The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie Review
SpongeBob SquarePants is a character who would quickly become extremely annoying if not for the gleeful innocence (or should that be ignorance) that informs his behaviour. The titular character of a Nickelodeon cartoon series, this talking sponge lives in a pineapple at the bottom of the sea, and is definitely not to be taken seriously. It is precisely the fact that he is such a simple-minded individual whose behaviour is completely outrageous that prevents both the character and the show from going over the edge and simply becoming infuriating rather than entertaining: even when SpongeBob is at his most brash, we are constantly reminded that he does everything with the best intentions. This separates him from, for example, Roger Rabbit, who is just annoying. What is most remarkable about this character, however, is that while his antics are decidedly juvenile, he appeals as much to adults as to children. SpongeBob has always lacked the wit, sophistication and complex characterization of Ren & Stimpy, to which it clearly owes a great deal, and as a result it is somewhat surprising that the show has been so successful with older audiences. The concept is catchy, though, and while not particularly substantial, it is an undeniably enjoyable way to kill some spare time...
...Which naturally brings us to the issue of the film itself. Although successful in the form of 11-minute short stories on television, is the formula (and the concept is decidedly formulaic) robust enough to endure the transition to the big screen? For the most part, the answer is a resounding "yes". Like its TV precursor, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie is loud, colourful and extremely silly, but provided you are willing to accept a hefty dose of inanity, it should succeed in being extremely entertaining.
Trouble is afoot in Bikini Bottom, as an angry SpongeBob drinks himself silly (with ice cream no less) after he is snubbed for the position of manager of the new Krusty Krab fast food joint. Understandably angry at boss Mr. Krabs, he nonetheless rushes to his aid after he is framed for the theft of King Neptune's crown. Tasked to retrieve the crown from Shell City within six days, he sets off with his best friend, Patrick, on an exciting journey fraught with the sort of dangers you could expect to find in the wacky world under the sea.
The movie begins with a live action prologue in which a band of pirates discover tickets to The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie and, in true buccaneering form, head for the docks and take over a local multiplex. This brief preamble really sets up the treatise of the film: don't take it seriously. By bookending the film with live action sequences (and returning to the pirates watching the film in the cinema during one climactic moment), producer/director Stephen Hillenburg (a former marine biologist, who also created the original show) and his crew of wacky cartoonists firmly cement this piece as a fantasy that exists in a world separate from real life. This allows for a much greater suspension of disbelief than would normally be afforded for a film, which is a good thing too, because the structure is far too loose to be taken as a serious storytelling effort. The film thrives on visually-oriented set-pieces that tend to brush the main plot to the sidelines, and as such a taste for visual (and often gross-out) humour is definitely required. Like the classic cartoons of the 40s and 50s, and like Ren & Stimpy, both the show and the film were plotted on storyboards rather than scripts. As such, the humour of the film is not SpongeBob cracking a witty pun - it's the devilishly twisted drawings by Aaron Springer and Paul Tibbitt of SpongeBob and Patrick screwing up their faces as they try desperately not to burst into song, the various vacant expressions they cast at the camera, and, in one of the most laugh-out-loud hilarious sequences in the whole film, our favourite sponge getting drunk on ice cream and staggering around with a five o'clock shadow.
In fact, the film is at its worst when attempting to actually service the storyline, the biggest problem being the characters of King Neptune and his daughter, Mindy. The problem is that both characters, but especially Mindy, are incredibly bland and at odds with the other denizens of SpongeBob's world, looking like they crawled out of Doug or any other generic Saturday morning cartoon. Mindy, by the way, is voiced by Scarlett Johansson, although I didn't discover this until after I had seen the film, and at the end of the day it makes little difference who was behind the microphone. Her performance is bland and unremarkable and could easily have been provided by any number of female voice-over artists (and no doubt for considerably less money). It looks especially weak when compared to the superb ensemble cast giving voice to the residents of Bikini Bottom, headed by the multi-talented Tom Kenny as SpongeBob. Other celebrity guests include David Hasselhoff, who is a much more welcome and worthwhile addition than Johansson and gives a wonderfully self-deprecating performance that I don't want to spoil here.
As I previously mentioned, the visual comedy is one of the film's strongest points, and indeed the artwork in general is very eye-pleasing. It clearly was not party to the vast budgets usually afforded to Disney's theatrical efforts, but the artists make the most of their limited finances and deliver a film full of life. Like most TV shows, the bulk of the animation was outsourced to South Korea, but the quality of the layouts (created in the US) is such that the characters look consistently amusing, and the Korean animation does a perfectly acceptable job of moving them from one pose to the next. The look should immediately be familiar to viewer of the TV show, and barring some slight differences in the character designs (SpongeBob looks a little more square here than his small-screen variant) and some more ambitious special effects, could easily have passed for a longer version of the series. This, of course, was probably the whole point, and Hillenburg has wisely stuck to the age-old addage of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it".
Look up "mindless entertainment" in the dictionary and you'll probably find a picture of SpongeBob SquarePants, buck-toothed grin and all, printed next to it. Much like the TV show, the film is lightweight but hugely enjoyable, and while there are better animated films out there, this is one of the most good-natured and unassuming I have seen in quite some time.
The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie is presented anamorphically in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, which is reasonably close to its theatrical ratio of 1.85:1. A cropped 4x3 version is also available, but for obvious reasons it is ignored here. This direct digital-to-digital transfer looks very good, much better than many of Disney's recent efforts, although it does unfortunately show up the film's low budget: the overly clean look draws attention to the static nature nature of the artwork, which often relies on held poses. That said, aside from some slight edge enhancement and a few minor compression artefacts, the presentation is solid on a technical level. I personally would have preferred a proper film-sourced transfer, but we can't have everything we want.
Audio-wise, the Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation is decent if unremarkable. There is relatively little in the way of split-channel effects (although when they do crop up they are used to good effect), but the sound is consistently clear with no distortion or problems with the clarity. French and Spanish 5.1 tracks are also included, as well as an English 2.0 Surround track and English subtitles. The extras, but bizarrely not the film, are also subtitled in French and Spanish.
A reasonable number of bonus features have been included, obviously aimed primarily at children but with some material of interest for adults too.
The Absorbing Tale Behind The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie is a decent 19-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, discussing the genesis of the TV series and the idea behind the movie. Most of the key players are present, with Stephen Hillenburg receiving most of the screen time but a number of the actors also chipping in. As is usually the case with documentaries pertaining to animated projects, a disproportionate amount of time is spent on the voice talent, but overall this is an enjoyable if lightweight featurette (much like the film, actually).
A 20-minute Animatic demonstration is up next, presenting the original storyboards that were used to plot several key sequences in the film, ranging from rough scribbles to near-finished pieces of art. In a neat feature, the various artists responsible for the storyboards provide the voices of the characters, which makes from some amusing alternate riffs on lines from the finished film. This is probably the most worthwhile feature on the disc.
Two brief educational featurettes are also included. "Saving the Surf" is a 4-minute introduction to the Surfrider Foundation, an organization that attempts to promote and conserve beaches and oceans, while "Case of the SpongeBob", narrated by Hillenburg and ocean explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau, provides a 15-minute overview of various sea creatures.
Rounding it all out is the hilarious Teaser Trailer, which makes use of footage from various films including Das Boot and The Hunt for Red October. Sadly, the theatrical trailer is nowhere to be found. Trailers for Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events and SpongeBob SquarePants: The Complete Second Season are also included. Annoyingly, they play when the disc is inserted, although thankfully they are skippable.
While it will probably not win any new fans, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie is a SpongeBob lover's dream come true: a silly but highly entertaining big-screen romp that succeeds because it refuses to take itself too seriously. With a pleasing audio-visual presentation and some decent extras, this disc is a must-have for fans of the wacky animated sponge.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 09:54:31