Directed by: Stephen Hillenburg, Sherm Cohen
Starring: Tom Kenny (voice), Alec Baldwin (voice), Scarlett Johansson (voice), David Hasselhoff
You don't have to be the elementary-class cutup to love SpongeBob -- adults are also perfectly capable of being goofy, manic, subversive and slightly demented, you know.
SpongeBob (voiced by Tom Kenny) is an optimistic, proudly absorbent square sponge who lives under the sea in the top half of a pineapple and wears a pair of squashed pants on his bottom. He dreams of becoming the new manager of the Krusty Krab eatery.
SpongeBob is chronologically impaired, however. Sometimes he's like an adult: He craves upward mobility, sings on a saloon stage, parties till he's purple, and says things like, "You can't fool me, I listen to public radio." Most tellingly, he's logged 374 consecutive employee-of-the-month awards -- during 31 years on the job.
At the same time, SpongeBob blows double-bubbles, gobbles massive scoops of ice cream, waggles his tongue and giggles like a loony hyena, so it's understandable that other denizens of Bikini Bottom think he's only a kid. His boss, Eugene H. Krabs, awards the manager position to Squidward Tentacles. SpongeBob is devastated - boo-hoo -- and believe me, a crying sponge is a terrible thing to see.
Patrick, a purple starfish who gets a not-so-secret thrill from showing off his bare butt ("Did you see my butt?") is SpongeBob's loyal and equally immature buddy. It takes only the slightest cue from either one to set the other off on an instantaneous indulgence in inanity.
But don't think that just by being underwater you can avoid the troubles of topside life.
The evil ("I want to rule the world!") but tiny genius, Plankton, steals King Neptune's crown, and the bald-pated potentate mistakenly blames Mr. Krabs. The hapless entrepreneur is going to be executed unless the king gets his crown back. SpongeBob and Patrick prove that imbecility is no stumbling block to courage, volunteering to rescue the crown from far-away Shell City, a dark and evil place.
Like all mermaids, Neptune's daughter, Mindy (voiced by Scarlett Johansson, Girl with a Pearl Earring), has a way with males. Using her magic and a few squiggles of seaweed to resemble facial hair, Mindy makes the boys believe they've become men.
"Now that we're men," SpongeBob cries, "we're invincible!" All evildoers will face the "awesome wrath of our mustaches!"
While you're falling off your seat howling at lines like that, the heroes blithely follow in Odysseus' footsteps. The creatures they meet are sometimes comic (the hillbillies on the porch are my favorite), and sometimes terrifying (Dennis, the big-booted motorcycle baddie voiced by Alec Baldwin). There's even a secret guest-star: Baywatch's David Hasselhoff, who does a hilarious self-parody as he zooms across the ocean waves to deliver the heroes back home in the nick of time.
As it should be in any odyssey, there's a near-death scene: The poor sponge and the starfish lay on a table being dried out under a heat lamp. But they still believe in the magic of boys-made-men and manage to croak out a few lines of "I'm a Goofy Goober." This teardrop of despair becomes a sprinkler-system of hope as all the enslaved, dehydrated creatures on the shelves of the souvenir shop plump themselves up with H20. You get the drift.
As a SpongeBob-challenged adult, I was fortunate to have the company of my local childhood culture expert, seventh-grader Zachary Maynard. We both agreed on our assessment of SpongeBob -- it was good, but not that good. The movie's worth seeing on the big screen because the visuals are spectacular -- but do so at the bargain matinee.
Zach dutifully made comparative lists of the movie's good and bad points. Good: "It was humorous, had a good story and a good theme." Bad: "Sometimes senseless, and slow, and the ending was bad," meaning it was the same old thing, where good guys save everybody and the bad guys get their due.
There's still a lot to be said for SpongeBob. The concept is clever, witty, zany and eternally cheerful. Though it has a sprinkling of bare-butt jokes (which always send little kids into peals of laughter), the cartoons are basically sexless (mostly staffed by male characters) and the gore-less violence is never intended to be gratuitous. If you're an adult and don't know SpongeBob, check out the official movie site on the Internet: www.nick.com/all_nick/movies/spongebob. Better yet, join a kid and watch a few episodes of the TV show.
-- reviewed by Marci Miller