A good-natured and surprisingly witty return for Spongebob, but one wrecked by an ending so heavy-handed and silly, it literally erases almost all positive feelings one can have towards the film.
Over ten years after his first big-screen adventure, the square-pants wearing sea-sponge known to all as the beloved Spongebob, finally returns. Alongside his army of dim-witted friends, the cult-favourite kid’s character leads a brand new feature-length adventure, promising more of the same self-referential laughs and bizarre hand-drawn animation that has made him a staple of children’s TV since the late 1990s. But now with multiple generations of fans to please, and a whole host of newer, competing franchises to trump, can the little yellow ocean-dweller still prove his worth in a world dominated by superheroes and princesses? The short answer is, sort of, but not really.
Waving off an impossibly-long time gap, Spongebob’s eventual big-screen sequel finds the quiet little ocean town of Bikini Bottom thrust into a cruel dystopian scenario, after Mr Krabs’ top-secret Krabby Patty recipe disappears during a scuffle with long-time nemesis Plankton. As, apparently, the town’s only hope of salvation, Spongebob and Plankton team-up to hunt down the missing burger formula, taking them on a friendship-fueled quest through the outer-reaches of time and space, where new alliances will be formed and old ones tested.
Huge-scale, genre-bending storylines aside, what makes the majority of Spongebob’s latest adventure something of a hit is its refusal to bend to more contemporary attitudes. Since launching in 1999 (yes, that long ago), the Spongebob Squarepants TV show has somehow kept its commendable balance of silly, low-rent laughs and weirdly satirical humour. A balance that has not only maintained its trademark young viewership, but also preserved its older fans as they grow into a more intelligent brand of comedy. For at least two thirds of Sponge Out of Water, veteran show writers Stephen Hillenburg and Paul Tibbitt land this familiar sense of multi-generational humour with honesty and ambition. The basic premise may be a slightly-worn re-jigging of a old episode or two, but the classic Spongebob charm is still there. That is, until the well-loved hand-drawn sequences shift rather jarringly into a live-action finale which, sadly and with no exaggeration, tanks the entire film.
Antonia Banderas, dressed as a pirate. A team of poorly-animated seagulls, with diarrhea. Voiced by barely-existent “celebrities”. The contrast is so completely and honestly baffling that it actually manages to leave one feeling a little sick. As if that, somehow, they’ve been secretly drugged and then unceremoniously dragged unconscious into a neighbouring theatre and shown a completely different film entirely. Banderas and co. pop up gradually throughout the film in an oddly-plotted and entirely unnecessary framing device, but it’s only when the film reaches its climax, that the true horrors of his character become known. Every single drop of originality that director Tibbitt was holding on to disappears in an instant, as the show’s beloved characters morph into (no word of a lie) superheroes. The film’s final act is thus left as a mess of strangely-animated action sequences, resulting in a conclusion so limp and tasteless, any memory of enjoying any part of the film is almost completely erased.
In its best moments, Sponge Out of Water is a gallant reminder of the powers of 90’s television: a beautifully-drawn, self-mocking nostalgia trip that bounces playfully off of the likes of Douglas Adams and others. At its worst, it is a positively unbearable exploration of everything wrong with lowest-common-denominator-based entertainment. Kids may still marvel at the outlandish designs and inventive colours, but ultimately, if they too are fans of the iconic yellow sponge, such an obtuse and needlessly whimsical ending will most likely anger even them. Surprisingly enough, Spongebob’s eventual return to the big-screen had plenty of potential, all that it’s missing is an ending that doesn’t make you want to tear out your own eyes in protest.
The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (2015), directed by Paul Tibbitt, is released in UK cinemas by Paramount, Certificate U.