So I watched The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, and I was less than enthused. I initially asked myself, “Am I just too old for SpongeBob?” but I don’t think that’s it. There are still plenty of episodes of the show that entertain me, and the first movie still holds up. This, despite some laughs, didn’t.
Part of it may have to do with the plot. It’s yet another “Plankton tries to steal the Krabby Patty Formula” story which has been done many times in the series, and was even used in the first movie. I understand the writers wanted to make an epic storyline for the big screen, but this type of plot isn’t the only way to do it. To be fair, the formula is subverted fairly quickly, with the Krabby Patty Formula vanishing into thin air when Plankton and SpongeBob are fighting over it. Without a clue as to where it went, everyone assumes Plankton stole it and is lying about it disappearing, but SpongeBob believes him. Mr. Krabs and the townspeople think SpongeBob must be against them for siding with the enemy Plankton, so the two flee Bikini Bottom as it descends into chaos without tasty Krabby Patties to appease the masses.
I don’t mind the conflict here, even though the “prove the enemy isn’t evil this time” plot has been done before. I also like how SpongeBob and Plankton have to team up, which isn’t something that was done much in the series and gave some character development to Plankton. It falters in how the two try to solve the problem: Plankton invents a time machine with the help of his computer wife Karen, and he and SpongeBob travel back and forth through time (including, for some reason, coming across a magical dolphin that keeps the universe in balance). However, after about 15 minutes of messing around, they don’t solve anything, so it feels like a waste of time. The next plot twist (SpongeBob’s sacrifice by the angry townspeople getting cut short by the smell of Krabby Patties in the distance) has absolutely nothing to do with that diversion.
If you’re concerned about (minor) spoilers, skip down to the next paragraph. It turns out a real life human named Burger Beard (played by Antonio Banderas in a bushy beard and pirate garb) stole the Krabby Patty formula and is making them in his food truck without the Krusty Krab’s permission, as he was reading some seagulls the movie’s story and wanted to change the ending to suit his own needs. This is completely confusing to me, as the movie wants to have it both ways: Burger Beard appears to be telling a SpongeBob story, but the events in said story actually exist in the movie’s universe, and collide with Beard’s story. So are you telling me that Burger Beard has magical powers that allow him to re-write the universe at will? What kind of sense does that make? Anyway, Beard is the true villain of the movie, and it’s up to the main SpongeBob cast (that is, SpongeBob, his starfish friend Patrick, Mr. Krabs, surly squid Squidward, karate-loving girlfriend Sandy, and the normally-evil Plankton) to venture above water and get the formula back from Beard.
It’s in this last half hour that the movie takes an unexpected visual turn, as the characters change from hand-drawn animation to 3-D computer animation (though some would say this is an entirely expected visual turn, given how the studios love CG) . I don’t have a problem with how this portion of the movie looks, since the CG sections maintained continuity with the 2D sections. While the characters moved more fluidly than their 2D counterparts, the overall aesthetics of the characters translated well to CG. But think back to the TV series: the few times the characters left the water, they were portrayed as real objects on a stick, simply bobbing through their environments. It was cheap as heck but that’s why it was so hilarious. It was convention-defying, whereas merely turning the characters into CG versions of themselves doesn’t seem as off-the-wall. And unfortunately, the action above water is fairly standard (albeit well-done) action movie schtick, with the group inexplicably transforming into Fantastic Four-esque superheroes with various bizarre powers (for instance, SpongeBob has bubble-blowing power, Patrick can summon ice cream, and Plankton grows colossal muscles). At this point, it felt like all the rules went out the window. Burger Beard’s hamburger stand can fly. Why not! Burger Beard can send SpongeBob and gang to a remote rock just by writing in his storybook. Why not! And perhaps the biggest problem: The group has no problems breathing air for long periods, even though it’s been previously established that they quickly shrivel up on dry land (minus Sandy, who’s a land squirrel). This is in the same movie where SpongeBob needs a water-filled bowl to be comfortable in Sandy’s water-free treedome. Why not!
I don’t have anything against imagination or whimsy, but when you don’t know what the rules are, it’s hard to care about anything that’s happening. This is true even in a wacky cartoon. I can hear some of you saying, “Who cares? It’s a cartoon, you’re not supposed to think about it. Just laugh, dammit!” It would be a fair point if the movie was a laugh riot; lots of laughs can distract one from plot holes and other problems. But I honestly didn’t laugh as much at this movie as I did the first movie or the best episodes of the show. It definitely has some good jokes (for instance, I enjoyed the gun-cocking noise as the seagulls ready their butts to poop on Burger Beard), and some of the facial expressions showed creativity (there’s a brief moment when Plankton’s normally big eye shrinks to tiny; it doesn’t sound like much, but it was executed well and got a laugh out of me). So the movie wasn’t a total waste of time, but overall I was a bit underwhelmed in that department too.
Other miscellaneous nitpicks: the recurring “Teamwork” song isn’t as memorable or catchy as the first movie’s “Goofy Gooper Song” and “Now That We’re Men”; Sandy’s superhero transformation is merely into a realistic squirrel (well-animated but hardly creative); and there’s a two minute rap song that precedes the closing credits which is nothing but filler.
There are quite a few special features on the Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, though few of them run over 10 minutes. “SpongeBob SquarePants: Out of His World” (7:41) is the weakest featurette, since it doesn’t tell us anything we wouldn’t know from watching the film. Things improve in “When I Grow Up, I Want to Make Funny Sounds” (9:41), which deals with voice acting. It’s nice to see all the actors that bring these characters to life, and I enjoyed the “warming up” exercises that the cast does before they begin a day’s work. “Becoming Burger Beard” (6:05) details the physical preparations that Antonio Banderas has to go through to become the villain. “Making the Burger Mobile Chase Sequence” (5:40) is self-explanatory, with the most interesting part being that they only had a few blocks to shoot the real life footage so they had to photograph it in creative ways to mask that.
“It’s Hip to Be SquarePants” (3:30) caught me by surprise; it starts off looking like a fairly normal featurette but then the fashion designer starts talking about making real-life square pants as if it’s a fashion revolution. And to make it even funnier, there’s footage of various people in these ridiculous pants, having trouble doing simple tasks like getting on bikes. It has little to do with the movie or making it, but it’s my favorite featurette for how bizarre it is. “A Day in the Life of a Sponge” (2:33) is less successful, being a parody of black-and-white French films with pretentious narration. Even ignoring that this has been parodied before, it’s simply not a very funny piece, although the visuals (a real sponge going through daily events) are cute.
Two nature documentary featurettes are up next: “Plankton Rules the World!” (6:20) and “Bikini Bottom Confidential: Rock Stars of the Sea” (9:28) both highlight the real life animals that the SpongeBob characters are based on, and have a prominent ecological message to them. “International Sponge of Mystery” features two clips from the film in various non-English languages. These types of videos are pointless now; they should just include the full alternate audio tracks instead of offering brief snippets. Rounding out the music section are three sing-alongs to songs from the movie, which I skipped, and a N.E.R.D. music video called “Squeeze Me” (2:34).
Finally, we get quite a bit of concept art (split into four sections: Outlines and Sketches, Inside SpongeBob’s Brain, Super Powered, Apocalypse and More) and over 25 minutes of deleted/alternate scenes. Most of these scenes are presented in either storyboard or animatic form, but I could still follow what they were intending. I have to say, there are quite a few gems in here that I wish would’ve been included in the final film, such as a scene where SpongeBob and Plankton travel to what they think is normal Bikini Bottom, only to discover everyone is cyborgs…and then when they travel into the past, they find everyone is steam-powered cyborgs.
While it doesn’t deserve to walk the plank, Sponge Out of Water didn’t entertain me as much as the first SpongeBob movie. Between treading familiar ground, having more holes than the main character, and simply not being as consistently funny, SpongeBob’s seen better days.