Film Review: The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge out of Water

by Sam Robinson

Rated PG. Starring Tom Kenny, Antonio Banderas. Directed by Paul Tibbitt & Mike Mitchell.

When you think of long-running cartoons on television, surely The Simpsons is the first that comes to mind. It’s been on-air for almost as long as I’ve been alive. But it might surprise you that a certain yellow sea sponge has been exploding joy on our screens for sixteen years. In fact, eleven years after his first feature film, SpongeBob SquarePants returns with a sequel: The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water.

If you’ve never caught the Nickelodeon toon, SpongeBob (Kenny) is an ecstatic sea sponge who is best mates with Patrick the starfish, and he lives in a pineapple on the ocean floor. He flips burgers at a fast-food joint named the Krusty Krab, and has a pet sea snail named Gary. It’s all very silly, and fun.

I really enjoyed watching SpongeBob when I was younger, and proudly own a copy of the 2004 original film. Since then, I haven’t kept up with his escapades on television, but it seems that not much has changed in Bikini Bottom. In this film, the evil Plankton is still trying to steal the secret recipe to the Krusty Krab’s signature burger – the krabby pattie – in order to boost his ailing fast food business, The Chum Bucket. This is really the basis for the plotline for Sponge Out of Water, as SpongeBob catches Plankton stealing the secret recipe from a safe, and the two end up running out of town together, suspected of being in cahoots.

The animation is delightfully colourful here, and the gags are punchy. Adults will love the pop culture references, and the meta jokes. I’m certain that since I last dropped in to Bikini Bottom, SpongeBob’s world has become more absurd, surely influenced by such recent cartoons as Adventure Time, but it could be argued that there’s also plenty of Ren & Stimpy too. At some points (such as when SpongeBob travels through time and meets a dolphin lord in space) the movie becomes a real psychedelic trip, that surely only parents will appreciate.

But what is evident in Sponge Out of Water is that funny gags cannot hold together a feature film. The story itself would suit the usual eleven-minute TV show, and thus there’s a lot of padding. The action cuts back and forth between a live action pirate, Burger-Beard (Banderas), and the cartoon world of Bikini Bottom, and it’s awfully disjointed. Perhaps the greatest disappointment is that SpongeBob and pals don’t actually get out of water until the final twenty minutes of the film. Considering this is the selling point, and what is pushed in the trailers, it was a real let down to be waiting so long to see the gang animated in a new way (which, it must be said, is superbly done).

What’s really interesting about this film is that most of the regular Bikini Bottom characters take a back seat, and really it’s Plankton who becomes the focus. He’s this evil character whose plans are always thwarted, and the question is raised that maybe he’s just misunderstood. Is it possible for an evil character to become good? Can a change of heart take place that will result in a good sponge and an evil microscopic sea creature working together? This clip from the movie exemplifies this:

As we read the Bible, we discover that we are very much like Plankton – evil in thought and deed, living selfishly. But God redeems those who trust in him, and even though we were his enemies, he changes our hearts and allows us to partner with him in his work. True change is possible for God’s people.

Like many films where there’s hints that the bad guy might turn good (I’m always reminded of the evil parrot Iago in the Aladdin sequel The Return of Jafar), it’s exciting to see potential heart change in movies, and a transformation from ‘evil’ to ‘good’.

It’s also a joy to see heart change happen in real life. When people turn in repentance to Jesus, we celebrate! And God continues to transform us each and every day to be more like his Son, through the work of his Spirit.

I really enjoyed The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water – it’ll put a smile on your face and make you laugh again and again. SpongeBob is (and has always been) this beam of sunshine and positivity, even when his world descends into chaos. I just wished that the movie was more cohesive. I’m giving it three stars.

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge out of Water will release in Australian cinemas on Thursday, April 2. It is already screening in cinemas elsewhere.

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