If it were possible to copyright the idea of animating bulging veins, nauseating complexions, and unsettlingly ragged teeth, Ren & Stimpy Show creator John Kricfalusi would be a billionaire by now. Dozens who wouldn't dream of aping Kricfalusi's confrontational, surreal content have wholeheartedly accepted his close-up-and-ugly visual aesthetic, injecting pus, boils, plaque, and a host of other physical grotesqueries into otherwise bright, shiny cartoon fare.
As Kricfalusi descendents go, SpongeBob SquarePants is one of the odder ducks. Though the TV cartoon is trippy enough to attract older viewers in disconcerting droves, its energy and good cheer render it relatively harmless, and popular with the kids in a way not all Nickelodeon audience-crossovers can claim. (Alas, poor Invader Zim.) But gross-out humor and shrieking kid-energy win out over weird plots and adult references in The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie: Drool, eyeball veins, and apple-cheeked asses abound as the simple story progresses from A to B along the most obvious linear path.
A live-action meta-intro, a genre-driven dream sequence, and a lengthy run of sight gags stall the proceedings for a while, but the plot eventually kicks into gear when only-kinda-anthropomorphized undersea sponge SpongeBob SquarePants (voiced by Tom Kenny) and his dumb starfish buddy Pat (Bill Fagerbakke) set out on a quest to a distant city to reclaim the stolen crown of King Neptune. They're helped by Neptune's daughter (Scarlett Johansson) and hindered by a hired killer (Alec Baldwin), and live-action guest David Hasselhoff even makes a creepy, highly fetishized appearance as himself. But mostly, SpongeBob and Pat just have to rely on their own confidence and learn not to underestimate themselves just because people keep saying that they're kids.
Not that the word "kids" has much meaning when referring to a sexless, frequently depantsed pink blob and a huge-eyed square sponge wearing a tie and athletic socks. But in this film, the word takes on the weight of profanity, as the characters brave any danger to prove that they're grown-ups. The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie does have an assortment of adult-worthy chuckles amid the bright, simple animation and second-grader humor, but the kids-are-people-too plot thrust and body-humor obsession alike should weed out the cultish crossover crowd while ensuring the devotion of Nickelodeon's target audience. It's all innocuous, forgettable fun, but it's firmly aimed at those who find underwear endlessly funny.