‘The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water’
Directors: Paul Tibbitt, Mike Mitchell
Stars: Tom Kenny (voice), Antonio Banderas
3 (out of 5) Globes
More than most toons, “SpongeBob SquarePants” is in debt to the tossed-off, dumb wordplay-heavy comic shorts of the ’30s and ’40s. It really is the “Three Stooges” of the modern day (albeit less violent and with more good vibes), where the jokes don’t have to be great (and especially don’t have to be sophisticated) but just have to keep coming. When the Stooges went feature-length, they didn’t really change up their style, and they barely paid attention to whatever plot was there to give the mania a reason to be longer. So too with the two “SpongeBob” movies, and especially with this second one, which is essentially 90-minutes of particularly insane back-to-back-to-back episodes.
The big big-screen hook in “Sponge Out of Water” is that our happily stupid aquatic hero (voice of Tom Kenny) goes to the live-action surface. There he engages in battle with a burger-loving pirate (Antonio Banderas, never hammier, which is truly saying something), who runs a food truck. That should give you some idea of the level of loopiness on display, though the battle is put off to the climax and most of the action takes place in the usual purely cartoon underwater realm. The plot finds the recipe to the paddies from SpongeBob’s place of work, Krusty Krab, stolen. Thus deprived of their favorite foodstuff, the world of Bikini Bottom immediately turns into an arid apocalyptic wasteland — despite being underwater. SpongeBob and tiny show villain Plankton (the one billed as “Mr. Lawrence) have to team up to find it. There’s also time travel, a magical book that controls the universe and a snooty dolphin with a frickin’ laser on his head.
There’s a lot of high concept ideas running through “Sponge Out of Water,” and a tighter, more clever screenplay could definitely have been made. But a certain sloppiness has long been part of “SpongeBob”’s charm, as its real strengths lie not in the details of what happens — which are usually pretty nuts — but in the constant tossing out of gags visual and oral. Good-bad puns abound (“Unleash the condiments!” “With relish!”), as do winking meta jokes, as when someone avers “All secondary characters come with us” or when another warns Banderas that he’s making the movie too long.
These aren’t mere token jokes for the presumably suffering adults who’ve dragged their kids to the theater. (There are some of those, though, including at least two references to Kubrick and one to “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” plus one leather joke that’s just a hair shy of being blue.) The thing that has always distinguished “SpongeBob” from other toons is the way its humor really does play to all ages. Its jokes appeal to our most basic humor reflexes. The dumb gags are meant to bring out the person who loves dumb gags in all of us, lurking deep inside though it may be. “SpongeBob” has been on the air for 15 years, but it’s the kind of beast that could yield a million more episodes and dozens of more movie spinoffs and never really run out of steam.