Flop Like a Fish

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she's purd-y spongebob

The classic woe-is-me line that parents of young kids use is “I can’t even remember the last movie we went out to see.” (I really can’t remember the last movie the missus and I went out to see). But this, of course, ignores the fact that parents often goes out to see films, it’s just that they’re all kids movies. That’s because we’re usually trying to forget these movies.

So when the SpongeBob SquarePants Movie came out I jumped at the chance to fulfill my parenting duty before getting stuck seeing to see some Disney holiday-related piece of mush. SpongeBob is the only Nickelodeon show that I haven’t gotten sick of. Jimmy Neutron and Rocket Power may have been all right at first, but they couldn’t hold up to the ten million replayings that Nickelodeon subjects every show to quite like SpongeBob could. SpongeBob's the only show you want them to play 10 million times. It’s also a source of bonding each time the men of the house can recite whole episodes and drive the woman of the house bonkers.

So perhaps I went into the SpongeBob movie with my expectations too high. I anticipated something akin to an animated Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. Or maybe a Blazing Saddles for kids. Something that was wall-to-wall non-stop wackiness. Sad to say, SpongeBob was nowhere near that much fun. The writers stuck to one never-deviated-from story for the whole eighty-minute movie, rather than take the wild tangents I hoped for. While one story works for an eight minute episode, it falls short in a movie ten times as long.

Right from the start the mood was wrong. While the pirate-related opening was wacky, having the pirates sing the SpongeBob theme in the style of a 40’s musical was the film’s first missed opportunity. The TV show starts with the theme song as call and response, and if the movie followed that style they would have had the kids in my audience going nuts. Imagine a theatre full of kids screaming a theme song they know by heart. Instead most of the kids tried to do a sing alone, but quickly gave up. So instead of a charged audience, you had an audience that sounded like it had the wind knocked out of it. Five minutes into the movie and the audience’s enthusiasm is being snuffed.

Another problem was that, while I understand that the movie is about SpongeBob and his best friend Patrick, the other players from the TV show hardly ever seen. Instead, SpongeBob and Patrick are surrounded mostly by new characters created just for the movie (and David Hasselhoff, playing his Baywatch uber-lifeguard – a joke lost on every kid in the theatre and not that funny to those adults who did get it). These new characters all seem to be stolen straight from the Disney playbook. Some of them, like Jeffrey Tambor’s King Neptune, are somewhat off-kilter, but no more than recent Disney characters like Shrek’s Donkey or the Lion King’s Timon. The SpongeBob creators had a chance to ridicule these quasi-hip-but-really-white-bread Disney smart-alects (who all seem to me to be voiced by either Eddie Murphy or Nathan Lane), but instead they just lazily copy them.

Even worse is King Neptune’s daughter Mindy, played by the beautiful Scarlett Johansson (pictured above) of Lost in Translation fame. She is the textbook Disney earnest new friend who teaches the lead characters that they have the power to do whatever they are willing to work toward. Here is an element of childrens' movies that is ripe for ridicule, but again the SpongeBob guys just go with the flow and do little with Johansson’s character. After her one funny scene she just becomes annoying.

The final letdown was that there was no surprise after the credits ran. My son and I (and half the crowd) waited and could not believe that they wouldn’t add something – anything – here. Even the lamest of kids’ movies do that these days. Luckily the kids who were waiting could make finger shadows over the credits to keep themselves entertained.

I know that I may be taking all of this too seriously, but I was disappointed for both my son and me, never mind the fact that a night at the movies is twenty bucks for the two of us. The film moved along quickly enough but it didn’t produce a lot of laughs for anyone at our showing. I really expected it to be a raucous scene in the theatre but many times there was complete silence. I don't even expect silence in the theatre during an adult drama these days, much less at a cartoon.

Did I like it? Yeah. Could it have been much funnier? Absolutely. Am I glad I took my son to this and got out of taking him to the next Murphy/Lane Disney movie? No doubt about it. Is it annoying when a reviewer asks questions like this? Positively. But I can’t help thinking that the most fun my son had was making those finger shadows during the credits. For that I paid $20.


At 4:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you right? definitely. Are you taking a movie about a sponge named Bob way too seriously? Absolutely. Do I have a better offer for you? You bet.

For only $10, Nick can come to my house and do shadow puppets in front of our living room lamp. Family discount applies if you want to bring Sam along as well.

I have to say that I find it impossible to get too much of Nathan Lane.


At 6:25 PM, Blogger Mark said...

"I have to say that I find it impossible to get too much of Nathan Lane"

I think they still have those camps out in Idaho to de-program brainwashed people like you.

At 8:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm seriously shocked that anyone who voted for Kerry wouldn't support Nathan Lane movies haha



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