Spongebob Squarepants may be the most tragic fallen star in animation history. Nickelodeon's Spongebob Squarepants debuted in 1999 and quickly became one of the most beloved shows to ever grace the small screen. The show sported a deft blend of slapstick humor, cleverly but thinly disguised innuendo, and LOTS of squirrel jokes that raised eyebrows and sent viewers into fits of raucous laughter, all within 11 minutes. At the pinnacle of its popularity, Nickelodeon released The Spongebob Squarepants Movie, which transformed the show's fame into something of a phenomenon. For a few happy years, it seemed that this bubbly, fun-loving, and eccentric sponge would never dry out.
Disaster struck the show when creator Stephen Hillenburg abruptly left, leaving his brainchild with a group of writers who would quickly bring the phenomenon and its momentum to a screeching halt. The charm and humor that propelled the show to unprecedented popularity vanished, marking the end of an incredible era for an incredible sponge. The show sadly dragged on, bereft of the energy and the invention that fueled its legendary rise to prominence.
Now, though, Hillenburg and his writers have stomped back into the spotlight to give Spongebob another chance to shine. Unfortunately, their latest outing with the jovial sea sponge, Spongebob Squarepants: Sponge Out of Water, falls short of my admittedly high expectations and fails to recapture the magic of his glory days. The film's feeble attempts at humor suggest that Hillenberg and his cohorts were coerced into breathing life back into a sponge gone brittle and threw something together that bears a slight resemblance to the work of genius they delivered a decade ago. Sadly, though, the magic, mayhem, and misadventure has been tragically trashed and replaced with an occasionally fun but mostly tiresome reminder of what could have been.
When the Krabby Patty secret formula disappears during another one of Plankton's failed robberies, Bikini Bottom is thrown into a state of chaos. But in an unusual turn of events, Spongebob steps forward and rescues him, voicing his belief that the microscopic maniac didn't commit the crime in question (an understandably tough sell). After traveling across sea, space, and time, Spongebob and Plankton, with help from Mr. Krabs, Sandy Cheeks, Patrick Star, and Squidward Tentacles, discover that the formula has been taken above water. Determined to restore balance to a town gone hungry, Spongebob and his comrades must learn to work together if they hope to overcome the adversary that awaits them at the surface. They'll encounter angry mobs, laser-shooting space dolphins, and lots of hungry pelicans, but that's not the worst of it. As Mr. Krabs grimly puts it, “I hope you like leather.”
The first film brimmed with heart, humor, and an invaluable lesson on growing up, wisely adhering to Spongebob's tried-and-true formula while still packing in enough entertainment value to reel in new fans. Sponge Out of Water stubbornly sticks to its own guns, indulging in eye-popping visuals while skimping on the humor and spirit that made the character a household name in the first place.
Don't get me wrong: the film doesn't abandon humor entirely. The movie honestly, earnestly, and passionately attempts to win back its fans, but every well-timed joke or expertly placed bit of slapstick vanishes amidst a myriad of missed chances and groan-inducing comedic misfires. It's a damn shame, because I fervently hoped that this film would shine a loving light on Spongebob after years of watching his struggling show with dismay and disdain.
Sadly, Spongebob: Sponge Out of Water fails to capitalize on the show's irresistible brand of humor and unique style, opting for something “new” and instead flopping like a.... well, like a fish out of water.
It's been a fun ride, Spongebob, but it seems to be the end of the line for you.