He’s also an ace crackerjack fry cook in a greasy spoon called the Krusty Krab.
But he wants to be manager.
"SpongeBob SquarePants" is a runaway hit cartoon featuring the aforesaid character and running (endlessly) on Nickelodeon. It has now made the jump to the big screen.
And not a moment too soon.
I have to confess, when I first discovered "SpongeBob" on TV, I wasn’t wild about it. I thought the characters were over-the-top comic stereotypes, like SpongeBob’s greedy boss, Mr. Krabs (Clancy Brown) — think of a crustacean Milburne Drysdale. But I watched enough episodes to realize that the humor wasn’t over the top.
It was in orbit.
Mr. Krabs isn’t just a greedy boss stereotype. He’s so greedy it’s surreal. The same is true of other characters on the show and, indeed, the humor of the show itself. It frequently involves taking a safe, predictable comic staple and then cranking it into overdrive, pushing a comic stereotype beyond its usual limits. In the best moments of the "SpongeBob" TV series, absurdity piles on top of absurdity in rapid succession, and you find yourself laughing hysterically that the writers had the chutzpah to put such outlandishness on screen.
Those moments are found in The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie as well — including one particularly brilliant one that occurs when King Neptune takes a paper bag off his head.
Yes, King Neptune (Jeffrey Tambor) is a major character in this movie (though be warned that he isn’t quite the same as the King Neptune of the TV show). He’s taken to wearing a paper bag over his head because his crown has been stolen and his hair is… ahem… "thinning."
In fact, the crown has been stolen by the short-stuff villain Plankton (Mr. Lawrence), who owns a spectacularly unsuccessful eatery known as The Chum Bucket. (Chum is chopped up animal or vegetable matter thrown overboard to attract fish. You can understand why nobody eats there.)
If only Plankton could get the secret formula to make Mr. Krabs’s wildly successful Krabby Patty (a kind of deep-sea hamburger) then he would at last be a success, and so he tries another in a series of Evil Schemes to get the secret formula. Stealing King Neptune’s crown is only the beginning. Soon Neptune’s wrath is about to fall on Mr. Krabs, and not even Neptune’s daughter Princess Mindy (Scarlett Johansson) can save him.
Only one person can!
Are ya ready kids?
Unfortunately, SpongeBob is on the outs with Mr. Krabs right now because he wasn’t named manager of the new Krusty Krab 2 restaurant. Y’see… he’s a dork, a buffoon, a wingnut, a Knucklehead McSpaz-a-tron. Or, as Mr. Krabs puts it, a kid. He may be a great fry cook, but he’s not ready for the responsibilities of being a fast food manager.
In reality, SpongeBob is a kind of man-boy. Like Jerry Lewis, he’s perpetually trapped between adolescence and adulthood. This tension between youth and maturity is one of the recurring themes of the TV show and is a major dramatic element in the movie.
To prove his manhood, SpongeBob decides to do something no kid could do: undertake the incredibly dangerous journey to the forbidden locale "Shell City" and retrieve King Neptune’s crown (thus saving Mr. Krabs from a fate worse than a deep fryer).
SpongeBob sets off on his quest with his trusty, if dim-witted, starfish friend Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) and the two traverse a sometimes harrowing, sometimes hilarious set of obstacles to reach King Neptune’s crown.
The visuals of the movie are much like those of the TV series, which offers a vaguely Polynesian, undersea blend of cartoons and computer animation. With the movie’s added budget, they get more ambitious, though, and sometimes the backgrounds are dazzling. A sequence in which SpongeBob and Patrick march (and sing) their way through an undersea trench is particularly spectacular.
The film also utilizes live-action footage. This is something the TV show also does, but not as well. Small bits of live action work well on the show, but more involved attempts to blend the animated undersea world with the live-action above-the-sea world have invariably fallen flat on the program. (Particularly awful is the TV show’s live-action Tom Kenny character, "Patchy the Pirate," who does not appear in the film.)
Thankfully, the live-action sequences work much, much better in the movie, and they include one of the most surreal events ever witnessed in motion picture history. Imagine: a climactic, action-sequence confrontation between cartoon sea denizens taking place on the live-action legs of TV star David Hasselhoff as he zooms through the water like a motorboat.
While the live-action sequences are an improvement over the TV show, one aspect of the movie is likely to leave SpongeBob fans a little disappointed: Some of the major supporting characters of the TV show are barely in the film. In particular, SpongeBob’s snooty neighbor, Squidward, and his rootin’-tootin’ semi-girlfriend and karate-partner, Sandy Cheeks (a squirrel from Texas), are almost totally absent from the screen. Perhaps a sequel will give them more screen time.
Still, the film will ultimately please SpongeBob fans. It survives the transition from its typical story length of twelve minutes and manages to fill ninety minutes of screen time with a satisfyingly complicated plot (for a cartoon). It’s cute, funny, and, in the words of New York Times critic A. O. Scott, "a marvel of unleashed childishness, like a birthday party on the edge of spinning out of control."
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.