Rated PG - Running Time: 1:30 - Released 11/19/04

I have to admit, it’s taken a while for SpongeBob SquarePants to grow on me. When the cartoon TV series debuted on Nickelodeon in 1999, my kids, like millions of others across the country, became instant fans, watching every Saturday morning, repeating ad nauseam the jokes and situations depicted, mimicking the behavior, and memorizing the dialogue. As for myself, I was amused by the title, but didn’t think the show was particularly groundbreaking; I felt it was just another noisy, silly cartoon with goofy voices and silly plot lines. And of course it is. But there’s something grown-up about the humor in SpongeBob. Despite the bright colors and silly antics, something about this show (whose creator, Stephen Hillenberg, a former marine biology teacher at California’s Orange County Oceanic Institute who also produced the similarly sophisticated cartoon show Rocko’s Modern Life), is giving us adults a wink and a nod.

Now the time has come, as is inevitable in the lives of popular kids’ cartoons, for the members of the SpongeBob universe to graduate to the big screen. The film version, directed by Sherm Cohen and Hillenberg (with live action sequences by Mark Osborne), is really nothing more than a 90-minute version of the TV show, and the manic nature of it begins to wear out its welcome after the show’s normal running time has elapsed. But it does retain that sense of intermittently adult-savvy comedy, and it also features a few notable guest appearances, such as Arrested Development’s Jeffrey Tambor, Lost In Translation’s Scarlett Johansson, Alec Baldwin, and David Hasselhoff in a somewhat disturbing turn as himself.

Anyone familiar with SpongeBob SquarePants (voice of Tom Kenny)—that square, yellow, ocean-dwelling sponge with the impeccably tailored cardboard pant/shirt/tie ensemble who lives in a pineapple-shaped home in the sea floor community known as Bikini Bottom—knows that one of the things he cherishes most is his job at the Krusty Krab, the aquatic diner owned by penny-pinching crustacean Mr. Krabs (Clancy Brown), for whom SpongeBob holds the utmost love and respect despite the fact that Krabs doesn’t really treat him that well. Working there as a fry cook, making the famous Krabby Patties, with his conceited friend Squidward (Rodger Bumpass), is what makes life worth living for him. This is why he is so excited at the opening of Mr. Krabs’s second restaurant, the imaginatively named Krusty Krab 2, which is located next door to the original. SpongeBob expects, you see, to be made manager of the new place, in return for all his years of hard work and his numerous honors as Employee of the Month. But when he discovers that he was overlooked for the position because he’s “just a kid,” he and his dim-witted starfish friend Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) go on an ice cream bender.

SpongeBob’s chance to prove everyone wrong soon presents itself, however, in the form of a national emergency. In a maneuver referred to as “Evil Plan Z,” the crown of balding (and sensitive about it) ocean monarch King Neptune (Tambor) is stolen by Plankton (Doug Lawrence), a cunning and diminutive megalomaniac and Mr. Krabs’s sworn enemy, to create a diversion so that he may steal Krabs’s secret Krabby Patty formula and generate some business for his own restaurant across the street, The Chum Bucket. With some encouragement from Neptune’s friendly daughter, Princess Mindy (Johansson), SpongeBob and Patrick must set out on a perilous journey to Shell City to retrieve it.

The first half hour of this movie is unequivocally hysterical, giving us a live-action prologue, an introduction of all the characters for those who are uninformed, and a fair dose of the absurd behavior and repetitive but clever jokesmanship that has made SBSP a success. Even the introduction of Neptune and Mindy, characters who seem out of place in SpongeBob land, has its witty moments. At some point, however, the novelty begins to wear off—as the inevitable feature-film conventions begin to force themselves awkwardly on our aquatic friends’ lives, the humor begins to seem forced; especially toward the end, when a seemingly unending string of close-ups of David Hasselhoff’s body hair makes even the most “metrosexual” of us male audience members shrink self-consciously into our seats.

Don’t get me wrong, bible-thumpers: there is nothing “inappropriate” in this story; even the Hasselhoff part is all in good fun. There are some amusing songs, some hilarious action sequences, and lots of extremely silly behavior by all the characters. But there’s only so much screaming, singing, hopping, shouting, and high-pitched voices, uttering repetitive phrases, that one can endure. There’s no doubt that for us above the age of 12, the appearance of the closing credits is not an unwelcome sight. ****

Copyright 2004 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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