The latest offering from Nickelodeon Movies, The Spongebob Movie: A Sponge Out of Water is an adult-catering and refreshingly entertaining outing from the studio whose core output generally consists of tween-centric fluff films like Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging and Hotel for Dogs, and intellectual trainwrecks of licenced product like last year’s atrocious Michael Bay co-production Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The film follows series favourites Spongebob and Plankton as they team up to search for the secret recipe for Krabby Patties after it is stolen, plunging Bikini Bottom into a Krabby Patty-famine driven post-apocalyptic wasteland. The idea is fresh, the dialogue is snappy, and the humour is absurd, harking back to the golden age of Spongebob Squarepants between 1999 and 2004. This is clearly the result of the creative team behind this venture, story-writer/director Paul Tibbitt and co-writer Stephen Hillenburg who were there in the early days of Spongebob, working on fan favourite episodes like “Sailor Mouth”, “Bubblestand” and “Rock Bottom”, and co-writers Glenn Berger and Jonathan Aibel who have worked on some of the best kids films in recent memory, including Monsters Vs. Aliens and the Kung-Fu Panda series.1
A Sponge Out Of Water, the second theatrical spin-off film from the titular television show that follows the antics of a sponge in pants who lives in a pineapple under the sea, is jam-packed with quality content to keep even the most discerning parents and teen audiences at least marginally entertained, referencing a wide array of external literature including but not limited to the Mad Max series and Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. While the film itself is not an acid trip akin to something like Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void as some corners of the internet would like you to believe,2 however I will say that it would be a great film to watch after self-administering your personal substance of preference (for Spongebob fans at least) – the tone is exactly like that of the Spongebob we all know and love and nothing about the film is a jarring departure from the TV show, although the situations are slightly more absurd and oftentimes fairly ‘adult’,3 at least as far as kids films go. As with a few other recent adaptations of Kids content, like Paddington, a Mighty Boosh alumn appears here, and the influence of the Boosh’s humour is undeniable. Matt Berry, who of course plays Dixon Bainbridge the zookeeper in the first season, voices Bubbles, a trans-dimensional omnipotent dolphin who steals the show in some of the best scenes of the film.4 It’s really nice to see this particular brand of humour being ported over to mainstream American productions, it is a refreshing step away from the lazy, puerile gross-out humour of a lot of the past decades kids productions.
I was a bit worried when the posters and trailers were circulating for this film, fearing that A Sponge Out of Water was going to be a 100% CGI film, however I am glad to report this is not the case. The CGI sections only comprise about one-fifth of the feature and by the time they come around they don’t feel even slightly out of place. In fact, a lot of the live-action sequences are deserving of high praise – the opening sequence, for instance, in which Captain Burgerbeard (expertly played by amusingly stunt-casted Antonio Banderas in a massive beard) steals a magic book perfectly captures the sense of imagination sorely lacking from many contemporary kids films. A Sponge Out of Water on the other hand opens with Captain Burgerbeard, carving through a jungle akin to a cluster of leafy plants in a backyard with what looks like a non-brand toy sword from a dollar store, he dodges CGI spikes that look intentionally fake by dancing around them, pulling a magical book from the clutches of an obvious prop skeleton, whose head falls off when the text is pried from his boney fists. This is imaginative and goofy fun portrayed expertly on the big screen, it transported me back to a youth of mucking around in the backyard, creating imaginary worlds out of whatever was on hand – I applaud the creative decision to make this cheap and unbelievable, it’s easy to make something look amazing and call it ‘imaginative’ but it is far more impressive and risky to try to visually represent the process of imagination, and is not the sort of risk I expected to be taken in a big studio film (Nickelodeon Movies is owned by Paramount).
That’s not to say the film isn’t without its problems – it drags at times and is still, at its core, a kids film, and not necessarily a subversive one like Paranorman; its core themes are still friendship and teamwork and it never comes close to hitting hard on social issues. There are songs that feel out of place and dumb jokes which fail to land, the feature is too hard to fully get behind when there are better comedies out there that are actually pitched at adults; at the end of the day though, it’s a very fun experience and well worth the price of admission or a look when it hits home media. The Spongebob Movie: A Sponge Out of Water is a worthy addition to the Spongebob canon and the current kids film landscape; while I haven’t seen Shaun the Sheep yet, it is an early frontrunner for my favourite kids film of the year. If you’ve been on the fence, you should go and check this out in theatres while you still can, for everyone else, this is still worth a rental (especially if you’re looking for something tolerable to watch with kids) when it leaves the cinema, or a look on Netflix when it inevitably hits it in about a year.