Judge Patrick Bromley wonders what would happen if one day, just for kicks and giggles, SpongeBob wore jodhpurs.
Bigger. Better. More absorbent.
This movie has not been made for me. I know this to be true. I don't watch SpongeBob SquarePants on TV. I don't have any children who watch SpongeBob SquarePants. I don't have any children, period. I don't really even know any children. I myself am not a child. I have never been a child. And yet I know that I have to find something to say about the 80 minutes I spent watching the film—some sort of reaction to what I have seen.
I come to The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie a Stranger in a Strange Land. I have never seen a single frame of the ravenously popular Nickelodeon cartoon that introduced the world to this particular anthropomorphic sea sponge and his dimwitted starfish pal, Patrick. Thankfully, the movie doesn't require that I know anything about these characters or the world that they inhabit; the narrative is simple enough that even a newcomer can dive right in and manage to stay afloat. The film involves SpongeBob (voiced by Mr. Show's Tom Kenny) and Patrick on a quest for King Neptune's (Jeffrey Tambor of Arrested Development) crown; it's been stolen by the diminutive villain, Plankton (hands-down my favorite character), in an evil plot that involves fast-food chains and mind control.
Somehow, David Hasselhoff figures into all of this.
The character of SpongeBob is almost impossible not to like: he's ridiculously cheerful, sunny, optimistic, and unflappable—he's cute, in an annoying kind of way. And while the majority of the material is geared towards young children—gross-out jokes and shots of SpongeBob's backside make for quick laughs in the under-10 set—there is a kind of sophistication to the writing that can appeal to twentysomething audience members like Yours Truly (though it's one of those rare animated features that doesn't translate "appealing to adults" to "endless pop-culture references"—see Shrek 2 or the more recent Shark Tale for examples). The overall tone and humor of SpongeBob—not to mention the animation style itself—actually owes a great debt to Ren & Stimpy, though the 'Bob is decidedly more kid-friendly; there's even an "it's okay to be a kid" message worked into the story, giving it value beyond that of strictly entertainment but without becoming preachy.
Just about any kids' cartoon that achieves some widespread success winds up with a feature-length film, from Rugrats to The Wild Thornberrys to The Powerpuff Girls. The trouble is, few of these make any attempt to distinguish their respective films from their television counterparts—we end up with a triple-length episode of the weekly cartoon. At least South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut understood that if you're going to ask people to spend eight or nine bucks to see what they normally get for free on TV, you've got to offer them something new—it took advantage of the different format's possibilities and delivered a much more ambitious outing than what shows up in our living rooms.
The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie falls somewhere in the middle ground. Though most of the film is standard cartoon stuff, there does seem to have been an attempt to broaden the scope for the sake of the movie. The attempt doesn't exactly work—sending SpongeBob and Patrick into the real world is a clever idea that doesn't play as well as it should have—but you've got to give the filmmakers credit for trying. They could have just as easily phoned this one in.
Paramount's disc looks and sounds excellent, but is light on the extra content—probably not a huge deal, as I can't imagine too many youngsters being all that enthusiastic about the bonus features. The film itself is presented in a truly striking anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer; for an animated feature, the image shows an impressive amount of depth and detail, with the movie's ridiculously vibrant color palette popping right off the screen. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is also a pleasant surprise—again, for a cartoon, it's uncharacteristically dense and involving.
The only extras provided are a couple of featurettes (a skippable making-of featurette, plus two educationally-based shorts about the ocean that are geared towards kids), an animatic—because the audience for this film undoubtedly demands to know more about the animation process—a game demo, and the movie's original theatrical teaser.
My feelings about The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie ultimately do not matter. The movie is critic-proof. I suppose my opinion lands somewhere in the vicinity of mild fondness—it is bright and energetic, has a small lesson for the kids, and avoids insulting the intelligence of audiences young and old alike. It can't compare to the work being turned out by the folks at Pixar, but that's an almost impossible standard to hold it to. In fact, there's very little bad that I can say about The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. It just isn't for me.
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