Years ago on TV, SpongeBob SquarePants ventured onto dry land. The episode instantly switched from cartoon to live action, with the undersea character now portrayed by an actual sponge — the kind used to wash dishes.
That joke has grown far more complicated but no less amusing in “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water.” As with the long-running (16 years!) Nickelodeon series created by Stephen Hillenburg, the film strives to be weird as often as funny. But it’s such a good-natured kind of weird that the viewer can’t help but succumb to this barrage of “nautical nonsense.”
Part of the charm is SpongeBob himself (voiced by Tom Kenny). Other animated standouts, such as “Beavis and Butt-head,” “Bob’s Burgers” and “The Simpsons,” revel in aggressive selfishness, but the titular yellow sea sponge is a pure soul of unwavering integrity. Sure, he’s immature and manic, but his kindness and loyalty always filter through. He’s porous, after all.
In “Sponge Out of Water,” the hero’s underwater community of Bikini Bottom is rocked by “a sudden and complete shortage of Krabby Patties.” Rival restaurateur Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) was scheming to steal the secret formula for these delicious treats cooked by SpongeBob at the Krusty Krab. And when the thief’s overplotted plan goes awry, the residents panic, turning Bikini Bottom into a wasteland, with everyone wearing leather harnesses and hockey masks, a la “The Road Warrior.”
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SpongeBob must team with the surly, pint-sized Plankton to retrieve the missing formula, which involves time travel, an omnipotent dolphin that shoots lasers from his blowhole and a trip to the surface as promised by the movie’s title. Joining them are dullard starfish Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke), downer co-worker Squidward (Rodger Bumpass), Texas squirrel Sandy (Carolyn Lawrence) and tightwad employer Mr. Krabs (Clancy Brown), who tells SpongeBob, “You’re like an underpaid son to me.”
All this nuttiness is narrated by a new character: the pirate Burger-Beard (a very game Antonio Banderas), who has some culinary aspirations of his own.
“Sponge Out of Water” doesn’t quite carry the momentum of the franchise’s first big-screen endeavor, the 2004 hit “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie.” (Any flick using Scarlett Johansson and David Hasselhoff is worth a look.) The underlying quest here is merely an excuse for more of its customary surrealism, abrupt musical interludes and clever wordplay (Plankton: “I’m ranting-slash-raving!”).
Intriguingly, the movie is half animated and half live-action. But instead of the blended “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” method, here the formats alternate, keeping the visuals fresh. Both eventually collide in the finale, when exaggerated superhero versions of the six principals hit the beach to exert their goofy powers (Patrick has the ability to control ice cream).
The film’s kid-friendly message concerns working together despite one’s differences. As in the signature song “Team Work,” penned by abrasive comedy duo Garfunkel and Oates.
SpongeBob: “I’ll be the hammer / You be the nail / I’ll be the boat / You’ll be the sail / I’m the flower / You’re the aroma …”
Plankton: “Right now I wish I was in a coma.”
‘THE SPONGEBOB MOVIE: SPONGE OUT OF WATER’
Rated PG | Time: 1:33
3-D OR NOT 3-D?
The 3-D adds one more stylistic element to a film that takes a kitchen-sink approach to its visuals. “SpongeBob” exploits it well, for in-your-face gags in the live-action bits and for adding depth to the animated sections.