The latest entry in the fiercely competitive market of animated films is Nickelodeon’s The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie, based on the popular TV show. As a film, SpongeBob ranks below the carefully crafted animated movies such as Shrek or Finding Nemo and well above YU-GI-OH The Movie, a cynically conceived advertisement for the card game/TV show. The film has its weaknesses, most of which stem from the attempt to stretch what would normally be a half-hour plot to nearly three times that length. But SpongeBob’s enthusiasm is infectious, as is the film’s delirious editing which gives it the feel of a cartoon whose final touches, although none of its content, were supplied by David Lynch.
The film begins the way an episode of the cartoon might, without giving much attention to the introduction of the characters. If the opening presumes familiarity with the TV show, the characters, and their relationships to one another should quickly become evident to any viewer. The plot is simple enough. SpongeBob works at the famous and hugely successful Krusty Krab restaurant; when his boss, Mr. Krabs, decides to open a second venue, SpongeBob is sure that his employee loyalty and excellent service will be rewarded with an appointment as manager of the new branch. Despite having won 340 consecutive employee-of-the-month awards, SpongeBob is overlooked and his enthusiastic chant, “I’m ready, promotion” turns to a quiet lament, “I’m ready, depression.” It’s not that Mr. Krab fails to appreciate SpongeBob’s work ethic, but he thinks of him as just a kid. As inevitably happens in such films, SpongeBob soon finds an occasion to prove the adults wrong. The conniving Plankton, who owns a rival and ever-vacant restaurant, the Chum Bucket, plots to destroy Mr. Krab by stealing King Neptune’s crown and placing the blame on Krab. When it becomes clear that Neptune’s crown has been taken to the forbidden land of Shell City, a town that would be more accurately named Skull City, SpongeBob seizes the opportunity to demonstrate his manhood and his fidelity to Krab.
Joined by his trusty, if lovingly dim-witted, starfish pal Patrick, SpongeBob sets out in search of the crown. Along the way, the pair faces a series of tests, monsters, and a hit man who resembles the Harley-driving bounty hunter from Raising Arizona. The hit man’s name, Dennis, is innocent enough but the bottom of his motorcycle bears the threatening words, “Your Head Here.” The fortunes of SpongeBob and Patrick wax and wane on the trip; even after they fight off the diabolical possessor of the crown and retrieve it, they remain stranded on a beach with no means of return to their underwater city. Just when all appears lost, they are rescued by (who else?) David Hasselhoff, who body surfs them across the ocean and back to their home. Meanwhile, Plankton has been hard at work turning the city of Bikini Bottom into Planktopolis, whose entire population is now brainwashed into worshipping the all-powerful Plankton.
The best things in the film are the musical numbers, especially the “Goofy Goober Rock” finale, with SpongeBob on a hammer-of-the-gods lead guitar, with an anthem that has the power to free all those under the sway of Plankton, who certainly speaks for viewers when he concedes SpongeBob’s power: “His chops are too righteous!”
–Thomas Hibbs, an NRO contributor, is author of Shows About Nothing.