It’s been 11 years since the first Spongebob movie, which was an exercise in surreal humour and insanity. Fans, particularly lapsed fans, will be glad to hear that this has not changed in the slightest as the same anarchic comedy sees Spongebob involved in a World War 1-style opening fight to protect the Krabby Patty restaurant, the town of Bikini Bottom turning into a Mad Max-style wasteland (“I hope you like leather” will go down in history as one of its most amusing lines), and slugs angrily and ever so slowly chasing after people.
Once more Plankton is after the Krabby Patty formula, but this time he is usurped by the efforts of a pirate who exists above the waves in the world of live action. Except there’s a twist – Plankton and Spongebob have to work together in order to find the missing formula and end up travelling through time in their quest. This is undoubtedly the trippiest that Spongebob has ever been. As trippy as those sequences are, they are also absolutely hilarious despite their repetition.
But practically stealing the film is Bubbles the dolphin. Casting Matt Berry as the near-omnipotent Bubbles is a stroke of genius. Not only do we get to experience and enjoy his very specific way of talking, pauses and odd inflections included, but also because he is just a great fit for this world of madness and insanity. Bubbles is tasked with watching the universe and ensuring nothing bad happens. Suffice to say, when Spongebob shows up things don’t exactly go to plan. That is an important aspect of the entire film, despite his constant efforts to do the right thing, Spongebob is an unwitting force of nature.
In the trailers much was made of the live action sequences, featuring either some half decent CGI versions of Spongebob, Patrick, Squidward, Plankton and Sandy, or the frequently decent Antonio Banderas as the pirate who wants to steal the Krabby Patty formula for his own burger van above the ocean waves. This is actually the weakest part of the film and runs for longer than is absolutely necessary, but as a distraction from the usual animated style it serves its purpose. I understand from the trailer’s perspective that emphasising this live action sequence puts the new stuff front and centre, but it may have alienated some older fans expecting the same 2D animated style of the TV series. For those people, never fear – most of the running time is set firmly in the 2D world. Now go and put your pitchforks back where you found them.
There are the odd moments that fall flat, but on the whole this is a hugely successful production that demonstrates the longevity of the Spongebob character, his world and the inherent comedic possibilities that exist in the setting. It’s also refreshing to see that, despite more than a decade passing since the first series, the jokes still have bite and haven’t become tired and aimless like some other, bigger animated franchises I could mention.