[begin pirate mode]

Ahoy. This here be the quick and dirty salty sea dog review of the greatest film about things absorbant and yellow and porous ever made. If you be a fan of such sea shenanigans, such crustacean comedy, such nautical nonsense, then ye should not be disappointed. But if you be not a fan of deep sea silliness, marine mirth, and half-naked sponges, then ye won't be converted. But then you probably won't be the sort of sea dog who goes in for Nickelodeon movies anyway. Arrr.

[end pirate mode]

That is it in a nutshell. Fans of the show know what they are in for and will pretty much get what they expected. Those who "don't get it" are not going to be enlightened. This is a film unabashedly made to appeal to children and those who still kindle that flame. That said, it's still lightly and goofily entertaining enough that a gloomy Squidward could enjoy it when he takes his kids or nieces and nephews to the afternoon matinee. And knowing what one is in for is key. There is very little attempt to make this any more than an extended version of the show, so don't expect fancy shadow rendering or computer animation. This is Bob, just like he is on the little magic box at home. Only much, much bigger and surrounding you in stereo. Which the kids just love.

So it's come to this: Bob comes to the big screen
"Pineapples? Under the sea? Get out of here, you're wasting my time!"
—Jacques Cousteau

Bob rose from the ashes of Nickelodeon's brilliant and underrated "Rocko's Modern Life" on which Bikini Bottom creator Stephen Hillenburg worked (writing, directing, producing). While Rocko was a fairly normal (for a wallaby in a Hawaiian shirt) bloke who lived in a world fairly similar to ours where surreal things sometimes happened to him, when Hillenburg gave his creations life, the real world was left far, far away. True, Bob is a fry cook at a burger joint (The Krusty Krab) and there are analogues to cars (fish and other underwater denizens of the deep drive boats along ocean roads) or bikes (Squidward's has little paddle wheels in place of tires)—but that only serves to increase the surreality and silliness. It's not the intrusion of the absurd into "real" life that drives the show but the intrusion of "real" life into the Bob's absurd undersea world that drives the show.

And unlike Ralph Backshi's brilliant and underrated "The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse," where he was intentionally trying to inject surrealism into the world of the (at that time already waning) Saturday morning cartoon, it feels natural in Bob's world. The absurdity flows throughout. This is not to say the show is some sort of Beckett for Kids (speaking of: ever see Grover do "Waiting for Elmo" on "Monsterpiece Theater"? Freakin' rocked), but one wonders what Dali might of thought. Or not.

As noted above, the artwork is basically lifted intact from the television show without attempt to give it more depth or detail. This is unlike Nickelodeon's other films, where there is some attempt to add a bit more to the flatness of the episodic product. Bob remains gloriously flat, with the clear outlines, simple detail, and bright, bright colors that never stray too far from the primary and tertiary parts of the color wheel. Absurd and colorful. And funny. This is why kids like it.

And Bob. The little yellow sponge has a purity, an innocence that is admired and identified with. People complain about "values" in Hollywood and ignore the way friendship, loyalty, and optimism are suffused in the show. Little lessons crop up and are passed on more by osmosis than intent. The show doesn't preach. It has no GI Joe moment at the end when you learn what to do if you encounter a strange dog or get a nose bleed. They come from Bob just being Bob, living his life, interacting with his friends and getting over the small obstacles in his life. Lessons learned by example, not by being told over and over. And kids don't get that old before they can tell when a "message" is being inserted into a cartoon. I remember that. I hated it.

Of course, adults like the show, too. Not just ones who refuse to grow up (I'll be kind and not ask for a show of hands) but ones who enjoy some of the not so child-oriented humor. (By the way, I'm not even going to touch the whole Bob as gay icon thing.) Here and there, there'll be cultural references kids won't get but their parents or older siblings will. Or there will be a sly bit of naughty humor (Cartoon Network's "The Powerpuff Girls" does this even more and with somewhat more subtlety). It is true that Bob is the character on television—real or not—most likely to be seen in his underwear and there are more naked bottoms on the show than even "The Simpsons" (it takes less than five minutes into the movie for that to be checked off the list). Perhaps there's something inherently funny about that. Maybe it's best not to dig too deep into that clam bed.

Nautical Nonsense: a plot that flops on the deck like a fish
"Twenty-thousand leagues—TWENTY-THOUSAND! I never once saw a pineapple."
—Fred Nemo (former Captain of the Nautilus)

So what's the movie about? (...about 90 minutes.) Well, SpongeBob's boss Mr. Krabs has reached the pinnacle (sea mount?) of success that allows him to open a second Krusty Krab restaurant (next door to the first). This means that a new manager must be chosen. Given that there are only two employees, Bob and Squidward, the pool of possibilities is small. And Bob is convinced it'll be him. Sadly, he gets over-amped for his promotion only to see it given to the better squid. He's told that he can't be the new manager because he's just a kid (though considering the number of times he claims to have won the Employee of the Month, Bob must at least be in his thirties). "To be a manager, you must be a man." Therein lies the thrust of the film: Bob must prove himself worthy of running The Krusty Krab 2. He must become a man. But how is he to do that? Enter the Plot Complication.

Longtime Krab rival Plankton—a megalomaniacal, one-eyed, creature whose size is directly proportional to his appetite for world...well, ocean...domination—attempts one last plan to steal the recipe for Krab's wonderful Krabby Patties (the underwater version of a hamburger). Once he has the recipe, Plankton's empty restaurant (The Chum Bucket) will be filled with patrons...um...patronizing his establishment. In Rube Goldberg fashion, his plot is overcomplicated, but involves stealing King Neptune's (longtime fans will note that the voice and character design are different from the cook-off episode—"Neptune's Spatula—from season one) crown and selling it to someone in Shell City. That and turning the citizens of Bikini Bottom into zombie slaves to do his every bidding (think Bender in the "Egypt" episode—"A Pharaoh to Remember"—of "Futurama"). Mr. Krabs gets blamed for the theft (thus allowing Plankton to steal the prized recipe) and frozen into a krusty statue by the King—if Bob and Patrick can return with the crown in six days, Krabs will get a stay of execution. This gives our hero a quest to prove his man-sponge-hood. His sponge-man-hood. His...whatever.

So it's a coming of age story, a Bildungscartoon, if you will. But one with singing and bubbles.

And OH the adventures he has with his trusty sidekick Patrick Star (a starfish, of course). They encounter sea monsters, mocking hillbilly gas station attendants, Patrick falls in love (with Neptune's daughter Mindy), and visit The Thug Tug—a bad biker bar located in a sunken ship. How bad you ask? They play Motörhead on the juke box. That's bad. The pair is also followed by a fish hitman (how bad? he cleans the clock of the head thug at The Thug Tug). Half Mad Max extra and half Randall 'Tex' Cobb's character from Raising Arizona, he brings a serious element of danger. His name is Dennis.

And Shell City? Even worse. If one remembers the "Hooky" episode (season one), one knows the dangers of that place. It's nearly the death of our heroes. But the sponge prevails. Less dangerous than downright creepy is the much played-up cameo by David Hasselhoff (still cashing in on his "Baywatch" franchise). He's amiable enough and certainly cooperative—but sorely in need of a body wax. If you see the movie, you'll understand. One of the climactic scenes takes place on his back from his neck down to the heels of his feet. And for an actor to allow scene after scene (who knows how many takes? rumor is that Patrick is such a perfectionist he often insists on directing his own scenes) to be shot with small aquatic creatures crawling over one's back, legs and...gluteal area.

Does it have a happy ending? You know it does. Complete with a big rock number and guitar solo (much like "Aqua Teen Hunger Force"'s Carl, Bob doesn't need instructions to know how to rock). Is Bob now a man? Well, he proved himself and, seriously, do we really want a mature SpongeBob? You know we don't.

"Are you ready kids?"
"Aye-aye Captain!"
Marine miscellany:

"This whole SpongeBob thing is all made up. That's all I can say...on the record."
—John Smith (public relations officer, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; late of the NSA)

Perhaps one of the best sequences occurs at "Goofy Goober's Ice Cream Party Boat"—like one of those kids' pizza places with the big animatronic cartoonish hosts (Goofy Goober is a guy in a costume, though). Bob, despondent from his non-promotion goes on a sundae-eating binge that has all the hallmarks of a Hollywood "long weekend" including the inevitable day after which is played totally like the aftermath of a dissolute bender. Good stuff.

The movie also has a great sequence parodying those movies/TV shows where the bomb squad guy has to calm the person wired to explode. Bob's the expert—only this involves a slice of cheese.... And check out the Patty Wagon, Bob's souped-up burgermobile.

There is also a live action framing bit (hardly a story) involving pirates, so one can get a small chuckle by sticking it our through the credits (or forget it and just hurry up and get to the parking lot) to see what happens to them. It is fun to see a bunch of cutthroat rogues so ecstatic over finding tickets to the SpongeBob movie amongst their booty that they launch into a delightful version of the show's theme song (for some reason the rather good Avril Lavigne rock version—available on the soundtrack album—doesn't appear in the movie). They rush to the theater; laugh at the jokes, cry at the sad parts. Pirates is people too.

This Just In!
Squidward fans will be disappointed at his near absense. Apparently he was unable to play in several important scenes from the original script due to the Big Bad Ottawa Clarinet Bash (inexplicably held in Bermuda this year) where he was the keynote speaker. This required some rewrites that substantively changed the tenor of the story which was far more Shakespearean in early drafts. His noble presence is sorely missed from the final product.

Another near-no show is Sandy Cheeks. The official story has to do with last minute contract negotiations but rumors around the set involve a romantic tryst with an unnamed costar (something hotly denied by her publicist). And while Bob's pet snail Gary does have a few short cameos (typical of the show), the grapevine whispers that he almost walked off the set and out of the project because of the "asinine and insipid" dialogue he was given (quote from an anonymous caterer). No official statement has been offered to the press but we'll stay on this story as it develops fans!

Also: production was nearly halted when, during the big closing rock number, one of the drummers exploded. It was decided to be too big of a swipe at Spinal Tap and every one moved on with their lives.

As should you.

"That's not art, that's just annoying."
—Squidward Tentacles

In the end, it's a good, goofy time. A sort of tonic from the crushing reality of the world. Non-diehard fans can probably skip it and wait for home release or the inevitable "SpongeBob Movie" weekend coming to Nickelodeon sometime in the next four to six months. If you have children in your life clamoring to see the film, it'll hardly be the worst hour and a half you've spent and you might even like it. Bob's good humor and silliness is infectious. And they'll thank you for it


The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie
Director: Stephen Hillenburg
I saw it with my free pass certificate that came with the season 2 DVD set. That's okay. Be jealous. You've earned it.

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