More Thoughts on the Spongebob Movie

SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS MOVIE

THE SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS MOVIE isn’t THE INCREDIBLES, and I don’t mean that in a negative way. The film has a simpler goal: make the audience laugh for an hour-and-a-half. And laugh I did, quite frequently throughout the movie, though it’s interesting to note that the laughter was typically because of either the dialogue (“My eyes! My eyes!”) or a humorous situation (Spongebob and Patrick’s hand-knee slap-jive). There were only three instances during the entire film where I laughed because of the drawings and animation: when Spongebob is “drunk” from ice cream, when Patrick and Spongebob are trying to suppress themselves from singing the “Goofy Goober” song in the biker’s bar, and when Patrick and Spongebob are drying out under the heat of a lamp. In these few sequences, the awesome visual potential of the movie became apparent and the characters rose above their clumsy ’80s DiC-throwback designs to actually deliver on the promise of a cartoony animated feature created by artists. Granted, the rest of the film had funny drawings as well, more than entire seasons of a lot of animated TV series, but the cartoon acting was so inventive in the three aforementioned sequences as to make the rest of the film’s poses and expressions seem downright pedestrian. Perhaps one day we’ll see an animated feature that isn’t afraid to entertain with drawing and animation for a full 90-minutes. Until then, SPONGEBOB is a half decent start towards that goal.

Other brief observations…

> I realize that the dedication at the end of the film – Jules Engel (1909?-2003) – is because SPONGEBOB creator Stephen Hillenburg is a graduate of Engel’s Experimental Animation program at CalArts. Nonetheless, it is ironic that a film with such garish and slapdash color styling would be dedicated to Engel, the artist who introduced the “Color Styling” credit at UPA and who was a proponent for the intelligent use of color in animated cartoons.

> The brief stop motion bit in the film was animated by Screen Novelties founders Seamus Walsh and Mark Caballero and their frequent collaborator Chris Finnegan. It was a pleasantly spontaneous moment in a film that was too heavily plot-driven and bogged down with linear storytelling. David Edelstein put it best in his review of the film for SLATE: “I like my SPONGEBOB a little less lumbering, a little more free-associational, without that big, heavy anchor of a story structure to weigh him down.” The film’s characters are too silly and unique for the conventional trappings of Hollywood storytelling; we never believe that Spongebob and Patrick are in any real danger, so consequently, the scenes with the villains – Plankton, Dennis the Hitman, etc. – are the most tiresome and unnecessary. Had the filmmakers simply created a light-hearted adventure about Spongebob and Patrick embarking on a quest to become men, and thrown in a few more non sequiturs (Patrick in fishnet stockings and heels was a nice touch), the film would have been plenty more entertaining; the potential was there for this film to become a YELLOW SUBMARINE for the Nick generation.

> Apparently, former cast members of the TV sitcom COACH make really solid animation voice actors. Bill Fagerbakke’s Patrick the Starfish is one of the most entertaining cartoon voices I’ve heard in a long time, the perfect blend of idiocy and heart, and Craig T. Nelson’s understated performance as Bob Parr in THE INCREDIBLES was the voice acting surprise of the year. Now it’s Jerry Van Dyke’s turn to amaze us with his vocal chops…