The SmarK DVD Rant for the Spongebob Squarepants Movie
“I love being purple!”
Really, when it comes down to it, either you “get” Spongebob or you don’t. Usually it helps to be either under 13 or having an inner pre-teen, but either way the over-the-top cartoon charm of Stephen Hillenberg’s genius is sometimes lost on those who long for stuff like plots that make sense or animals who talk like real people. I think it comes down to this: If you understand why it’s funny for Bugs Bunny to dress in drag and don’t think it affects his self-image, then you’ll probably enjoy Spongebob Squarepants.
The really glorious thing about Spongebob, compared to say, the drek put out by Disney’s animation studios in recent years, is that there’s no deep message attached to it or attempts at political correctness disguised with bears or big agenda. It’s just intended to be FUN, like all good cartoons. And after controlling the cable airwaves for the past few years with the amazingly popular series, the movie was inevitable. But was it as good as the series?
You kinda start to realize what you’re getting into when the movie doesn’t begin with animation, but with a group of salty pirates discovering tickets to the movie and breaking into the theme song to celebrate. We are then introduced to our hero, Spongebob Squarepants, and you’ll get most of the relevant information from the song if you’re a newcomer. To summarize, he lives in a pineapple under the sea, he’s absorbant and yellow and porous, and if nautical nonsense is something you wish, he’s your guy.
At heart, this is an homage to the road movies of years past, except with even dumber protagonists. In this case, the silly plot device that gets Spongebob and his best friend Patrick on the road is an evil scheme by Plankton, evil genius, who steals King Neptune’s crown and blames it on Spongebob’s boss Mr. Krabs. There’s a note by the crown’s pillow signed “Mr. Krabs”, you see, so obviously it’s him.
Now, the buildup to this plot device is some of the most brilliantly inspired stuff ever done by the show, as Krabs passes up Spongebob for a promotion in a new Krusty Krabs store, which happens to be right beside the old one. Spongebob’s mistaken acceptance speech, Patrick’s run-in, the gag with the PA system, and the resulting drunken binge at the Goofy Gopher (on ice cream, of course) all result in some of the biggest non-stop laughs I’ve seen in a kid’s movie in a long time.
Of course, the road trip by Spongebob and Patrick is just a distraction by Plankton to allow him his ultimate goal: Enslaving the world and stealing the secret to the Krabbie Patty. Not necessarily in that order. This leads to the funniest line in the movie, as everyone falls victim to his evil bucket-helmet-mind-control devices (don’t ask), until only self-absorbed intellectual Squidward is left, and he can’t be fooled, because he listens to public radio! It’s touches like that, for us grown-ups, that really make the series and movie transcend the usual family fare.
So our heroes are venturing to the forbidden city, and it wouldn’t be a quest without adventures along the way, and so they meet a REALLY tough bar, where blowing bubbles is punishable by beatings. Not to mention an ice cream stand that is suspiciously surrounded by giant piles of human skulls. Not suspicious to THEM, of course, but then that’s part of the charm. Patrick just wants to make sure that he gets a chocolate one.
My personal favorite was Dennis, the bounty hunter, who is so mean and grizzled that he could only be voiced by Alec Baldwin, and would probably take Dog in a fight. In a great touch, each time that Spongebob and Patrick overcome an obstacle using either luck or, well, luck, Dennis follows after them and overcomes the same thing without breaking a sweat. It actually makes for some (gasp) interesting dramatic tension! Dirty words in a movie like this, I know.
Of course, nothing good can last forever, and even at 80 minutes things run out of steam pretty fast. By the time they actually make it to the city and find the crown, the silliness gets ramped up to 11 (two words: David Hasselhoff) and you start to get the feeling that they’re just trying to get to the credits and go home. The 80s metal homage in particular overstays its welcome, although it’s very funny stuff taken alone. Really though, Spongebob is more of a 15 minutes at a time type of phenomenon, and going 80 minutes exposes a lot of the weakness with the show. Still, Plankton declaring “HIS CHOPS ARE TOO RIGHTEOUS!” is worth the wait.
Overall, I loved it, though, and I have no doubt that fans of the show and the hordes of Nickelodeon-watching kids who will buy the DVD are going to love it as well. Highly recommended for the whole family.
Presented by Paramount in its original 1.85:1 widescreen, this is a really nice transfer. Considering all the primary colors used (Spongebob is a bright yellow, Patrick is bright pink, etc) it holds up very well, without a lot of the problems associated with animation on DVD. Excellent job from Paramount here.
Presented in either Dolby 5.1 or 2.0, either one is pretty much the same. Let’s face it, it’s a kids’ movie, so the mix isn’t going to be particularly aggressive either way. There’s some nice directional audio when bubbles are being blown or things are bouncing around the screen, but for the most part it’s dialogue-driven and sounds fine for what it is.
Kind of disappointing from this standpoint, as there’s no commentary track. As a fan of Mr. Show, I’d have KILLED to hear Tom Kenny riffing with Stephen Hillenberg for 80 minutes. Oh well.
What you DO get is some good featurettes, though.
– The Absorbing Tale of Spongebob Squarepants is a 20 minute look at the movie, featuring soundbites from all the major voices in the show (Mr. Lawrence in particular looks like he’d make a good Plankton, although I didn’t know Clancy Brown was Mr. Krabs) as they basically run down the plot and meaning behind the movie, what little there is.
– The Case of the Sponge “Bob”. This is a really interesting 15 minute piece with Jean-Michel Cousteau, as he and Hillenberg go over footage of the sea life that inspired the cartoon and explain the differences between them. Obviously aimed at kids but still informative, with the same message that the show subtly carries: Protect the ocean, protect yourself.
– Saving the Surf. A three-minute commercial for an environmental group. Bleh.
– 20 minutes of animatics, with original voices by what sounds like Hillenberg and the producers. Definitely not of interest to kids.
– Teaser trailer for the movie, but not the real trailer, for whatever reason.
– Forced previews for Lemony Snicket and a couple of other things. Yay.
– Finally, a DVD-Rom demo of the Spongebob PC game, which is pretty fun.
So about an hour of stuff in total, but nothing to wet yourself over.
The Film: ****
The Video: ****1/2
The Audio: ***
The Extras: **1/2