January was a dark time in the cinemas, full of soul-crushing Oscar bait, nonsensical “action” movies, super stupid psycho sexual thrillers, and whatever the fuck Mortdecai was supposed to be. But February is here, and our movie-going has been saved by a square-pantsed weirdo with cotton candy for brains.
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water delivers exactly the kind of zany mayhem and willful silliness fans have come to expect from the popular Nickelodeon cartoon series SpongeBob SquarePants, but with a level of spectacle demanded from a theatrical release. Its winding and wacky plot begins with a ginger-bearded, live-action pirate (Antonio Banderas) stealing a mythical book, thereby throwing the future of Bikini Bottom into peril. So, SpongeBob and his crew must rise from the depths of the sea to battle this bad buccaneer on land. Along the way, all kinds of comical chaos ensues.
This unceasingly charming animated adventure is stuffed to the gills with absolutely insane imagery. A time-traveling photo booth, a spiteful intergalactic dolphin who shoots lasers out his blowhole, and all of the 2D heroes transforming into CG animated superheroes versions of their former selves. For kids, there’s lots of silliness in which to revel, like SpongeBob’s cackling laughter being employed as a torture device, and Patrick summoning his superpowers to indulge in ice cream, instead of save the day. But these moments are so damn delightful they’ll charm adults too. Plus cinephiles will enjoy plucking out director Paul Tibbitt’s allusions to The Shining, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Some might sneer at Banderas, an international star of considerable acclaim, for signing on to a role where he’s so caked in costuming that he’s barely recognizable. But whether or not he did this for a fat paycheck, Banderas refuses to phone it in. Whether he’s bickering with pestering seagulls, boxing a skeletal pirate captain or fleeing the attack force that is the Bikini Bottom Six, he’s alive with energy and capering, which is all the more impressive when you realize he’s the only living lead in this movie. Dude had to act against green screen eyelines and lots of nothing, and he turned in a charismatic character with heaps of flair.
The voice work from SpongeBob regulars Tom Kenny, Clancy Brown, Bill Fagerbakke, Rodger Bumpass, Carolyn Lawrence and Mr. Lawrence is—as ever—on point, efficiently painting the world of nautical nonsense with campy and over-the-top performances. And Kenny and Lawrence have some unexpected fun with an arc that has Plankton reluctantly teaming up with SpongeBob, resulting in a musical number that had me simultaneously howling with laughter and straining to hear the next lyric over my caterwauling.
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water is a film fans of SpongeBob should flock to. The plot makes way more sense that I would have expected from a SpongeBob movie, putting to shame some of its contenders at the box office this week. But really, the art of this film is so mesmerizing and surreal that even if the plot had been as full of holes as our yellow hero, I’d have loved it all the same.
There are trippy tunnels through time, a Bikini Bottom gone hysterically post-apocalyptic, and a mind-melting sequence where Plankton dares to explore the inner workings of SpongeBob’s brain by burrowing right in there. It’s totally bonkers and tons of fun. Plus, the 3D adds another layer to the cinematic experience, even in the 2D-animation sections, which are carefully broken out to create a compelling and pop-up book-like depth. And for those who cringed at the trailers of SpongeBob and company in CG form, take comfort in that this is only the finale of The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water. Most of it is made up of the SpongeBob fans have come to love, but in a bigger, bolder, and more beautiful scale.