Out in the middle of the ocean, the pirate Burger Beard (Antonio Banderas) sails his small galleon towards a tropical island and jumps onto land with a treasure map clutched in his hand. He follows the directions through the foliage and finds a booby trapped location where a skeleton sits on a throne, clutching an aged tome. Deftly avoiding any pitfalls, Burger Beard snatches the book away and when the skeleton is reanimated and attacks, its uppercut sends him flying into the sky and straight onto his ship. Now he has in his possession great power, but what has this to do with the undersea town of Bikini Bottom, where SpongeBob SquarePants (voiced by Tom Kenny) lives as chef in the much-prized burger joint of Mr Krabbs (Clancy Brown)?
There had been a SpongeBob SquarePants movie before, over ten years previous to this one, but this was significant in that it marked the return to the franchise of its creator Stephen Hillenburg, who had spent some time away presumably counting his millions for instigating a global success. Now he was back, penning the story for Sponge Out of Water with its director, longtime associate of the character Paul Tibbitt, and the reaction was generally favourable, either from those who grew up watching the television series or from those who had enjoyed it as pure escapism from adult life.
OK, and total stoners for whom SpongeBob had become something of an icon, the ideal accompaniment to getting completely baked since it was so surreal and unlikely to give you any unnecessary fear. As if to acknowledge this, the film included a sequence where SpongeBob used a time machine and experienced a trip in obvious homage to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, one of the first, if not the first, movies to gather a cult of audiences who preferred to indulge in pop culture while out of their heads on the substance of their choice. Which was all very well, but did you really want to see a cartoon that pandered to that area of the audience throughout the whole movie, or did you want something kids could safely watch?
Fortunately, this was no Ralph Bakshi flick, and any trippiness was strictly in the head of the beholder, well, most of it, as the beloved characters became embroiled with a conspiracy that for the opening half owed something to It’s a Wonderful Life, as so many movies do. Not because it imagines what would have happened if SpongeBob had never existed, but because it sees his hometown twisted into a bleak, hellish parody of itself when the secret of the population’s favourite fast food is lost. It would seem Mr Krabbs’ old rival Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) is behind this, but he’s actually innocent, and as the place descends into post-apocalyptic mania (with Mad Max references!) he and SpongeBob must team up to rescue the world. Or their small part of the world, at any rate.
The message here was the positive benefits of teamwork, something Plankton must learn the hard way when his megalomania proves quite the obstacle to his getting along with everyone else. Even SpongeBob has difficulty with it when without the effects of the burgers, nobody will listen to his pleas for calm and reason, which might also come across like a drugs reference, but more probably was an observation on how society would break down almost willingly when it didn’t have its dummy of choice to suck on. But don’t go worrying this was getting heavy, it had a goodly amount of hilarity thanks to the sheer ludicrousness of whatever the film whimsically threw at the screen, from a cosmic dolphin voiced by Matt Berry to Banderas hamming it up to the nth degree as the power-mad pirate, though it was really the regular characters who held together what constantly threatened to spiral off into chaos. The live action sequence was what everyone was talking about at the time as they turned superhero, but it was quality all the way through for those with a finely-tuned sense of the ridiculous. Music by John Debney.