July 4, 2015

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (2015)
Grade: 50/100

Director: Paul Tibbitt
Stars: Tom Kenny, Antonio Banderas, Mr. Lawrence

What it's about. The belated sequel (of sorts) to The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, featuring characters from Nickelodeon's long-running animated television series. Once again, tiny but evil Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) tries to steal the secret formula of the Krabby Patty, the artery-clogging but delicious burger that provides the cornerstone of the menu of the Krusty Krab.

The latter is owned by stingy Mr. Krabs (Clancy Brown). As always, he has exactly two employees, sarcastic and angst-ridden cashier Squidward (Rodger Bumpass); and naive and ebullient fry-cook Sponge Bob (Tom Kenny). Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) is Sponge Bob's simpleton best friend, and Sandy (Carolyn Lawrence) is the courageous scientist Texan squirrel. Plankton's computer wife, Karen (Jill Talley), shows up, as does Sponge Bob's pet snail Gary (Tom Kenny). They all live in Bikini Bottom and engage in nautical nonsense under the sea.

Now that the gang's all here, the plot, such as it is, has nefarious live-action pirate Antonio Banderas swiping the coveted secret recipe from both Plankton and Mr. Krabs. He opens up his own beachfront pushcart restaurant, serving Krabby Patties to the summer vacation set.

For some reason, this theft causes Bikini Bottom to descend into mob rule and anarchy. Our cartoon characters set aside their various rivalries to put an end to Banderas unauthorized franchise, return the secret formula to Bikini Bottom, make patties for the hungry masses, and return everything inevitably to the way it was before the film was made.

The first two-thirds of the movie mostly features traditional animation. In the final reel, our cartoon gang is obliged to leave the ocean to confront Banderas, using superhero powers granted to them by magical talking dolphin Bubbles (Matt Berry).

How others will see it. The Sponge Bob franchise has dominated Nickelodeon's daytime programming for the past 15 years. It's proven to make a mint for all concerned, and the movie is yet another profitable entry.

User ratings at imdb.com confirm that the target audience, kids, is generally satisfied, since Males under 18 grades the film 7.3 out of 10. The ratings slip below 6.0 for viewers over age 30, which suggests they are somewhat disappointed.

How I felt about it. My wife is a devoted Sponge Bob follower, which has led me to see most of the animated shorts many times each. Some are pretty good. I favor "Can You Spare a Dime?", "Selling Out", "Squidville", "Skill Crane", and "Enchanted Tiki Dreams", which suggests that Squidward is the best character. Perhaps because there is less of him here, the shorts are generally better than either of the two movies, and the first movie is better than the second film.

Somebody observed, decades ago, that Pee Wee Herman's half-hour television series, at least the first season or two, was superior to the two Pee Wee Herman movies (did anyone else see Big Top Pee-Wee?) When it comes to animation, less is often more. The biggest exceptions are two early Disney movies, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Dumbo, which somehow manage to keep up the quality throughout. But the great Bullwinkle and Warner Bros. cartoons were shorts.

It's true that the plot of the present movie defies analysis. It simply doesn't matter why Antonio Banderas goes to so much trouble just to open up a burger stand at the beach, and why our cartoon heroes risk their lives to stop him from doing so. It is the characters and their relationships that matter, plus the quality of the gags.

From that perspective, the film is about Good (Sponge Bob) redeeming Evil (Plankton), albeit temporarily, in the face of a greater evil (Banderas). The premise is lame, and the film rises or falls instead on the gags. But they are also lame (Squidward as a dinosaur? Sponge Bob's superhero power is blowing bubbles?), and all we have left to admire is Banderas' hammy acting.