A mischievous pirate by the name of Burger Beard (Antonio Banderas) has traveled to an island in search of a magical book that tells of the tale of SpongeBob SquarePants (voiced by Tom Kenny) and his adventures, and can make whatever is written inside it come true. After obtaining the book, Burger Beard notices that the completing page of the book is missing and after searching for it, he discovers the page happens to be the Krabby Patty secret recipe which belongs to Mr. Krabs (voiced by Clancy Brown).
After stealing the secret recipe, mass hysteria breaks out in Bikini Bottom. Everyone initially believes the recipe was stolen by Mr. Krabs's devious rival restauranteur Plankton (voiced by Mr. Lawrence), but SpongeBob knows that Plankton is innocent and together with Mr. Krabs, Patrick Star (voiced by Bill Fagerbakke) and Squidward Tentacles (voiced by Rodger Bumpass), they venture out into the real world to take back the stolen recipe from Burger Beard.
Unless you've been living under a rock your whole life, everyone knows who SpongeBob SquarePants is. Over the course of its run on Nickelodeon, which is still continuing today, SpongeBob SquarePants has become an animated institution for the long-running children's network, generating millions upon millions for the company since it first appeared back in 1999. It's been a little over a decade since the series gave us its first feature-length film, and for a while the creators of the show weren't pushing for a sequel, despite the fact that the first film was a box office success ($140 million on a $30 million budget), mainly 'cause series creator Stephen Hillenburg always felt the character works so well in its short episodic form. After much back-and-forth between the creators and the studio, the fans finally get their sequel.
SpongeBob offers no surprises. This doesn't have the heart that is often associated with Pixar and although the simple theme of teamwork is by no means bad for the kids, there's nothing heavy-handed about anything with this film. SpongeBob is all about pushing the jokes out there one by one as fast as it can. It's dumb film, but a knowingly dumb film that doesn't try to sell its audience on anything more than what it is. Not all the jokes stick their landing, but a good portion do, and although this doesn't have the droll wit of Paddington or contain as many of the clever pop-culture references as last year's The Lego Movie had, there are enough jokes that earn the parents' laughs instead of the eye-rolling snickers that are often given at less-than-stellar animated fare.
Despite the subtitle and the advertising leading you to believe that most of the film takes place in the live action setting, SpongeBob and his gang don't actually leave the water until the third-act. In a way, that inadvertently works toward the film's benefit, 'cause the live action segments are the least interesting (although I got a kick out of the live action version of Sandy). That's not to take away anything from Antonio Banderas. Banderas has never once had a problem with poking fun at his macho image and he's giving his all here in a campy performance as the villain. He's not the problem, but the film's manic energy lags at times whenever it switches from animation to live action.
That said, this is still a fairly enjoyable film (one that at least closes with an amusing musical segment) that provides two majorly refreshing aspects. One, films like these are proof you don't need big name celebrities to sell your animated film (although not an A-lister, Clancy Brown, from Highlander, The Shawshank Redemption, Starship Troopers and The Hurricane, is the most recognizable name from the voice cast), with long-time Nickelodeon staple Tom Kenny (he voices SpongeBob as well as having provided the voices for Heffer Wolfe in Rocko's Modern Life and Dog in CatDog) leading the way. More often than not today, big name stars are brought in for an animated film's voice-work in order to sell the movie, and sometimes it leads to a phoned-in effort just to collect an easy day's pay. It's not that a kids character as well-known as SpongeBob needs to the drawing power of an A-list celebrity, but there's still something to be said about those who make their living doing voice-work getting an opportunity with a wide release, feature-length film, 'cause you can really feel the joy and enthusiasm they bring to these characters.
The second plus is that in a day and age where kids are immersed in CGI everything, it's nice to see cel animation back on the big screen. Pixar, Disney and DreamWorks may be ruling the computer animated world today, but SpongeBob shows that cel animation can still provide detailed and brightly colored entertainment.
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water has a pedal to the metal, anything goes style of zany paced humor, so the jokes are hit-or-miss and the live action third-act doesn't have quite the comic punch as the first two. Yet while it may not bring new converts to the Bikini Bottom faithful, the humor works more often than not and it's clear everyone involved with this film is clearly having a blast. Kids will surely eat this up, but although it's obviously catered to the younger audiences, there's just enough kiddie-friendly subversive humor to keep the parents from having to struggle through this for their kids sake.
I give The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water a B- (★★★).