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Family Movie Review: The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (PG)

TheSpongebobMovieSpongeOutOfWater ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): whole-popcorn-kernalhalf-popcorn-kernal

MPAA Rating: PG        Length: 93 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 8+. The film is animated and has a fair point of childish jokes (bathroom humor involving birds and other animals; the top of a character’s butt), as well as some scary imagery, like an island littered with human skeletons; for the most part, though, there are some plot elements and concepts that might go totally over the heads of younger viewers, like references to post-apocalyptic films, social collapse, and food-truck dining. The majority of the film’s humor might not land with children.

‘The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water’ is mostly a misfire, a film that drags its narrative feet and leans too heavily on jokes that won’t make sense to children. The brief payoff is seeing these characters in a live-action format, but the wait is too great.

By Roxana Hadadi

“SpongeBob Squarepants” is a weird show, but “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water,” a standalone spinoff of the Nickelodeon juggernaut, might be too weird for its own good.

“Sponge Out of Water” is mostly about an apocalypse of sorts that hits the underwater town of Bikini Bottom when they run out of Krabby Patty burgers, and then there’s time travel, and also a dolphin who shoots lasers from his blowhole who is watching over all of space, and there’s a subplot about competition in the food-truck industry—it’s so all over the place that it’s barely a coherent narrative. For children, the majority of these jokes just won’t make any sense. And the 15 or so minutes of live-action SpongeBob and Co. isn’t worth the other 80 or so other minutes of wasted time.

The film, from director Paul Tibbitt (who has written dozens of episodes of the show and 2004’s “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie”) and screenwriters Glenn Berger and Jonathan Aibel (who also wrote “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked,” “Kung Fu Panda 2,” and “Monsters vs. Aliens”) and is very clearly for “SpongeBob” fans who are already acclimated to the Bikini Bottom universe and its inhabitants.You’re placed right into the story, and although there is some introductory narration, it’s brief.

The film starts in our world with the pirate Burger Beard (Antonio Banderas, of “The Expendables 3”), who steals a mysterious book from a heavily booby-trapped island; from the book, he reads a story about Bikini Bottom to his pestering seagulls. The tale is about SpongeBob (voiced by Tom Kenny, of “The Boxtrolls”), who “loved everything”—his best friend Patrick (voiced by Bill Fagerbakke, of “The Artist”), blowing bubbles, jellyfishing, and especially his job cooking Krabby Patties. But for years, SpongeBob’s boss Mr. Krabs (voiced by Clancy Brown, of “When the Game Stands Tall”) has had a rivalry with the devious Plankton (voiced by Mr. Lawrence), who wants to steal the secret Krabby Patty formula. He unleashes yet another absurd plan involving tanks, robots, and a food fight with condiments to get to the secret, but as he and SpongeBob are fighting over the secret, the glass bottle with the recipe inside of it disappears right out of their hands.

“They’re in cahoots!” yells Mr. Krabs, convinced that SpongeBob and Plankton were working together to steal the secret. But neither of them knows what actually happened, and as Bikini Bottom descends into a post-apocalyptic wasteland when all the citizens learn there are no more Krabby Patties, SpongeBob and Plankton actually team up to figure it out. What follows is the construction of a time machine to travel back in time and set everything right; SpongeBob and Plankton getting lost in time and space; the realization that Burger Beard may play a role in the downfall of Burger Bottom that no one ever expected; and SpongeBob, Patrick, and the rest of their friends coming to land to fix everything that’s wrong.

“Sponge Out of Water” doesn’t seem that long at only 93 minutes, but oh, it drags. The vast majority of the film is setting up for the live-action portion, but that’s only about the final 15 minutes; the film’s marketing, which focuses only on that element of the film, makes it seem far more lengthy than it actually is. False marketing is a problem with practically everything, of course, and movies are no exception, but it’s especially irritating given how much “Sponge Out of Water” is clearly dragging its feet before then. How many fart jokes? How many jokes about how fat Patrick is? How many conversations between SpongeBob and Plankton about how underhanded the latter is? There’s a message here about teamwork, with SpongeBob stressing to Plankton that working together is the only way to fix problems, but it’s pretty superficial, and practically everything else is frustratingly repetitive.

There are some jokes here that work, but they’re mostly the ones aimed at parents: the book Burger Beard steals has a library check-out card in it showing that the pirate Davey Jones borrowed it before; a reference to “The Shining,” with popsicles in SpongeBob’s brain threatening Plankton with their unceasing cheeriness; SpongeBob’s laughter qualifying as torture; before SpongeBob, Patrick, and the core crew move to the surface, someone noting, “all secondary characters, come with me!” The self-awareness of those jokes is successful, and they’re a nice distillation of the randomness of the universe’s humor. Too bad that they’re so infrequent.

For too long of its running time, “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water” runs in place; the live-action part is so wonderful, though! The claymation treatment that the characters receive is cute and eye-catching, and it’s absolutely a new, memorable way to see SpongeBob and his friends. And when they morph into a superhero team with powers that reflect their own interests (SpongeBob’s costume includes a head covering that is basically a gigantic bubble wand), that’s a nice way to reinforce what these characters are all about. But that portion is too limited, and the rest of “Sponge Out of Water” is far too laborious to be worth the brief payoff.

Enjoy reading this review? Check out our roundup of what other films are opening this week.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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