Let's just get something out the way here - I'm a huge fan of the Stephen Hillenburg (creator of the series) era of Spongebob Squarepants. He stopped writing Spongebob Squarepants after The Spongebob Squarepants Movie was completed, which marked the start of a decline in quality that would leave the show as a shadow of it's past self, but the early seasons and The Spongebob Squarepants Movie itself remain some of the best kid friendly animated entertainment created in the last 20 years or so. It's quotable, rewatchable and memorable, having something for audiences of all ages, and I don't know anyone in my age group that doesn't have a favourite episode of Spongebob Squarepants.
So imagine my excitement when I learn that Hillenburg was returning to writing duties for The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water. The story has the Krabby Patty secret formula mysteriously disappearing during one of Plankton's routine attempts at stealing it for himself. Mr. Krabs blames Plankton for the disappearance, but Spongebob knows he is innocent and sets out to find and reclaim the formula so that he can bring order back to Bikini Bottom, which has turned into a Mad Max style post-apocalyptic wasteland in the few days that the citizens have had to go without Krabby Patties.
Unfortunately, Hillenburg's presence on The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water has not produced the return to form that I was hoping for. Whereas The Spongebob Squarepants Movie was a proper feature length film with a well structured plot and compelling character arc, Sponge Out of Water instead delivers a stretched out episode that would have been better suited to the normal 12 minutes run time of the show. The vast majority of Sponge Out of Water is wasted time, scenes without any purpose creating a meandering plot that feels aimless until the ending suddenly happens.
There are some aspects of Sponge Out of Water
that work - as always, Spongebob himself is just impossible to dislike,
and the style of animation once they are above water is visually
interesting, remaining true to the design of the characters while
at the same time being markedly different from anything we've seen
before. And in all fairness, there are some good, genuinely funny moments, the highlight
for me being the introduction of an all-seeing dolphin named Bubbles, voiced by the great Matt Berry. But even these small moments are lost amongst a film that is simply not the quality that the Spongebob Squarepants franchise deserves.
It's almost as if someone had a check-list of what they thought made The Spongebob Squarepants Movie
so good, and they went through the script trying to tick off each box,
regardless of how that affected the film as a whole. The problem is that
they missed off all the things that actually did make the first film
what it is, and only managed to get the surface level details that made
certain aspects enjoyable. Musical Number? Check. Celebrity cameo?
Check. Adventure above land? Check. Strong emotional core? ...
I can't see anyone above the age of about 10 getting any enjoyment from Sponge Out of Water, and even then I would imagine that they'd prefer the far superior The Spongebob Squarepants Movie. It's not an actively bad film, it's just unremarkable in every way - instantly forgettable and at best a brief distraction for young kids on a weekend with nothing else to do. And kids deserve better than this anyway - if only there were another, much better Spongebob movie somewhere out there that everyone can enjoy.