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SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, The
Are you ready, kids? I can't hear you…
I can remember exactly the two specific moments when I fell in love with SpongeBob SquarePants as a television cartoon. One involves the surprising appearance of Nosferatu, and the other includes the guest appearance of John Lurie as a fisherman. Sure, these are two very odd moments for me to choose as my reason for being forever hooked into the undersea world of Bikini Bottom, but these moments encompass everything that is so great about the show itself. What initially attracted me to SpongeBob SquarePants were the silly dialogue and the fact that it seemed so absurd for a sponge (let alone one that looks like something you'd find in your kitchen sink) to be the impetus for a children's cartoon. What held my long-term attraction to the show, however, was the clever dialogue, fairly adult in-jokes, and the pop culture references that no child (let alone most adults) would ever get. I mean, how many kids do you know that have any idea who Nosferatu is? How many kids (or adults without the complete set of Criterion Collection DVDs) would understand why it's so funny that John Lurie plays a fisherman in one episode? My point exactly. This is the genius that is Stephen Hillenburg's SpongeBob SquarePants.
Okay, okay. I know exactly what you're about to say. That's all fine and great, but what does it have to do with The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie? Well, that nice long introduction is my way of justifying the fact that, while it's a really enjoyable, fun film, it doesn't really live up to the genius of its television counterpart. As much fun as I had and as many times as I laughed during The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, I just couldn't get over the feeling that it all added up to being slightly disappointing when compared to the episodes on the small screen. It's almost as if Hillenburg had too much time and too many resources at his disposal, and (possibly at the behest of studio pressure) chose to make a much more child-oriented film than I had expected. There's no mistaking the fact that the kiddies will eat this one up. They will love every single bright, shiny, noisy moment of it, but what about us older folks? Where are all the clever little twists, in-jokes, and pop culture references? Where are Nosferatu and John Lurie when you need them?
The sheer lack of all these pieces of the SpongeBob puzzle is my major issue with The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. Gone are the aspects that I find most appealing about the television show. Sure, the opening live-action sequence is absolute genius, the Batman reference is cute, and the David Hasslehoff appearance (however strange) is funny and clever, but that's about where it ends in terms of adult-oriented elements. What makes me tune-in to every episode of the cartoon seems to get the short end of the stick in Hillenburg's feature film effort. It's unfortunate, but it's the truth.
Speaking of the short end of the stick, therein lies my only other real criticism of the film. What did Sandy Cheeks, Squidward, Mrs. Puff, and all the other secondary characters in SpongeBob SquarePants do to make Stephen Hillenburg mad? Whatever it was, it must have been pretty bad because they've really been relegated to the background in The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. Aside from Squidward, these characters barely even get any screen-time in the film, let alone something meaningful to do. It's really an unfortunate situation, as these characters make for some of the biggest laughs in the episodes. Hillenburg, instead, decides to introduce several new characters into the land of Bikini Bottom. And don't get me wrong, I understand his predicament. He clearly had a much larger canvas to fill in the feature film than on the small screen, and he probably needed to add a few unknown characters in order to get some major stars attached as voice actors. Or maybe he just wanted to try something a little bit different for the film. Nevertheless, the results aren't all bad. Jeffrey Tambor and Scarlett Johansson are very endearing as King Neptune and his Princess daughter. They make a fine addition to the undersea world. I have no issues with them being in the film, but it doesn't take away from the fact that I dearly missed the usual secondary characters. I just wish Hillenburg had given them more to do in this film.
I'm probably being too hard on The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie though. It most certainly is a very entertaining, fun film that the whole family can enjoy. Despite everything I've mentioned, I did have a good time with Hillenburg's film. SpongeBob, himself, is as lovable and naïve as ever, and the introduction of even more live-action elements worked great on the big screen. In the end, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie is still a fine film (and much better than most big screen adaptation of small screen cartoons). It merely fails to reach my admittedly mighty expectations and never quite matches the sheer genius of the show itself.
The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie is presented in an absolutely breathtaking anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer. Animation like this is all about bright, shiny colors, and the vibrant colors of Bikini Bottom and its inhabitants have never looked better than they do in this transfer. The wide range of colors are all incredibly bright, but never bloom or bleed, and saturation is spot-on throughout. Even the various shades of blue in the underwater environment are well differentiated. The animated scenes are sharply detailed and black levels are deep and rich. Even the scenes that mix live action with animation are beautifully handled here. Shadows and lighting are well delineated while the lack of any noticeable digital artifacts makes this transfer even more impression. Overall this is a top-notch visual presentation for which I could find nary a fault.
The audio on this disc is presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround formats, which are nearly as impressive as the visual presentation. While both tracks do a fine job, the obvious choice here is the Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Dialogue is always crisp, clear, and distinct, while spatial separation across the front soundstage is excellent. The surround channels do a nice job of providing an undersea ambience that places you right in the midst of Bikini Bottom. Throughout the film, there are directional effects with bubbling sounds coming from the surround speakers. The presence of these subtle effects make you feel as though you're a part of the undersea world of The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. The soundtrack also plays a large role in the film and it is presented nicely on this track, melding seamlessly with the rest of the audio, and never becoming overwhelming. While there are a few moments throughout the film where the LFE channel does kick in quite nicely, my only complaint with this audio presentation is that this low-end frequency could have been a bit more forceful and used even more frequently. Otherwise, this is an excellent track that provides a very enveloping aural experience.
Paramount wisely chose not to only include extra features that appeal to the kiddies on this DVD release. Instead, they've provided a nice assortment of bonus material that serves as a fine companion to the film itself.
The main extra feature on this disc is an 18-minute featurette called "The Absorbing Tale Behind The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie." Featuring interviews with most of the principal cast and crew, this feature is more an introduction the world of SpongeBob than a real behind-the-scenes look at the film. For those unfamiliar with the show, it serves as a great way to learn about Bikini Bottom and all that happens there. While there is some talk of what was different about the feature film from the show, it would have been nice to have a bit more depth in this featurette. People who have seen the show (and especially those who watch it religiously) won't find a lot of new information here. It is, however, still an interesting look at the people behind the scenes.
Next up is a 15-minute featurette called "Case of the Sponge 'Bob'" that is really more of a short film than your usual promotional featurette. Hosted by Jean-Michel Cousteau, this little film takes a look at all the real-life counterparts to the undersea creatures that inhabit Bikini Bottom. There is some gorgeous underwater photography, and the amount of actual information in this feature is surprising. Anyone with an interest in sea creatures will love this feature. It's not only a fun little film, but also much more educational than I had expected.
Also included on this disc are 20 minutes worth of Animatics, which showcase entire scenes from the film complete with dialogue from the original artists. It's an interesting feature that shows just how strongly the filmmakers relied on their storyboards when making The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. We also have a short informational feature called "Saving the Surf" that really serves as a promotional piece for the Surf Rider Foundation - an organization dedicated to saving our nation's oceans and beaches. They simply preach the importance of protecting our beaches and provide information on how to become a member.
Finally, we have the teaser trailer for The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, as well as trailers for Lemony Snicket's: A Series of Unfortunate Events and SpongeBob SquarePants: The Complete Second Season on DVD. Also included on the DVD-Rom portion of the disc is a THQ Game Demo for The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie game.
If you're a parent, this one's a no-brainer. Chances are you took your children to see The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie several times in the theater and swiped this disc up as fast as it hit the store shelves. Despite some missteps, by Creator Stephen Hillenburg, in translating his enormously successful cartoon to the big screen, he still manages to craft an entertaining, clever little film about everyone's favorite square, yellow sponge. You can't go wrong with a disc that provides a nearly perfect audio-visual presentation, and also manages to pack in a nice assortment of extra material. The extra features, while appealing to the younger audiences, are insightful enough to cater to the older crowd as well. While it may not live up to the greatness of its small screen counterpart, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie still comes as highly recommended for anyone in the mood for a little fun.