I’ll gladly admit to being a fan of Spongebob Squarepants, and I still enjoy going back to older seasons of the show. Spongebob is just a delight, and his attitude and work ethic are something to be admired. Plus, the antics he gets into are really funny. It’s a shame that the later seasons have gone down in quality, replacing good storytelling with sheer randomness. The change feels lazy and uninspired, and I’m sick of cartoons thinking “random” and “funny” are synonyms.
Or maybe I’m just an old fuddy-duddy (young people still use that phrase, right?) I’ve grown distant to the cartoon, and I find it hard to care about new episodes. Thankfully, I’ll always have the first four seasons and the 2004 film, The Spongebob Squarepants Movie.
When I heard that original creator Stephen Hillenburg was coming back to work on The Spongebob Movie: Sponge out of Water though, I immediately wanted to see it. A solid trailer also helped sell the deal.
Sadly, even with Hillenburg back in action, Spongebob Squarepants is apparently content with staying random and strange.
The movie starts off with a live-action Burger Beard the Pirate (Antonio Banderas) and a group of talking CGI pidgins taking a strange book from a skeleton. Upon returning to his ship, Burger Beard begins reading from the tome, telling a tale about Spongebob, Plankton, and the Krabby Patty Secret Formula. If you’re a fan of the show, you know where this is going.
Just before Plankton can nab Mr. Krab’s award-winning (probably) recipe, it vanishes completely. Without Krabby Patties, Bikini Bottom finds itself enveloped in anarchy, and Spongebob finds himself on the run alongside Plankton. Together, the two try to figure out what happened.
For a high-budget movie, Sponge Out of Water doesn’t actually feel like a movie. There aren’t any new ideas present, and the whole thing acts like a few episodes were just stitched together. We’ve already seen magical items from above the sea (“Frankendoodle”), Spongebob and Plankton have teamed up before (“F.U.N”), time travel isn’t new by any means (“SB-129”), Plankton messes with Spongebob’s brain (“Plankton!”), and having Spongebob leave the ocean has happened in multiple episodes and the previously released movie.
The sad thing is, almost all of the episodes mentioned above are from season one. Not only does Sponge out of Water not bother with a new story, it doesn’t even look past the series’ first season for inspiration.
Uninspired could be forgiven if the movie had been funny, but Sponge out of Water is really just…well, strange. If you asked me why time travel worked when Squidward did it and not when Spongebob and Plankton do it, I’d be hard pressed to really explain why. Perhaps it’s because Squidward’s plight was a bit more grounded—he wanted to find some alone time—and the places he visited were easily grasped. I can understand a prehistoric Bikini Bottom and a goofy future covered in nothing but chrome. However, when Spongebob and Plankton find themselves in outer space with an Illuminati-style dolphin who calls himself The Watcher, all I felt was confused. There’s nothing grounded there, and there weren’t any jokes to be found either.
I will, however, admit that Plankton as a character is great throughout the movie. He’s dry and snarky but also willing to follow Spongebob’s lead. He also goes through a nice character arc, even if it’s a fairly predictable one. There’s a running joke with him that I actually found amusing, and the payoff is similar to Groot’s change of “I am Groot” to “We are Groot.” It’s small and goofy, yet it works.
The bulk of the jokes delivered throughout the movie came in the form of bad puns. Normally I’m all for bad puns, but even they weren’t executed all that well. I found myself going, “that was funny,” while never actually laughing or smiling. I got the joke, and on paper it worked, but in practice the movie is just devoid of humor.
Spongebob Squarepants is known for its disturbingly hilarious facial expressions, usually good enough to be funny without context, but there are none here. I honestly don’t know why, but it’s a huge failing.
Or, let me put it this way: I was in a theater filled with children and their parents, and I didn’t hear very many children laughing throughout the movie’s hour-and-a-half runtime.
Characters too acted in strange ways, or at least strange in relation to how they normally act. Patrick and Spongebob have found themselves pitted against each other before, but the way Sponge out of Water handles the divide just didn’t feel right. The whole thing came off as forced, resulting in one or two bad jokes and little else. The same can be said of Sandy, who’s a scientist and normally a kind of “straight man” character. She loses her mind for a bit in Sponge out of Water, and not in a believable way.
Perhaps I’m being nitpicky, but it truly is strange to see characters you know act in ways they normally wouldn’t. There’s a disconnect to it, and it certainly brought me out of the experience.
Some of the biggest concerns with Sponge out of Water revolve around Spongebob entering the real world. For those truly worried about that, don’t be. It’s not only one of the best parts of the movie, but it also only lasts maybe twenty minutes.
Seeing Spongebob and his companions turn into superheroes to fight Burger Beard was, quite honestly, stupid, but it was also the kind of stupid I expect from the show. There weren’t any strange cutaways to the bizarre or randomness for the sake of randomness. The whole sequence worked astonishingly well, made even better by some amazing art direction. Spongebob, Patrick, Sandy, Mr. Krabs, and Squidward all look great above the water. Sponge out of Water provides quite the upgrade from what the show has done previously, which was just a real sponge on a Popsicle stick.
I wouldn’t want an entire movie of Spongebob antics above the ocean, but I’d have liked his bout as a superhero to have lasted a little longer. I’d have also liked it if all of the best jokes from this sequence hadn’t been in the trailer.
The Spongebob Movie: Sponge out of Water isn’t a good movie, but that isn’t to say it was completely terrible. I had some fun with it, the first action sequence between the Krusty Krab and Plankton being a highlight, and watching Bikini Bottom morph into Mad Max was pretty awesome. The Watcher also delivers quite the rap at the end of the movie.
It’s really just a shame that, given all of the talent and budget allotted for this flick, Sponge out of Water feels like it’s just going through the motions. When you’re given a book that can alter reality by writing in it, all plot limitations go out the window. Given that, to retread ground is really just insulting.