Over a decade on from its first big screen outing, enduringly popular cartoon character Spongebob SquarePants returns to cinemas. The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (2015) is a prequel to the previous film and sees SpongeBob (Tom Kenny) and his friends on the trail of the person behind the theft of their Krabby Patty secret formula, somehow connected to the film’s narrator, Burger Beard The Pirate (Antonio Banderas). In an era saturated by computer animation, it is refreshing to see directors Mike Mitchell (Shrek Forever After) and Paul Tibbitt (a writer for the original series) not only stick to hand drawn animation for the majority of the film, but also keep the anarchic feel of the TV show.
The energy, colours and simple humour cross over into the longer format with ease, sticking by its silliness throughout and appealing squarely to fans of the series. SpongeBob’s rousing speech in the Krusty Krab, set to Ennio Morricone’s The Ecstasy of Gold, underlines the film’s mix of the witty and the bizarre. That is not to say this is simply an extended episode. Whereas Plankton (Mr Lawrence) was the villain of the first film, here he becomes reluctant partners with SpongeBob for the film’s middle section, and its most entertaining moments. Using two characters not often put together creates some amusing culture clash comedy as they attempt to clear Plankton’s name, having been accused by the residents of Bikini Bottom of stealing the Krabby Patty formula and sending their town in ruin.
It also opens up the story for some unusual, almost psychedelic scenes – such as the pair meeting a talking dolphin named Bubbles (Matt Berry) – without a loss of pace or interest. The final act, where the now CGI rendered characters arrive ‘on the surface’ for the climactic battle, feels too different from the rest of the film and adds little beyond some elaborate comic action sequences. This visual shift gives the impression that it is there simply as a new attraction for the sequel, a disappointing but unsurprising note of studio cynicism in an otherwise sincere movie. Banderas is mostly unmemorable as the villain, matching the manic vigour of his animated counterparts but never having the underlying wit. Nevertheless, Sponge Out of Water achieves what most TV adaptations don’t – a way of taking familiar characters and doing something new with them. The wayward narrative will appeal to fans as much as it will befuddle newcomers, making for an imperfect but hugely endearing family adventure.
James Luxford | @JLFilm