'The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie' (2004)/Produced & Directed by Stephen Hillenburg/Grade: A-
Updated: Jul 11
Serenity (2005) might be my favorite film continuation of a TV series, but this is a close second. The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie (2004), initially intended by Stephen Hillenburg as the show's finale, is a great example of how to A) up the stakes for your show's characters in a fitting way, B) emphasizing everything fans love about the source material, and C) wrap up the overarching story. This is a perfect example of a movie I found perfectly funny and entertaining as a child, but appreciate more for its message as an adult. More on that in a minute.
For those unfamiliar with this movie, it follows SpongeBob (Tom Kenny) and his loyal best friend Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) on a quest to the forbidden Shell City to retrieve King Neptune's (Jeffrey Tambor) crown. This item has been sent there by Plankton (Mr. Lawrence), as part of an evil scheme to take over Bikini Bottom.
I grew up with SpongeBob Squarepants (1999-) all throughout my childhood. It was my first introduction I could remember to something that was a combination of being so gloriously childish, with a tinge of an adult edge and surrealism to it. Subsequently, that program planted the seed of my taste for the weird, which continued with Regular Show (2010-2017), and I haven't looked back since.
Why bring this up? Because this film did such a brilliant job capturing the strange magic of the show's much-praised first (and what should've been the only) seasons. Through the zany animation style, to the timing of the jokes, the aforementioned adult edge at times, and some really tight pacing- 87 minutes just flew by during my rewatch a few nights ago- not a scene felt wasted, which made for a wonderfully entertaining cinematic pop culture time capsule. Every recurring character was once again voiced brilliantly by their corresponding actor, particularly Tom Kenny as SpongeBob, and Mr. Lawrence as the nefarious Plankton.
The new characters were mostly just fine, with two exceptions, one being Princess Mindy (Scarlett Johansson). She was perky, likable, and easy to root for, as the only character who has faith in SpongeBob and Patrick. A lot of that does come from Johansson's voice acting, which makes sense, given she was a die-hard fan of the TV series.
I also had a lot of fun with Dennis (Alec Baldwin), a menacing bounty hunter hired by Plankton to stop SpongeBob and Patrick from foiling his schemes. Though mute throughout most of the movie, once the two parties caught up, Baldwin chewed each line like it was Christmas morning every day when he walked into the recording booth.
But what I most appreciated this time around was the film's timeless message about not forgetting your childlike side. All throughout the story, SpongeBob is told he can't reach Shell City, or be a manager at the Krusty Krab, all because he's 'just a kid', a clear reference to the societal pressure to abandon childish things as you grow up. But as I watched this character go on his epic quest, and set his mind to achieving his goals without sacrificing that part of himself, I related a lot. As I've gotten into my twenties, I have found it more vital than ever to balance my mounting responsibilities, as well as my more 'mature' tastes regarding TV and film, with still keeping a sense of that innocence about me, via films such as Star Wars (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), and My Neighbor Totoro (1988).
SpongeBob also had a line that particularly rang true towards the end: "You are who you are." Simplistic, yes, but as an LGBTQ person, and as someone with autism who uses movies to understand the world, it's ceaselessly relevant for my life.
I have two big gripes with the film, though. As a theatrical release, it doesn't look or feel cinematic throughout 99.9% of it. It looks and moves like a really long episode of the series. The only sequences that looked and felt very cinematic were when SpongeBob and Patrick were captured by a diver and (spoiler) taken to Shell City, and a climactic fight scene with Dennis on, of all places, David Hasselhoff's back. You'll have to see the movie to find out how that even happens to begin with.
Additionally, most of the original characters from the show get short shrift, i.e. Sandy (Carolyn Lawrence), Mrs. Puff (Mary Jo Catlett), Squidward (Rodger Bumpass). It was almost as if a committee had ordered, "Show these characters, these characters, and these characters!", and then had the writers/storyboarders and director only give them the bare minimum of screen time, barely enough to remind us they existed.
Lastly, Squidward makes a decision that I found comically stupid. To give context, after Plankton steals the Krabby Patty secret formula, and starts to sell them at the Chum Bucket, he also gives out free Chum Bucket helmets with every purchase, which contain mind control devices to eventually brainwash everybody. When Squidward figures out what's going on, instead of reporting directly to King Neptune so legal action can be taken, he confronts Plankton. Call me crazy, but it seems monumentally dumb to call out a criminal to their face, instead of just telling the authorities.
Overall, even with those caveats, they didn't stop The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie from creating a delightful, energetic, hilarious experience. If you're a SpongeBob fan, and you've not seen it yet, get on that. Even if you wouldn't ordinarily be caught dead near a movie like this, I think it will be a lot better than you expect.