Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Paul Tibbitt

Stars: Antonia Banderas, voices of Tom Kenny, Mr Lawrence, Clancy Brown, Bill Fagerbakke, Rodger Bumpass, Tim Conway, Carolyn Lawrence.

This animated film acts as a belated sequel to the Spongebob Squarepants Movie from 2005, but it has proven to be a huge success at the box office, taking in over $150 million already.

Created by marine biologist Stephen Hillenberg, Spongebob (voiced by Tom Kenny, who has provided the voice for the character in the long running television series) is a simple soul with custard for brains, who is the short order cook who flips burgers at the Krusty Krab cafe in Bikini Bottom. The character was eventually developed for an animated television series that premiered in 1999 on the Nickelodeon network, and has run for nearly 200 episodes.

Spongebob loves his job at the Krusty Krab. There is of course a secret formula that gives the patties their flavour and taste, which has made them so popular among the residents. Across the road from the Krusty Krab is another fast food restaurant, run by the nefarious Plankton (voiced by Mr Lawrence), but its food is basically tasteless and inedible.

The evil Plankton sets out to try and steal the secret formula, but most of his dastardly schemes fail spectacularly. But when Plankton finally manages to get his hands on the formula it mysteriously vanishes. Bikini Bottom descends into anarchy and mayhem, and the hostile residents turn their anger in Plankton’s direction.

To try and restore order to the apocalyptic town, Spongebob is forced to reluctantly team up with his nemesis to track down the missing formula. Teamwork however is an alien concept to the selfish and self serving Plankton. What follows is a chaotic and frantic mix that brings together robots, time travel and even an omnipotent dolphin named Bubbles (voiced by Matt Berry) that supposedly protects the universe.

The search leads our fearless heroes to a pirate named Burger Beard (played by Antonio Banderas), who has in his possession a magic book that enables him to rewrite history with the stroke of a pen. The chase ends with the animated characters making a journey into the real world where they interact with real live characters. On the surface, Spongebob and his friends transform themselves into superheroes as they try to thwart Burger Beard.

This is an inventive take on the Spongebob Squarepants lore that effectively takes the characters out of their comfort zone and gives them a grand adventure that will easily amuse the younger audiences. There are some superb 3D effects, used quite effectively during some time travel sequences, and the traditional hand drawn animation gives way to some state of the art CGI animation for those sequences set in the real world. There is some outlandish and cartoonish violence here as well. There is lots of wonderful visual humour and lots of colour and energy to appeal to the kids. And, unlike most animated films, the producers have resisted the temptation to litter the screenplay with lots of gratuitous pop culture references.

Screenwriters Glenn Berger and Jonathan Aibel (Kung Fu Panda 2, a couple of Alvin And The Chipmunks sequels, etc) throw virtually everything at the screen in this creative script, and much of it sticks. The producers and animators have embraced the inherent silliness of it all, and have crammed a lot into the running time, including food fights and the occasional fart joke. The Spongebob Movie offers up a surreal, trippy move that was seemingly conceived while smoking some mind altering substances and it does for Spongebob Squarepants what Head did for The Monkees back in the late 60s. The director is Paul Tibbitt, a regular writer on the television series that ran for several seasons beginning in the late 90s, and he handles the anarchic material with a free flowing style.

Most of the original vocal cast from the television series have returned to voice the characters here. Banderas hams it up wonderfully as Burger Beard, a sort of Jack Sparrow wannabe, who also acts as the defacto narrator for the film. Knowing that he is basically the only human character who has to react to a lot of cartoon characters, including some annoying seagulls, Banderas brings a manic energy to his performance, but he seems to be running on autopilot for much of the time.

The film has fittingly been dedicated to the memory of Ernest Borgnine, the late actor best known for playing tough guys and villainous roles, but who also voiced the character of Mermaid Man in the 90s.



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