More noise than signal

Spongebob Squarepants: The Movie

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com

Crivens, where to start? I’m not sure I’ve got the words for this. Not too sure the target audience will either, given the junk that’s peddled as kids TV these days. No Dangermouse, no Trap Door, no Count Duckula, no Murun Buchstanziga, no Rainbow, no…whatever the name of that Saturday morning program with Gaz Top and Gilbert the slimy, sorta Mick Jagger impersonating alien was. Does anyone consider the developmental stunting that any exposure to the Tellytubby’s causes? I doubt even Wizadora could fix that.

The point of this extraneous nostalgic waffle is to say that I’ve no prior experience whatsoever to this Spongebob Squarepants (Tom Kenny) fella, so should any glaring inconsistences with prior televisual shenanigans become apparent I preemptively apologise. The titular hero is indeed a sponge, sporting two fine incisors and cardboard trousers that should I suppose be described as cuboid rather than square, but this takes semantics to unnecessary levels. Living in a reef below Bikini Bottom, he’s looking forward to the opening of a secondary branch of the Krusty Krab which he reckons he’s a shoe in to be chosen as manager of.

Being passed over on account of his slender age sends him into a depression that’s interrupted somewhat by rival burger store proprietor and evil genius Sheldon J. Plankton (the oddly credited Mr. Lawrence) framing Eugene Krabs (Clancy Brown) for stealing King Neptune (Jeffrey Tambor)’s crown, symbol of authority and hider or the Royal bald spot. The hastily meted punishment is incarceration in ice followed by a spot of incineration till death. A plucky Spongebob aided by the Kings’ daughter Mindy (Scarlett Johansson (!)) manages to get a reprieve for Krabs, as long as he and best friend Patrick Star (Bill Fagerbakke) can make the dangerous journey to the near mythical Shell City and retrieve the crown.

Plankton isn’t going to take this threat to his monopoly lying down, especially as it’s just a step on his path to taking over the world. He sends the dangerous assassin Dennis (Alec Baldwin (!?)) after Spongebob on his already perilous path, especially for a couple of kids. This leads them through numerous highly animated adventures and a few bizarrely realised live action insertions in the final reel that aren’t quite as mindboggling as , well, all of Spy Kids 3D but still feels as unsettling as I’d imagine intraocular heroin injections would be.

While it’s not the kind of thing I’m particularly comfortable saying, writer / director Stephen Hillenburg’s script is actually pretty sharp. While it’s not going to have anything like the all ages appeal of Finding Nemo or The Incredibles, there’s a couple of more adult orientated jokes mixed in along with the odd excursion into surrealism (which work to great effect) and some neatly executed visual gags which should spare the sanity of anyone on kiddyminding duty. As I say, it’s not going to have the cross over market of Pixars stuff so packs of twentysomethings ought not to apply unless already confirmed Squarepants fans, in which case they’re unlikely to be reading this anyway.

Part of the reason it meets with a degree of success for the non-kids amongst us is that while the themes of self esteem and self discovery aren’t exactly subtle, they aren’t bludgeoned over the audience the same way pretty much every Disney outing does. That Spongebob and Co wind up as more complete people, or sponges, or crabs, or whatever, is almost incidental to the action rather than the point of the journey ala Brother Bear and stablemates. This makes it a little more effective, a little more likely to stick with the youngsters and a little more realistic, in as much as realism can be applied to a movie about an orthogonal anthropomorphic sponge.

In technical terms its competent without pushing back boundaries, although stack it next to something like Miyazaki’s wonderful Spirited Away and its shortcomings become apparent, and the slightly stylised nature of the final reel compositing seems a little off, but I suppose it wouldn’t be stylised otherwise. I’m supposing it’s essentially a longer version of the TV show, but I can’t back that up with paperwork or personal experience.

If nothing else, it’s moments of offhand lunacy raise genuine laughter and the rest of the film is entertaining, which makes it better than a good deal of the comedies that have come out lately. It’s like we always say at theOneliner, if a film has a dramatic climatic showdown on David Hasslehoff’s back then it’s more than good enough for us.

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