WRITTEN REVIEW – The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (2015)

The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water
Directed by: Paul Tibbitt & Mike Mitchell
Written by: Jonathan Aibel & Glenn Berger
Starring: Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbakke, Rodger Bumpass, Clancy Brown, Carolyn Lawrence & Antonio Banderas
Music: John Debney
Certificate: PG
Release Date: March 27th 2015

When animator and producer Stephen Hillenburg created the offbeat animated children’s show “Spongebob Squarepants” in 1999 for Nickelodeon, I doubt even he could have foreseen just how far the show would go. Not only is it one of the highest rated shows on Nickelodeon with a massive merchandising arm, but it has also lasted 16 years, with 9 seasons (and a 10th on the way) as well as two feature films. The first movie from 2004 was a modest success considering the fact that it was a 2D animated film spinning-off from a children’s TV show and the movie is considered to be the canonical end of the franchise. However, the series has endured for a further 11 years to spawn another film; a live-action/3D hybrid superhero movie.

Or has it?

Yes, contrary to the promotional material and the marketing, the 3D, live-action, superhero stuff does not happen until the last 30 minutes of a 92 minute movie, leaving over two thirds of this movie traditionally animated. A strange approach. But what could Nickelodeon and distributor Paramount Pictures be trying to hide? Is it an attempt to convert naysayers who haven’t been on board for the best part of two decades, or are audience members and focus-groups THAT adverse to traditional, hand-drawn animation?
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The movie predominantly takes place in Bikini Bottom; an underwater town where many aquatic citizens live, including the titular Spongebob Squarepants (Kenny) who is a fry-cook at the town’s famous fast food restaurant, the Krusty Krab. The Krusty Krab serves a burger known as the Krabby Patty and it would seem that the secret formula and recipe to this iconic meal is what holds the fabric of Bikini Bottom together, as during an attack against the restaurant by arch-nemesis Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) the secret formula disappears which causes society to collapse. While the whole town turns on Plankton and starts to tear itself apart, Spongebob believes Plankton to be innocent and vows to help him find the real perpetrator with the help of “teamwork”. However, the whole scenario is being manipulated by the real culprit, Captain Burger-Beard (Banderas) who wants the secret formula for himself.

It’s a surprisingly complex set-up considering the fact that the nuts and bolts of the plot involve the disappearance of a maguffin, but it’s delivery is assisted through the framing device of Burger-Beard reading the story to a flock of seagulls on his ship from a magical tome. Yeah, this movie’s strange like that. But the set-up also feels like a jumping-off point for many of the jokes as the movie opens with Plankton attacking the Krusty Krab in an elaborate action sequence that paves the way for a lot of humour that’s on-point and consistently funny. Even when the jokes don’t land and induce cringing in the audience, you sometimes have to respect the imagination and the audacity of the writers.
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It’s basically become an unwritten fact in the animation community that the quality of the TV series “Spongebob Squarepants” has severely dipped in quality since the release of the 2004 movie due to changes in the writing team, the original showrunner leaving and an emphasis on mean-spirited/gross-out humour in the programme. However, ‘The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water‘ has assembled some of the original writers for this big-screen feature creating something that’s akin to the show’s glory-days in the early 2000s. What we have with ‘The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water‘ is a movie whose humours stems from outright bizarreness. Yes, there are some quirky sight-gags such as Patrick Star taking out a tank by throwing a large jar of mayonnaise at it and Spongebob and Plankton attempting to create a time machine out of tacos and a photo-booth…

…yeah, this movie is strange…

…but then around one third of the way through, the movie takes a sharp left turn and becomes downright weird. Like…REALLY weird. Like, there’s a flying, talking, 2000-year old dolphin voiced by Matt Berry who must oversee the cosmos and shoots lasers out of its blow-hole weird. Trippy dream-sequences, moments of highly-detailed close-up still-frames (a staple of the show) and psychedelic music by Pharrell Williams’ band N*E*R*D underscoring it. And you know what…I kinda dug the hell out of it. Regardless of whether or not the movie works or not, I definitely won’t be forgetting the second act anytime soon.
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The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water‘ is a movie made up of three acts. The first act has Bikini Bottom descend into chaos and is made-up of a mixture of action, straight-faced gags and typical Spongebob humour. The second has Spongebob and Plankton attempt to fix everything and discover what’s going on which has a trippy, mind-messing approach and musical sequences and finally the third act has the traditional superhero action that the trailers promised. Because of this segmented approach it feels like the movie is three episodes of the TV series stitched together, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But the gating off of the segments is more noticeable when the framing device of Antonio Banderas as the live-action villain is thrown in.

Don’t get me wrong, Antonio Banderas is a lot of fun and it looks like he’s really enjoying himself in that pirate gear talking to CGI seagulls, but the framing device of him telling the story through the tome plot-device feels more intrusive then it does a compliment to the feature. And even by the logic the movie is running with (or the lack thereof), the book that Burger-Beard gets his powers from doesn’t make much sense. Burger-Beard is able to manipulate the events of the movie by writing the story as he sees fit in the book. However, he’s reading the story to the seagulls like it’s the past-tense as soon as he finds its…but then it turns out that he wrote the story that he’s reading for the first time and that the downfall of Bikini Bottom is happening concurrently with him reading about it.

What?
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I know it’s a minor flaw and the fact that this is a predominantly animated, cartoon-logic movie allows you to suspend your disbelief even further than usual, but this is something that could have easily been cleared up with a further draft of the script. But once this framing device is dropped in the third act as Burger-Beard becomes more prominent in the story then the movie cruises to the finish line in an action-packed and entertaining way. The 2D animation in the first hour of the film is well polished, imaginative and brimming with detail (the flower patterns in the background of Bikini Bottom start to fall from the sky as the town goes all ‘Mad Max‘ near the beginning which had me in stitches – “Welcome to the apocalypse. I hope you like leather”) which are enhanced by subtle 3D effects that never overshadow the charm of the show as well as some subtle moments of stop-motion. But the 3D live-action ending also holds up very well with the 2D characters translating very well to the real-world. Whether it’s Spongebob actually having the texture of a sponge when he’s on the surface, or Sandy the Squirrel actually turning into a Squirrel the production values do hold up when the movie goes out of the franchise’s comfort zone.spongebob 4The action is frenetic, entertaining while involving all the main characters who go to the surface to reclaim the Krabby Patty formula (because all “secondary characters” decide to stay behind) and gain superpowers by re-writing the magic book. The movie ends with an enjoyable action set-piece with all the superpowered main cast members fighting against Burger-Beard with the characters brand new powerset getting put to inventive use, with the highlight being Mr. Krabs who gets the most awesome and memorable abilities as Sir Pinch-A-Lot where he becomes a rocket-powered, crab-robot hybrid of sheer awesomeness.

While I won’t detract points from the movie itself for this, I do have to address the fact that while this is the last thirty minutes of the movie, the fact that it’s been the sole focus of the advertising campaign means that most of the jokes in this act of the film have pretty much already been spoiled or given away. So if those trailers were the entire reason you wanted to see the movie, then adjust your expectations.
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To my knowledge, pretty much the entire voice-cast return with Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbakke, Rodger Bumpass, Clancy Brown, Carolyn Lawrence and Mr. Lawrence playing the familiar roles that they could probably play in their sleep by now. The movie doesn’t exactly take them out of their comfort zones and there’s nothing particularly taxing or emotional for the characters to go through in this movie when compared to the TV show, but the voice acting is still exceptional and no one is phoning in their performances here. I’ve already mentioned most the production aspects already such as the animation, but I will also add that N*E*R*D’s original song for the movie, “Squeeze Me”, is incredibly catchy and fun. In my screenings there were some kids dancing to the music during the end credits, so they certainly enjoyed it. The original score by the reliable John Debney (who you’ll probably remember from ‘Iron Man 2‘) is also very good and naturally escalates and gets brought to the forefront more during the live-action segments.
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The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water‘ will do little to convert those not already enamoured with the original TV show as its off-beat humour and trippy sequences might turn off the non-believers. That’s probably why the advertising campaign focused so much on the live-action segment despite it taking up around a third of the actual runtime as well as the emphasis on 2D animation (which looks GREAT on the big-screen and in 3D, incidentally). It does feel like a trio of TV episodes expanded to the big-screen and while it’s enjoyable and fun there’s not much here to grab audiences attentions after the credits roll, but it’s a solid animated film that kids will enjoy and even some parents might get a curious kick out of in the moment – though on reflection they’ll probably feel dazed and confused. I think it’s a step-below the 2004 movie, but it’s definitely an improvement over what’s currently on TV at the moment and it’s no surprise that the success of this movie both critically and financially has spurred Nickelodeon to up its game with the 10th season of the show by bringing the original writers back.

I give ‘The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water‘ 3 and a half stars out of 5.

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Posted In: 2015 Reviews Current Reviews Reviews

Author: Trilbee

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Posted: 15th Apr 15

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