‘SpongeBob’: Pleasant tyke fare

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Unless you had young children, you were probably oblivious to the animated Nickelodeon series, “SpongeBob Square Pants” and its cinematic spin-off of the same name.

You may have been caught off-guard by a bizarre brouhaha back in 2005. Reverend James Dobson of the conservative organization, Focus on the Family, attacked a promotional video, which featured SpongeBob in it.

Reverend Dobson accused the video of promoting tolerance of diversity. Wait a second-isn’t that a good thing? Aren’t we all God’s children?

Apparently, I was a tad obtuse. I had failed to recognize that Reverend Dobson was resorting to a special coded language to communicate with his followers. I was not conversant with the lingo. Tolerance of diversity? That turned out to be code-speak for acceptance of the dread sin of homosexuality. In response to considerable adverse publicity, Reverend Dobson ended up doing some frantic back-pedaling.

My curiosity piqued, I just couldn’t resist seeing the new “Sponge Out of Water” for myself.  The film is a stand-alone sequel to “SpongeBob Square Pants.” It reprises many of the characters from the show and first movie.

I wondered whether I would be able to spot and decipher some crypto-subtext. Having now seen the film, I better appreciate why series’ creator, Stephen Hillenburg, reacted so incredulously when Reverend Dobson ascribed a secret gay agenda to his character. I am befuddled by the notion that this poriferous creature supposedly exudes some sort of sexual aura. He had all the erotic edge of… a sponge. What other entities does Reverend Dobson perceive as having a sexual animism-a rubber band, a paper clip, a tuning fork, a paper towel? Lest I forget, how about the irresistibly seductive weather vane!

SpongeBob turns out to be a totally innocuous creature. He lives in a pineapple in the underwater town of Bikini Bottom. The bucktoothed protagonist cheerfully accepts everyone he meets. Apparently, he just isn’t enough of a hatemonger to appease Reverend Dobson and his ilk.

“Sponge Out of Water” involves the pirate, Burger-Beard. He appears in live action scenes, which complement the film’s animated scenes. When you hear the Andalusian-accented voice of the villain, it may strike you as subliminally familiar. What one-time matinee idol is lurking behind that bushy beard? Why, it’s none other than Antonio Banderas, hamming it up in a kid’s film. He seems to be having a total blast in the process.

The film is propelled by a narrative device in which Burger-Beard and his band of seagulls (one of whom is voiced by Tim Conway from “The Carol Burnett Show”) travel to an island to procure an enchanted book. The text of the book comes to life as it is read.

The tome recounts one of SpongeBob’s adventures. SpongeBob (voiced by Tom Kenny) works as a fry cook for Mr. Krabs (voiced by Clancy Brown) at the Krusty Crab, a fast food joint. He zealously safeguards the secret formula used at the Krabby Patty. Plankton (voiced by Mr. Lawrence) operates a rival restaurant, the Chum Bucket. To avoid bankruptcy, the one-eyed villain desperately wants to acquire the secret formula.

Plankton leads a commando-style raid of the Krusty Crab. A giant battle, replete with various foods and condiments duking it out, ensues. Plankton snatches the secret formula. However, before he can make his escape, SpongeBob intercepts him. They tussle over the formula, which somehow spontaneously disappears into thin air.

The film posits that without the secret formula, the Krusty Crab is unable to crank out any more Krabby Patties. As the ravenous populace of Bikini Bottom clamors for their beloved sandwich, total chaos breaks out.

SpongeBob tries to convince Plankton to team up with him and track down the missing formula. Being a trusting naïf, SpongeBob is easily duped by Plankton, who feigns a willingness to cooperate.

A screen capture from a trailer to  "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water" at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNoBuZSX0Bg

A screen capture from a trailer to “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNoBuZSX0Bg

The film introduces an interesting notion, which may prove somewhat challenging to pre-schoolers. As the film reverts to live-action, Burger-Beard is able to change what happens in the real world simply by tearing out the last page of the book and writing his own revised ending.

In Burger-Beard’s denouement, he acquires the secret formula. With it, he converts his pirate ship into a fast food joint in the beach community of Salty Shoals and begins selling Krabby Patties to local residents. How will SpongeBob be able to recover the secret formula and return it to the Krusty Crab back in Bikini Bottom?

I remain unable to divine how Reverend Dobson could be so overtly hostile towards SpongeBob. The character is so unfailingly sweet and positive. In one scene, Plankton invades SpongeBob’s cranium. He discovers that it is chocked full of cotton candy, ice cream cones, and rainbows. It is one of several surprisingly surrealistic scenes in the film.

I cannot enthusiastically recommend “Sponge Out of Water” for adults, unless they are stoned out of their gourds. However, it is a perfectly acceptable option for its target demographic of young tykes.

*** PG (for mild action and rude humor) 93 minutes

Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.


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