The third SpongeBob movie: What am I expecting?

When 2015 started (my goodness, has it been so long since then), I made a YouTube video in anticipation of if Sponge out of Water would be good or bad. I had high hopes for it, but it turned into a massive disappointment. But apparently not for many others. I want to watch the new movie, Sponge on the Run, but like many others I’m not quite ready to go to the theatre yet and it’s not available for streaming, so I wanted to talk about my expectations.

So, for starters, I was a big fan of the first 2004 movie, and I still am today. I feel when you watch something as a kid and you enjoy it, even if it includes material you grow out of as the years go by, you still tend to have a soft spot for it from the memories. You might still even like it the exact same. I awarded the first movie a B+, and I sometimes wonder if it deserves a higher grade. And Sponge out of Water I awarded a D to. Very different, huh?

So why such different grades? Yeah, I saw the first movie when I was seven, and I saw the second movie at 16, but here’s why I feel the first film really holds up and the second one doesn’t. If you don’t remember, the first film included a grand opening of a second Krusty Krab (the inspiration for building one right next door to the original was “money”.) The real story is the intersecting plots between SpongeBob and Plankton; with this opening, SpongeBob really wants the manager position. There has to be one for this new restaurant, and either SpongeBob’s a workaholic, an egomaniac (let’s face it, that’s not it), or he’s dreamed about being a fry cook since he was a child and this position will cement his foot in said dream job even further. When he doesn’t get it only because he’s a kid, it’s clear the message isn’t that he has to wait a while; it’s that he’s not good enough to be a manager and he just never will be.

On the other end of the table, this grand opening has made Plankton extremely jealous. His business has failed so much he’s never had one customer (echo!!!!), and if he only had that Krabby Patty formula, that one little slip of paper, he’d be able to have a taste of that success. He has one final plan that he overlooked in his filing cabinet of evil plans, completely gone over from A to Y. And he ends up able to blame Mr. Krabs for the theft of the crown of King Neptune himself. Blame Neptune’s baldness, blame his intolerance to petty theft, blame his narcissism, but he threatens to fry him, and SpongeBob offers to go to the forbidden Shell City to get his crown back within six days.

Now, there were some frightening and suspenseful scenes that I feel kids too comfortable with the convention of the television show might not like, but I could get through it fine when I saw it, and from what I’ve seen, most kids have. Why I think the movie really works is the character interactions feel the same as the regular episodes, and therefore as it goes into a darker and more troubling story than usual, we don’t feel it’s abandoning its charm for cinema. And the progress it takes in the actual setting – a new Krusty Krab, Plankton getting the formula and therefore concluding so many plotlines of Plankton failing to steal it in the past and figuring out the recipe, and SpongeBob going into legitimate danger like someone growing up, and being recognized for his passion and getting past the fact he was disregarded as a kid – is actually staggering. Truth is, the show was planned to end after this movie, leaving everyone in a happy ending, but Nickelodeon producers stopped that and SpongeBob got a fourth season with his old antics back to being produced.

As a kid, never hearing about the cancellation and renewal, I was glad new episodes were still being made, but it did sometimes bug me that everything in the movie was disregarded. Seeing Plankton get the formula and SpongeBob getting proper reward for his devotion to his job and his friends and proving the worth of its target audience were all very satisfactory. But I let it go. I was fine with this new movie, Sponge out of Water, being about Plankton trying to steal and figure out the formula once again. What I was excited about was SpongeBob’s gang leaving the sea and interacting with the world above water. My mouth dropped open seeing the first trailer. I felt it was breathing new life into a series getting notorious for some specifically questionable episodes.

So, synopsis time again: In simple terms, Sponge out of Water introduces Burger Beard played by Antonio Banderas, a pirate desiring to have a successful sandwich joint out by the beach. He’s able to find a magic book (and talking pelicans) that documents the one and only Krabby Patty, and he manages to get it, and Plankton is blamed for its disappearance, SpongeBob being the only one who knows it’s not him. So one thing leads to another, Plankton learns how to properly pronounce the word “team”, and the crew is above water to get the formula back from the thieving pegleg.

So what brought it down for me, all the way to a D? The above-water scenes with Antonio Banderas and the pelicans were overly goofy and seemed to be taking easy routes, and Bikini Bottom transforming into a warzone during another Krabby Patty theft attempt was a little too over the top, but then when Plankton is taped to Mr. Krabs’ desk and tortured by SpongeBob’s laughing over the most unfunny joke imaginable, I felt this was going to be a movie quite hard to recommend. It gets even worse when Bikini Bottom turns into an apocalyptic place over the fact people can’t have their Krabby Patties anymore (treating the burger like a vaccine to a disease or a button to destroy either one side of the city or another), and this is because without the formula, SpongeBob can’t cook the patties because his contract states never to memorize any parts of how to make them (which is a definitive easy-way out. It feels like the writers came up with one loose idea and then got it through no matter how many holes they found in preproduction). And then SpongeBob is ordered to be executed, literally executed, when he gets captured by his former friends, and at the last minute he’s saved by the smell of Krabby Patties, and he and his near-executioners go together to the surface, breathable by the spell of a magic whale, and we get to be out of water, after an hour of the 90-minute feature has already gone by.

Then the book is hastily burned on Burger Beard’s grill, and Plankton, when he has access to the formula, and a Hulk-muscular build preventing anyone from reaching it, he gives the formula back to Krabs, realizing from his trip with SpongeBob and the true meaning of a team, that trying to steal his formula for years was…”selfish”. That was a terrific scene I wasn’t expecting. Then about five minutes later, we see Plankton back to his usual shenanigans. Some may have laughed. I slapped my head for having hope.

From those criticisms, I probably sound like a cranky buzzkill. It’s true that the SpongeBob TV show doesn’t take much seriously in the first place, and admittedly, the first movie had some illogical devices too. But from the episodes I remember, there were still moments of peace and insight, giving the wacky cartoon an infatuating innocence. But Sponge out of Water took practically nothing seriously, including the likability and actions of its characters, and ran a misadvertising campaign against the main premise of the story. To think I waited a long time for another movie of the little guy. Some could say it shouldn’t matter how long the characters were out of water, and the movie was a chance to remind viewers of the joy of going to the theatre for 2-D animation, like the times of the big Disney Renaissance. Fair enough, so it’s interesting how this next movie is in complete 3-D.

Now, The Sponge on the Run’s main plot is the disappearance of Gary, something copied straight from the episode back when Gary left home when SpongeBob ignored him and his hungry stomach taking the Dirty Bubble Paddle-Ball Challenge, and there’s hints it’ll be once again taking place above water partially. A friend who once disagreed with me on which SpongeBob movie was better told me the first film had a thin plot of just retrieving a crown. He did have a point. So the missing-Gary plotline might still manage to be cinematic. Reviews have come in and some have been quite positive. I hope I don’t have to eat my words, but the movie doesn’t seem like the sort of feature that excuses attempted executions, misadvertises, and is cluttered with disbelief. Some of it kind of reminds me of the innocent high-spirit energy of the first one.

So, with me really liking one SpongeBob movie and me loathing the other, I look forward to seeing this new one and breaking the tie. And for those who like Sponge out of Water; good for you. I’m glad you were able to see way more in it than me.

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