Less is More when it comes to “The Spongebob Movie: Sponge out of Water”

Sponge out of Water

For some reason I can’t fully comprehend, I really, really wanted The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water to be good. And not in the regular way I want every movie that I see to be good, but in a particularly strong way. It’s almost as if I had some personal investment in the creative success of this movie. I have a few theories as to why that might’ve been the case, but before I go into them, I have to lead this review by letting you know that the movie was not what I was hoping for. It is by no means a disaster, but it’s also nowhere near the quality of the best episodes of the television show it’s based on.

That might actually be the perfect point to start. Because not only did I feel like this movie had to be good in order to justify its existence, but also in order to justify the fact that I like Spongebob Squarepants as a character, a television show, and a franchise. It’s weird to call Spongebob an underdog, since it remains one of the most popular cartoons in the world despite being fifteen years old. It makes billions of dollars for Nickelodeon every year, and if the opening weekend numbers for The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water are any indication, it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Still, I feel like there’s a certain stigma against Spongebob, especially coming from cinephiles. I think part of it is that Spongebob is a relatively young show as far as nostalgia is concerned. The people that grew up with Spongebob are younger millennials, who are probably twenty or younger. Most film critics are older than that. The second thing is the show’s unapologetically campy sense of humor. I might be wrong, but I feel like adults who don’t like Spongebob regard the main character as cheesy, and the show’s jokes as corny, and miss the “camp” of it all. I won’t be the kind of idiot that quotes Susan Sontag the minute he starts talking about camp, so I’ll just say that I think Spongebob does a pretty good job of fitting her description.

In any case, let us put the value of Spongebob Squarepants, the television show, aside for a second, and focus on what goes wrong in The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water. One can simply start by analyzing the title, which I’m pretty sure was changed for marketing purposes. You see, the promotional campaign for Sponge Out of Water has strongly advertised the fact that, in this movie, Spongebob and the gang step out of the ocean and into the real world. I assume this has to do with the fact that similar movies about cartoon characters stepping into the real world (see The Smurfs) have been very successful. The truth is that the “Sponge Out of Water” part makes up less than a third of this movie. It’s basically a final act twist not too different from what happens near the end of The Spongebob Squarepants Movieonly this time, it has been thoroughly spoiled by the marketing.

Maybe if they hadn’t advertised the Spongebob stepping into the real world nobody would’ve gone to see this movie. I, for one, was looking forward to seeing how the Spongebob writers would handle mixing our world to the sense of humor of the Spongebob universe, but what I got was something far less unique. The movie turns out to be an extended Spongebob adventure focusing on the well-known rivalry between Spongebob and Plankton, the evil creature that wants to steal the “secret formula” necessary to cook the delicious krabby patties Spongebob makes a living off of cooking, and how it is put to test when a mysterious pirate (played by Antonio Banderas) enters the picture.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this premise, that’s for sure. Sponge Out of Water is the type of movie that fires a thousand jokes per minute at you, and like most movies of that ilk, some of the jokes are funnier than others. The laugh ratio of this movie is not great, but it’s also not too shabby. The problem with it is a little bit more fundamental. You see, when cartoons turn to the big screen, they tend to come up with a “big adventure” that will justify the over-sizing of what would usually be a 20-minute episode. Some shows translate to this template better than others. Spongebob did it pretty well for its first movie back in 2004. This time, however, it becomes apparent that “big adventures” are not Spongebob‘s forte.

I think of the best episodes of Spongebob and they have a similar thing in common: they are relatively low-stakes and often very small in scale. My two favorite episodes of all-time are the one where Spongebob and Squidward have to deliver a pizza and get lost on the way, and the one in which Spongebob has to work the night shift at the Krusty Krab despite being terrified by Squidward’s ghost stories. Spongebob’s brand of camp works better in mundane situations where the spectacle comes from the character’s quirk and not from any action sequence. After all, one of the most memorable set pieces in Spongebob‘s history is a scene of him cookingSponge Out of Water is not a terrible movie, but is bigger, louder, and shoutier than it needed to be.

Grade: 6 out of 10


  1. smilingldsgirl · February 12, 2015

    Man you are tough on animated films. I thought it was wacky and surprising and funny. I am annoyed the trailer is so misleading. It’s like they were afraid to tell us it was mostly 2d hand drawn animation. I gave it a B because I liked the animation, it surprised me and made me laugh.

    • Conrado Falco · February 12, 2015

      You know what? You might be right. I think the misleading trailer had a lot to do with my (lack of) enjoyment of the movie. Still, I hope we’re on the same page in saying it’s nowhere near the quality of the best Spongebob episodes…right?

      • smilingldsgirl · February 13, 2015

        Agreed. Spongebob came out when I was a freshman in college and didn’t have a TV so I kind of missed that whole thing. I have since watched the first season and I agree the movie is not as good.
        I guess I was excited to see something different. The 2D and the craziness was a surprise and so I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. (So often in life your experience is dictated by your expectations).
        Just seems like the only animated films you praise are from Studio Ghibli. I’m not saying a movie like Spongebob was on the Ghibli level but it made me laugh, surprised me and was neat to look at. Enough to get a B in my book. I thought last year was so strong in animation with such varrying topics and characters. Everything from comic books, to day of the dead, to legos to Boxtrolls. To me there was only 2 real failures in Legends of Oz and The Nut Job. I’ve been reviewing a lot of the hidden gems from 2014 on my blog lately and tomorrow will see Song of the Sea and very excited for that.

        My review of Spongebob if you want to take a look. http://wp.me/p4VRGy-10R :)

      • Conrado Falco · February 13, 2015

        Wow, you’ve made me realize I probably haven’t written a lot about animated movies that I’ve loved in the blog lately. Rest assured that I have lots of favorites outside of Ghibli, it’s just that the past few years haven’t been all that great for American animation (in my opinion).

        Also, your comment prompted me to write a post explaining what my grading numbers mean in order to be clearer, here’s a link if you wanna check that out https://cocohitsny2.wordpress.com/2015/02/14/explaining-the-grading-system/

        And yeah, reading your review makes me reconsider the funniest moments of Sponge Out of Water. It was indeed a pretty bonkers movie.

      • smilingldsgirl · February 13, 2015

        Cool. Thanks for responding so thoughtfully and not getting defensive. I look forward to reading about other films you love.

        I’ll definitely read your blog post on your grading . It does help a lot to know how someone judges things. Another blogger I felt like he was very negative because he gave everything D’s and C’s. Then I found out his favorite animated movie he still gave a B too. I’m probably too liberal with my A’s. :) It’s not like Spongebob was a masterpiece but I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.

        I just saw Song of the Sea. I actually think it is even better than Kaguya. I cried my eyes out.

      • smilingldsgirl · February 16, 2015

        I just did a similar post on my grading system

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