All the Wrong Ways

It’s those same lovable SpongeBob characters (but they should have stayed in the water for this movie)

Long story short: They should have stayed in the water.

Now here's the long story. The animated series, "SpongeBob Squarepants," has had a long life and has acquired a lot of fans. They released a movie in 2004 that did pretty well, but that was five years into the series' mainstreaming. Now? Seems like that ship has sailed a little bit. The show is still technically on the air, but its ninth season hasn't aired a new episode in 15 months. Despite the lull, SpongeBob and the usual cast are back for another movie, but it's hard to understand whom it is for or why it was made.

That isn't to say "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water" is terrible. It's not. Well, parts of it are pretty embarrassing, but that isn't the point. This isn't "The Simpsons," an animated property people were dying to see on the big screen, especially not after SpongeBob fans already got a movie.

We return to Bikini Bottom, the village on the ocean floor where SpongeBob (voiced by Tom Kenny) lives with his pet snail, Gary (also Tom Kenny), and where he has been a dutiful fry cook at Krusty Krab, responsible for serving up the legendary Krabby Patty. It's the dish that has kept the doors slammed shut across the street at The Chum Bucket. The proprietor of that lesser establishment, Plankton (Mr. Lawrence), will stop at nothing to get his hands on the Krabby Patty recipe. It's your classic Wile E. Coyote gambit.

But the recipe, kept in the safe at the Krusty Krab, dematerializes just when Plankton is about to steal it. Yeah. Dematerializes. That means two things: All hell (hell approved for all ages, anyway) breaks loose in Bikini Bottom and Plankton and Spongebob must work together to find the recipe and restore order. This is your classic "LEGO Movie" everything-is-awesome gambit; the movie pushes the value of teamwork for a solid hour.

So far, so good. Here's the curveball: This is all part of a larger story happening on dry land. That's where the "Sponge Out of Water" from the title comes into view. There's a pirate named Burger-Beard (Antonio Banderas) who wants the Krabby Patty recipe for his own, to make it the signature item on the menu of his food truck. This part of the movie is live action, shoddy and pointless.

Even if you think we needed a second "SpongeBob" movie, how was this the idea whose time had come? Why go with live action? That appendage could be stitched on just as easily by keeping with the animation. And when the traditional "SpongeBob" characters finally figure out that they'll have to come up from the bottom of the sea to get the recipe, they're transformed into a more realistic form of animation to match the new environment. Tough sell.

The worst part of all of it isn't the strange new vision of the established characters or even the unnecessary pirate plot. It's the way all of that drags down a pretty good SpongeBob story—funny, occasionally inspired, and certainly worth a look for kids and adults. There are definitely some highlights here and there, and if they'd kept the action under the water, who knows?

This feels like an episode from the series that has been expanded, but in all the wrong ways.