★ ★ ½
A little SpongeBob goes a long way. At one point in this sweet but soggy big-screen adventure—the preternaturally peppy fry cook’s first theater outing since 2004—the evil Plankton crawls inside SpongeBob’s brain to search for the secret Krabby Patty recipe. But SpongeBob’s sugar-saturated thoughts, which even turn upchucking into rainbows, are so sweet as to be sickening. After a couple of excruciating minutes, Plankton can’t take it anymore and bolts from SpongeBob’s brain screaming for mercy. Parents who accompany their children to the theater will likely echo Plankton’s reaction, while their kids will undoubtedly gobble up the goofiness with as much glee as the citizens of Bikini Bottom when devouring their beloved Krabby Patties.
The action begins with great promise as Burger Beard, a scruffy pirate played by a good-natured Antonio Banderas, works his way through a series of Raiders of the Lost Ark-inspired booby traps to obtain a book that contains SpongeBob’s story. After securing the treasured tome, following a nifty but all-too-brief battle with a regenerated skeleton, Burger Beard begins reading SpongeBob’s tale to a flock of talking seagulls. From there the movie essentially becomes an extended version of the TV series, as frustrated restaurateur Plankton once again tries to steal Mr. Krabs’ recipe for Krabby Patties. Unfortunately, the recipe vanishes, and without it Bikini Bottom turns into an “apocalyptic cesspool.” SpongeBob and Plankton then form an unlikely alliance to find it.
The film’s commercials, trailer, and subtitle of “Sponge Out of Water” suggest that most of the movie takes place on land rather than underwater, but such is not the case. It takes a while before the adventure surfaces and the characters become CGI superheroes. But when they do, the action and silly shenanigans pick up considerably as the gang try to take back the Krabby Patty recipe from Burger Beard, who has transformed his pirate ship into a food truck that sells the tasty treats at inflated prices. The prolonged live-action sequence is great fun, but ends too quickly. It seems like a lost opportunity: Here’s hoping the filmmakers will consider setting an entire SpongeBob adventure above ground in the future.
Thankfully, Tom Kenny returns as the voice of SpongeBob, along with series regulars Clancy Brown, Bill Fagerbakke, Rodger Bumpass, and Mr. Lawrence. Their expert vocal skills are the best part of any SpongeBob tale, along with the nearly nonstop puns. Also returning is longtime SpongeBob director Paul Tibbitt. In the hands of these veterans, the safety of Krabby Patties is assured—and so is the fate of Bikini Bottom, where SpongeBob adventures will likely continue for the foreseeable future. That’s great news for kids. For parents, not so much.