It’s been over a decade since a talking yellow sponge made the leap from television to the big screen in 2004’s “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie.” Usually a delay that long isn’t a good sign for a sequel, but fans of this zany Nickelodeon cartoon can rest assured: Your hero may still be underwater, but he's not watered down.
“The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water” kicks off in the live-action world with the pirate Burger-Beard (Antonio Banderas), who has just acquired a mysterious text. An eager gang of singing seagulls coerces him into reading aloud from its pages, and we transition to the animated world.
The story takes us down into the ocean to a small town called Bikini Bottom, populated by a colorful collection of undersea creatures who share a common passion: They all love Krabby Patties, mind-blowing and highly addictive burgers served up by the world’s most famous fry cook, SpongeBob SquarePants (Tom Kenny).
SpongeBob is a talented fry cook, but Krabby Patties depend on a secret formula, and a nefarious competitor named Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) is determined to steal it to boost his own struggling franchise.
During one of Plankton’s many heist attempts, the formula disappears into thin air. Plankton is just as shocked as SpongeBob, but the shock of the community quickly turns to rioting, and Bikini Bottom immediately defaults to a lawless postapocalyptic wasteland, complete with leather “Mad Max” outfits.
To the chagrin of his customers, SpongeBob teams up with Plankton to find the formula and restore order. As they try to solve the mystery, they encounter a cosmic dolphin who appears to be managing the known universe and eventually have to leave their underwater comfort zone and storm a beach full of vacationing humans.
There’s plenty here for longtime fans of the TV show. Outside of SpongeBob and Plankton, regular characters like Patrick Star (a talking starfish, voiced by Bill Fagerbakke), Gary the Snail (also Tom Kenny), Sandy Cheeks (Carolyn Lawrence) and Squidward Tentacles (Rodger Bumpass) also make appearances.
“Sponge Out of Water” strikes an effective balance between goofball humor that will entertain the kids and adult-targeted humor of a more wink-wink nature. Fortunately the non sequiturs and sight gags are clever enough to offset the groans from some of the more lowbrow jokes.
The humor is definitely more zany than your standard “Toy Story” film, but it’s a lot safer for the kids than “Ren and Stimpy,” another cartoon with similar style cues.
The selling point for “Sponge Out of Water” is that SpongeBob SquarePants and company will be spending time in the real world, and it’s fun when it happens. But it takes quite a while to get there, and the majority of the film is produced in the same animated fashion as the TV show.
This doesn’t make the movie any less enjoyable, but it may be a touch of a letdown based on ad-created expectations.
“The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water” is rated PG for some irreverent scatological humor and general mayhem. It is available in 3-D.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. Find him online at facebook.com/joshterryreviews.