Below the ocean surface, in a hollowed-out tropical fruit, there lives a sponge with a high-pitched laugh and a can-do attitude. His best friends are a dim-witted starfish with a protruding pink belly, a squirrel from Texas and a pantsless squid with low self-esteem. His name, of course, is SpongeBob SquarePants, and for as long as most college-aged kids can remember, he’s been flipping Krabby Patties and wreaking havoc in his cozy, underwater neighborhood of Bikini Bottom.
“SpongeBob SquarePants” premiered in the summer of 1999 and over the last 15 years has grown into one of the most beloved shows on television. SpongeBob’s first fans are now adults, but sitting in the audience for the San Francisco premiere of “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water,” a completely new fanbase squealed when his googly eyes first popped onto the screen. They knew him and loved him just as well as we once did — and for many of us, still do.
A sequel to the first SpongeBob movie, released in 2004, “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water” is a combination of animation and live-action. It’s explosively entertaining, and at times, aesthetically overwhelming, though often in a good way. At a point, SpongeBob travels through a time machine that looks more like an acid trip. Bright colors overrun the screen in psychedelic designs and N.E.R.D.’s (Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo and Shay Haley) “Squeeze Me” blasts through the speakers.
We also meet a few new eccentric characters, including a gangster-rapping dolphin that watches over outer space and shoots laser beams out of its blow hole. The film is also 3-D.
“Sponge Out of Water” opens with a live-action character, Burger Beard (played by the fiery Antonio Banderas) discovering an old book that tells the story of Bikini Bottom. He realizes that the last page, which contains the sacred Krabby Patty recipe, is missing and embarks on a journey to find it.
At this point, the camera plunges below the water into Bikini Bottom.
It had been a while since I last saw an episode of SpongeBob, but it seemed like just yesterday that I was getting yelled at for sitting too close to the TV screen, mesmerized by SpongeBob’s escapades at the Krusty Krab or in the jellyfish fields. He’s like an old friend whom, though relentlessly annoying, you can’t help but adore.
What exactly is it about this yellow sponge that has tugged at the hearts and funny bones of cartoon-lovers for multiple generations? Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of SpongeBob, crafted a character who — though deceptively simple — has a distinct sense of humor and an unwavering wide-eyed innocence. In every snippet of dialogue and with each dopey facial expression, SpongeBob is thoroughly SpongeBob.
Moments of utter SpongeBob-ness were the film’s high points. He gullibly makes an alliance with arch-enemy Plankton. He gasps when he finds the Krabby Patty freezer completely empty. When Plankton squeezes his way into SpongeBob’s head, his brain is a cotton-candy wonderland.
While the characters are animated and in Bikini Bottom, the film is like any SpongeBob episode, maybe even more clever. When the secret Krabby Patty recipe disappears, Bikini Bottom erupts in chaos. The citizens sport leather rebel gear. Squidward has a mohawk. “Grandma” is graffitied across the side of Patrick’s rock home. Sandy becomes feral and lowly growls the words “incoherent muttering” as she tries to find a solution. The blatant wackiness of it all embodies exactly what makes SpongeBob permanently hilarious.
The second half of the film, however, thrusts SpongeBob and his cronies onto land — what looks like a beach off the Pacific Coast Highway. Maybe it’s the nostalgia of an early adopter who longs for more of the old-school cartoon, but the 3-D animated characters fumbling above water with live-action actors just seemed unnecessary. It was odd and difficult to follow.
Through the constant mayhem, SpongeBob is forever funny and lovable, but he truly belongs in his pineapple under the sea.
Contact Anna Carey at [email protected].