SpongeBob SquarePants, which first hit Nickelodeon in 1999, has always featured an appealingly goofy main character and his loyal friends, an absurdist Tiki background that leaves the viewer completely unaware as to what could happen next, and one of the catchiest theme songs around. This winning formula offered a show silly enough for kids, and hilarious enough for their parents. So it wasn’t too much of a leap for Krusty Krab’s best employee to head to the big screen. The last SpongeBob SquarePants movie, released over a decade ago, found our undersea friend heading off on an adventure that eventually landed him in our own, un-animated world for a spell (with David Hasselhoff!).
More than 10 years later, SpongeBob’s second movie uses this formula again and improves on it (even sans the Hoff), with help from the producers of the show’s earliest seasons. Advances in 3-D animation and CGI, as well as the epic journey to end all epic journeys, combine to offer the most ambitious Bikini Bottom adventure yet.
Last time, SpongeBob and Patrick headed out to recover Neptune’s Crown. This time, the recipe for Krabby Patties is missing, which causes the home base of Bikini Bottom to instantly turn into an “apocalyptic cesspool.” SpongeBob hooks up with an unlikely partner to get the recipe back: Plankton, his frequent nemesis and the villain of the previous film. But Plankton and Bob both learn a little something about teamwork along the way (even though Plankton can’t even say the word, though SpongeBob tries: “Say ‘team.’” “Team.” “Say ‘work.’” “Work.” “Say ‘teamwork.’” “Timebomb.”).
The duo’s journey takes them to realms fantastical even by SpongeBob standards, with meta-commentary by an irate pirate named Burger-Beard (Antonio Banderas), who possesses a mysterious book that controls SpongeBob’s fate. As SpongeBob and Plankton careen toward different realities, time-travel effects appear worthy for once of the concept (and the 3-D is a must). An otherworldly cape-wearing dolphin named Bubbles, watcher of the universe in an extremely trippy reality, aids the two on their quest, pausing only to go to the bathroom. (This is SpongeBob, after all.)
Just by viewing the trailer, one might think that SpongeBob and his friends spend most of the movie navigating a real-life human beach, and although that segment is extremely fun, it doesn’t appear until the end, and only briefly. Fortunately, there are many entertaining setups before then: a battle with Plankton; shots of the Bikini Bottom done up in leather, Mad Max-style; even a trip inside SpongeBob’s subconscious, where life, unsurprisingly, is a sticky-sweet concoction. Throughout the journey, the zany asides keep coming. SpongeBob indicates he’s having a breakdown by shockingly mixing garbage and recycling, and the movie is not afraid to turn meta on itself, as when a wise underwater creature notes, “All right, all secondary characters come with me.” There’s no heartfelt, overarching message here—even teamwork, as much as it’s mentioned, doesn’t seem to stick with anyone—but that doesn’t detract from the fun.
In the end, when SpongeBob rewrites his own story to create superhero personas for his friends, the transition from the 2-D world to our 3-D one is seamless enough to be stunning. The visual effects and fast and furious quips combine for that rarest of releases: one that both parents and kids can enjoy (just like the show), leaving viewers of any age hoping that the next SpongeBob movie isn’t an entire decade off.