Life with SpongeBob rarely makes sense. He’s a talking sponge who works in a burger joint – what do you expect? But he’s also proof that making sense isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Near the end of his second cinematic outing, there’s a great little joke that sees him consume his bodyweight in candyfloss before exploding into a crazed sugar rush. It’s the film summed up neatly in one visual gag. Rocketing by, it’s hopped up lunacy that runs itself ragged. And what fun it is.

As any self-respecting fan of the long-running TV show knows, the only thing that matters down in Bikini Bottom are Krabby Patties. This vital food source proves to be the glue that keeps society together for SpongeBob and co. If you don’t believe me, just watch what happens when the secret formula is stolen and supply runs short. Soon the Mad Max apocalypse is on them all, with only SpongeBob (Tom Kenny) and usual villain Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) left to try and restore order.

This madness is caused by the film’s weakest strand, a live action thread that sees Antonio Banderas go full pantomime villain as a pirate setting out to steal the Krabby Patty formula. Complete with four deeply irritating seagulls, easily the low point of the film, he wants the recipe for his own burger van. Inevitably, this necessitates a trip into our world to retrieve it, SpongeBob taking his friends Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke), Sandy (Carolyn Lawrence), Mr. Krabs (Clancy Brown) and Squidward (Rodger Bumpass) alongside uneasy ally Plankton to retrieve the recipe and a magic book that allowed the now titled Burger Beard to steal it in the first place

The crazy fast punning anarchy of the seafloor collapses on dry land. Unable to rely on the animated madness that propels so much of SpongeBob, it becomes a restrictively formulaic affair. There are still inspired moments – the aforementioned candy floss blow out and SpongeBob’s deft job at incapacitating a cannonball barrage shine. Otherwise, it lapses into a routine and overlong chase.

Luckily, this segment only comes late on. Return them to animated form and all is well. The sheer number of wacky puns and strange set pieces overwhelm the screen rapidly. Even with regular misfires, the hit rate is surprisingly high, the pace relentless. Laughter across all ages should keep rolling regularly. It could be a military battle fought with condiments, an extended riff on Plankton’s inability to grasp the concept of the term teamwork, or indeed its pronunciation. It might be psychedelic time travelling or a guardian dolphin voiced by Matt Berry. Wherever you look, there’s enough to entertain.

SpongeBob SquarePants is a baffling success. It’s nonsense of the highest order that manages to work on multiple levels despite freewheeling around like it doesn’t even know its own name. Keep it in the animated ocean and adults and children alike are in for a good time.

Director: Paul Tibbitt
Stars: Tom Kenny, Antonio Banderas, Bill Fagerbakke
Runtime: 92 mins
Country: USA

Film Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

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