The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie

I’m one of the unenlightened souls who have never gotten around to watching the “SpongeBob SquarePants” TV cartoons that so many kids and adults are fond of these days, but now that I’ve seen the movie, I may have to start watching it, at least in small doses. Is it always so energetically merry, so unabashedly, single-mindedly silly? I’m not sure I could take it on a regular basis. Watching 82 minutes of it in a theater made me as giddy and hyper as if I’d eaten a pound of cotton candy and washed it down with crack.

SpongeBob SquarePants (voice of Tom Kenny), as you know, is a man-child sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea, sort of the Pee-Wee Herman of the ocean. His best friend is Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke), a rather dumb starfish. Others have made speculations about these two, but I shall not.

As the film opens, SpongeBob is hoping to be made manager of the new Krusty Krab restaurant that is opening next door to the Krusty Krab restaurant in which he already works. But there is precious little time to worry about such matters, because the evil Plankton (Doug Lawrence), who runs the Chum Bucket across the street, has plans to steal Mr. Krab’s recipe for his famed Krabby Patty sandwich and run him out of business. To that end, he steals the crown of King Neptune (Jeffrey Tambor) and frames Mr. Krab for it. Before Mr. Krab is executed for the crime, it is up to SpongeBob and Patrick to journey to the dangerous Shell City, whence no traveler has ever returned, and retrieve the stolen crown.

The movie is crammed with the indefatigable lunacy of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, with everything from subtle pop-cultural references to funny voices to good old-fashioned cross-dressing played for laughs. It feels completely guileless, innocent even, but with subversive wit lurking just beneath the surface. (The images of SpongeBob’s ice cream-induced “hangover” are among the funniest, cleverest animation I’ve seen all year.)

At the preview screening I attended, the kids loved it, but I heard the adults laughing a lot more often. Kids aren’t even going to know who David Hasselhoff is, let alone why it’s funny that our heroes should meet him on a beach. But they will find it funny when he propels himself through the water and SpongeBob and Patrick ride him like a jet ski. I mean, who wouldn’t? Find it funny, I mean. Not ride David Hasselhoff like a jet ski.

B (1 hr., 22 min.; PG, mild crude humor.)