Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water Review

That's The Night The Lights Went Out In Bikini Bottom...That's The Night That They Hung An Innocent Sponge
Few pieces of pop culture have left such a lasting impression on my generation than Spongebob Squarepants. The first three seasons are endless in their absurdity and quotes ("What's a gorilla doing underwater?"), and the first movie was similarly successful in employing those elements to notable success. Since the release of that first feature, the show has tanked in terms of quality, thanks to the shows creator leaving and much of the writing staff of the first few seasons similarly jumping ship.

That creator, Stephen Hillenburg, has returned to the entity he created for the first time in years as a writer on the absorbent icon's newest film, The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water. Unfortunately, his presence doesn't translate to a particularly good film, rather, just a movie that has moments of success mixed in with mediocrity. This movie never becomes bad per se, it's just hard for me to muster up any sort of notable enthusiasm for any of the countless elements that this feature tosses at the viewer.

The nefarious pirate Burgerbeard (Antonio Banderas) is a menacing foe for our aquatic pals, but, in addition to being the stories primary antagonist, he also serves as the films narrator, telling the tale of Spongebob and friends to some pelicans. This framework gets the film off on the wrong foot, as there's an unnecessarily large amount of time spent setting up Spongebob as a character. There's many traits and hobbies to this guy, but he's also a lovably simple fellow; he's relentlessly optimistic in any given situation. You really don't need to know anymore about him than that, but the film obviously seems to disagree. There's really no reason for such belabored explanation, but it does serve as a solid demonstration of the movies penchant for going overboard on any given element within the story.

Sometimes, that approach is a good thing, such as when the hand-drawn animation is utilized to create some very memorable scenes of weirdness. Other times, it just makes the film monotonous; the story is pretty much built around it's finale where the characters interact with the "real world", but the movie has to keep things busy until that sequence arrives, so it tosses out a large amount of extraneous content to pass the time that just isn't that entertaining. Not helping matters is how the primary duo, Plankton and Spongebob, the movie centers on just isn't all that compelling. Their rapport is repetitive (He's happy! He's not!) and their scenes have a similar dynamic to a notable episode of the TV show (F.U.N., for fellow Spongebob die-hard fans). The lackluster quality their scenes have within the film on its own merits only reinforce how reminiscent it is of that particular (and far more entertaining) episode.

This is the first major American animated feature to be primarily comprised of hand-drawn animation since 2011's Winnie The Pooh (several smaller 2D animation efforts have surfaced since then, such as The Wind Rises and Ernest & Celestine), and while it's cool to see the artform on the big screen again, the scenes set in this art style are so middling I was kind of excited once things shifted over to the "real world". Here, Spongebob and four of his pals are rendered in CGI in a live-action environment, and they actually are pulled off in an effective fashion. Unlike efforts to bring The Smurfs, Alvin And The Chipmunks and especially Scooby-Doo (whose appearances in his 2002 and 2004 movie incarnations still give me nightmares) to the realm of CGI animation, the cast of Spongebob are kept cartoony and stylized, which is more pleasing to the eyes.

Here, the movie finds some form of success, as a more concrete plotline makes everything more enjoyable. It helps that action sequences involving superhero versions of characters like Squidward are surprisingly fun to watch; they're nothing extraordinary, but they are shot in a clear manner, refrain from shaky-cam and they also have some humorous moments. That kind of success is surprisingly hard to come by in The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water, which isn't bad, just sort of forgettable and average. Some of the better elements (a live-action/CGi finale, some effective bits of absurdity) make me wish the film managed to do more as a whole. But for anyone looking for the emotional resonance of the "Tear Of The Goofy Goober", the yuks of Chocolate With Nuts, or even just an entertaining time at the movies, you're better off looking elsewhere.

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