DIRECTED BY: Paul Tibbitt
FEATURING: Tom Kenny, , Mr. Lawrence
PLOT: The irrepressible Spongebob Squarepants teams up with an old enemy to recover the stolen recipe for Krabby Patties.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: There’s just enough kiddie surrealism here to catch your eye, but not enough to justify awarding it any weird honors.
COMMENTS: For those who’ve been living in a cave far from the nearest ocean, “Spongebob Squarepants” is a popular American cartoon about an emotionally buoyant marine invertebrate who lives in a pineapple in an undersea town by the name of “Bikini Bottom.” His pals include a dimwitted starfish, a dyspeptic squid, and a squirrel from Texas who lives under a dome. The show’s “surreal” (by mainstream standards) humor, which coexists alongside an unironic cuteness, gives it a crossover appeal for heady adults. Hey, Max Schreck made a guest appearance on one episode, so it has to be somewhat hip, right?
Still, the second Spongebob feature-length movie (which debuts a full decade after the first one) caught me by surprise with its trippier aspects. The movie itself is a gimmicky mix of live action, CGI, and traditional 2D animation. It begins with pirate “Burger Beard” (Antonio Banderas) and his talking seagulls in an Indiana Jones-styled prologue, then moves to traditional animation as the story moves under the waves to Bikini Bottom. This segment of the movie, which features antagonist Plankton enacting one of his many schemes to try to steal the recipe for Krabby Patties, feels like an extended TV episode. Things get weirder when the recipe is successfully stolen by a third party, forcing Sponegbob and Plankton to team up to try to get it back as, bereft of its staple cuisine, Bikini Bottom slides into Mad Max-inspired anarchy. Their plan involves the construction of a time machine, and eventually results in their transformation into fish-out-of-water superheroes in an action-packed finale.
In between you get the really weird stuff: swirling psychedelic time-travel vortexes, a trip inside Bob’s saccharine brain, where talking Popsicles and kitty cats travel his candy-coated neural pathways and everyone vomits rainbows, and metanarrative shenanigans as characters magically rewrite the story as it happens. Strangest of all is a cameo from a cosmic space dolphin who, naturally, raps at the end of the movie. His name is Bubbles, he has a British accent, and I suspect he’s a member of the Illuminati. Although the 3-D renderings of the cartoon characters are meant to be the blockbuster highlights, it’s these small psycho moments that give the movie its lovably crazy texture. The semi-rationality of kid-logic is a close cousin dream-logic, and the best children’s films exploit this kinship. Kids laugh at the weirdest things, and you can, too.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…the story is just a pretext for sustained, rapid-fire gags, many of them hysterical, that range from movie parodies to Gary Larson-worthy flights of cartoon weirdness.”–Ben Sachs, Chicago Reader (contemporaneous)