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The heroes of kids' TV pop into three dimensions in The SpongeBob Movie.

I’ll admit this right now: I’ve never seen a single episode of SpongeBob SquarePants. I just never found the time, and my experience of seeing 2004’s The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie did not encourage me to try it. Now, 10 years later, comes The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, and I was surprised by how watchable I found it.

The story begins with SpongeBob (voiced by Tom Kenny) working his usual job at the Krabby Shack when rival restaurateur Plankton (voiced by Douglas Lawrence Osowski, a.k.a. Mr. Lawrence) tries to steal the formula for the restaurant’s Krabby Patties. SpongeBob’s efforts to keep the formula safe result in the sudden disappearance of the documents, and the shortage of Krabby Patties causes civilization in Bikini Bottom to instantly and completely break down. “I hope you like leather,” says Mr. Krabs (voiced by Clancy Brown), pointing out that he and everyone else are wearing the material in the face of the apocalypse. While the sea creatures burn their own houses and businesses to the ground, SpongeBob decides to lead an expedition to find the formula again, even if he has to team up with Plankton to do it.

The main reason this movie goes down so much more easily than its predecessor is that director Paul Tibbitt (a veteran of the show directing his first movie) doesn’t simply try to make a 90-minute episode of the show, the way the previous film did. Instead, he embraces the big screen as an excuse to change things up. There’s a live-action prologue in which CGI seagulls try to serenade a pirate captain (Antonio Banderas) with the SpongeBob theme song, only to be threatened with death. (A bunch of seagull skeletons on the ship tell their fellow birds that he’s not joking.) Later on, the live-action sequences return with the show’s favorite characters suddenly rendered in 3D computer animation as they move around in the human world above the surface. In the middle, Plankton climbs into SpongeBob’s head to see if the formula’s there, and a surreal sequence ensues as Plankton’s look inside SpongeBob’s brain ends up traumatizing him. The movie’s shifting visual registers give us different things to look at and keep us from getting bored.

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In the meantime, the gags don’t always hit, but many of them are just stupid enough to raise a laugh, like when a seemingly dying SpongeBob tells his friend Patrick (voiced by Bill Fagerbakke) that he sees a bright light, causing Patrick to move his head a little to block out the sun. The SpongeBob Movie may ultimately be as disposable as a kitchen sponge, and it’s probably best for either small children or people who are stoned out of their minds. Still, it isn’t too bad for people who are neither.

 

[box_info]The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water
Voices by Tom Kenny and Mr. Lawrence. Directed by Paul Tibbitt. Written by Glenn Berger and Jonathan Aibel. Rated PG.[/box_info]

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