If I came to you in the mid 90s and pitched a cartoon about underwater sponge (but not an underwater sponge but a real sponge, like the one you do dishes with) who wears pants, has a pet snail, and works at a burger joint, you would give me one of those polite-nod things, maybe pat me on my head, and then slowly back out of the room.
It’s the same reaction that I imagine I’ll receive as I tell you I really enjoyed The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water.
Part of it may just be fatigue after sitting through the absolute dreck that Hollywood gives us every January and February (and 2015 seemed particularly groan-worthy), but even in a vacuum I think SpongeBob might actually be a better-than-average movie.
There are large parts of it that make no sense whatsoever, and there are other moments more surreal than anything Dali ever painted or Cage ever played, but it’s funny, and it works.
There is a soupçon of a plot here— the nefarious Plankton (voiced by “Mr. Lawrence”) has absconded with the secret recipe for Krabby Patties, the gastronomic etoile of Bikini Bottom. SpongeBob (Tom Kenny), though, believes Plankton to be innocent, and the pair set off together to get the recipe back. (It’s here where the two build a time machine out of a photo booth, sausages, and a cuckoo clock. It’s also what leads them to the refined, robed dolphin who is currently watching Saturn and Jupiter to make sure they don’t collide.)
None of this makes any sense, you say? That’s precisely why the purchase of a ticket to the SpongeBob movie comes with the mandate that you leave your voice of reason at the door. In order to believe that a starfish and a squid can morph into superheroes (Mr. Superawesomeness and Sour Note, respectively) and take to the mean (above water) streets of a Georgia beach town to foil a scheming, burger-happy pirate, well… you can certainly come to grips with how it could rain French fries and pickles underwater.
The screenplay by Glenn Berger Jonathan Aibel, the writing team behind Kung Fu Panda and Monsters vs. Aliens, is stuffed to capacity with these kinds of moments. The humor is as whack-a-doodle as you would expect (though there are plenty of winning, subtle moments, too), and the pace that director Paul Tibbitt sets is frenetic but never exhausting. Things wane a bit at the one-hour mark, when the story hits dry land and moves into the world of live-action, but even then there are plenty of gags and jokes to keep the (goof)ball rolling… from Plankton’s selfish nature keeping him from pronouncing “team” correctly (tee-am) to the gang of fish toughs who take out their apocalyptic frustration on a harmless tire.
There’s no way I could make this stuff up, but I’ll gladly show my appreciation for the minds of the people who did.