Essays · Movies

The Absurdist Rhythms of ‘The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie’

Looking back at the insane adventure that first brought the animated sponge to the big screen.
Radical Kids Movie Spongebob
By  · Published on February 10th, 2019

SpongeBob SquarePants is one hell of a weird show. From the setting to the eccentric cast of characters to the bizarro rules of the universe. Episodes often take a single idea, such as SpongeBob creating a sentient being out of bubbles, and take it to increasingly absurd places. But how do you even begin to adapt that into a feature film? After all, these concepts are only ever meant to sustain a tight ten-minute runtime.

Well, the answer, according to The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, is to take a bonkers premise—Plankton framing Mr. Krabs for the theft of King Neptune’s crown to get him out of the way long enough to steal the Krabby Patty secret formula (otherwise known as Plan Z)—and spend 87 minutes piling increasingly offbeat scenarios on top of it.

Naturally, the film opens with a rendition of the theme song, performed here by… pirates, in a live-action musical number? Well, of course. It should also be no surprise then that this is immediately followed up by a dream sequence in which SpongeBob, as the Krusty Krab manager and a no-nonsense detective-type, is brought in to defuse a particularly tense situation—a customer’s Krabby Patty with cheese… has no cheese! He then wakes from this dream when the crowds cheering his name suddenly start blaring out his foghorn alarm sound.

But in addition to being a very silly sequence that sets the tone for the rest of the movie, this is also a neat opening that sets up SpongeBob’s desire to be the Krusty Krab 2’s new manager, in a way that only this team could deliver on. In fact, the movie is full of these zany, absurd segments that are informed by genuine pathos. An early scene sees SpongeBob drowning his sorrows after losing out on this promotion at Goofy Goober’s Ice Cream Party Boat. He and Patrick stay up until the early hours of the morning and get completely trashed on ice cream (because of course, they do), much to the dismay of one very disgruntled waiter. Hilarious and ridiculous, yes, but also kind of a bummer.

The Spongebob Squarepants Movie
Paramount Pictures

The same goes for the big musical finale, the side-splitting “Goofy Goober Rock,” in which SpongeBob and Patrick don a wizard costume and a pair of fishnets, respectively. Having been berated for being “just a kid,” he belts out a banger about embracing just that while saving the entire population of the newly-dubbed Planktopolis in the process. And while “stay true to yourself” and “don’t grow up too fast” are hardly new ground as far as themes in kids movies go, it’s the execution and wild bursts of creativity that these are delivered through that holds all this together. And hey, the movie also features a subplot which slyly suggests that consumerism is turning us all into mindless drones.

The story takes frequent detours into absurdist situations, that kind which would derail most films, but actually forms the backbone of this one. Having had their vehicle of choice, the Patty Wagon, stolen, our heroes find it parked outside a dive bar, where they have to sneak in to retrieve the key—a spatula. Patrick’s “distraction” turns out to be asking where the bathroom is, leading the pair to be distracted by a soap dispenser that creates bubbles. One thing leads to another and they end up being nearly outed as “bubble blowing babies” in front of everyone.

Meanwhile, another diversion sees SpongeBob stop off for ice cream, only to realize that the woman serving him is actually the tongue of a hideous sea creature, which awakens and proceeds to chase them, Empire Strikes Back-style. And that’s to say nothing of the extended David Hasselhoff cameo. These little vignettes rarely have anything to do with the actual plot of the movie, and honestly, they don’t need to. Because it’s not as though SpongeBob has ever been particularly concerned with trivial matters like plot anyway.

The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie is then, about as perfect a TV-to-film translation as you could imagine. And while its sequel, the underrated Sponge Out of Water, is even more anarchic in its structure, this one is so packed with clever wordplay, out-there visual gags, and truly memorable sequences, that it deserves to be held in high esteem. And while certain elements—like Scarlett Johansson’s Mindy existing mostly as a motivator for our main characters—don’t quite hold up to scrutiny, the movie is still a worthwhile trip for all ages.

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