SpongeBob Squarepants: Redemption through madness

MARCH 9 — There are NO spoilers in this movie review!

The latest animated flick to hit cinemas, SpongeBob SquarePants: Sponge Out Of Water, is a hilarious, irreverent and gleefully nonsensical tale with a message so serious it couldn’t be delivered any other way. I’m not a regular fan of the TV series but I’m glad I didn’t need to be one to enjoy this movie. 

Even more ‘extreme’ than The Simpsons or The Penguins of Madagascar, SpongeBob is the kind of show where literally ‘anything’ can happen with absolutely zero explanation. The biggest mistake you can make in watching this film is to expect things to be “logical.”

I mean, you’ve got time-travelling dolphins whose only job is ensuring that planets don’t collide (how? By the mere act of watching). You’ve got machine guns, tanks and giant mayonnaise sauce bottles appearing out of nowhere. 

You’ve got pirate ships turning into meals-on-wheels eateries. On one level this show makes Dumb & Dumber look like The Theory of Everything. And if you’ve seen the poster in cinemas, you’ll know that sometime during the movie SpongeBob and his friends make the transition from “cartoon” to “animated-in-real-life” characters – how this happens is one of the most original moments of an already very original movie.

Like jazz, the movie has a very thin baseline of coherency around which all hell and insanity breaks loose. It improvises every three seconds. 

Almost everything in the movie “does not make sense” but it does (or does not) so in a way which, paradoxically enough, makes sublime sense. 

The objective of movies like SpongeBob is not to present a compelling plot (this does exist) and neither is it to give you a great story (though undeniably you’ll get one). The key point, rather, is to treat you to a topsy-turvy experience of the unexpected, the bizarre, the it’s-so-weird-it-must-be-right kind of phenomenon.

The movie pokes fun at almost everything about modern life from the way comedy talk shows always include drum-rolls after the punchline, to how business owners hate refunds and love to gloat when competitors fail, to the high sugar content of cotton candy.

Even the character of SpongeBob himself fails to “map” to anything in reality we know of. At least in the Simpsons or Dumb & Dumber, we’re dealing with people (albeit extraordinary ones). But who – or what – is SpongeBob?

He’s (even using “he” with SpongeBob assumes sexuality and practically all the characters in the movie are asexual or just beyond the category of “sexual”) – ok, SpongeBob is, well, a talking sponge with hands and legs who, well, lives under the water in a “town” called Bikini Bottom. 

His friends include a starfish named Patrick who’s always hungry, a four-legged bored-of-life squid called Squidward, Sandy a cat who wears a spacesuit because she, uh, can’t breathe underwater and – get it? These are simply the basic characters without any context or storyline thrown in yet.

So, uh, what’s the plot? Well, it seems that everyone in Bikini Bottom (the underwater town) is obsessed with the Krabby Patty, a burger sold in the restaurant in which SpongeBob works (oh, SpongeBob is also a burger cook – makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?). Everybody loves this burger and hates the food sold at a competitor restaurant run by the sinister scheming Plankton (who’s also a plankton). 

Plankton becomes super-jealous and wants to steal the “secret formula” for the Krabby Patty (hidden inside a safe in the restaurant). After a series of absolutely ridiculous (but entirely hilarious!) attempts by Plankton to attain the formula, said formula - for reasons which deserve to be enjoyed rather than explained—goes missing. 

With the formula gone, eventually the Krabby Patty – the burger the entire town loves – also runs out, which leads to... apocalyptic meltdown! 

Everybody goes on a violent rampage and it’s up to SpongeBob and Plankton (both of whom have now formed a strange alliance) to find the formula and, hey, save Bikini Bottom.

I’m going to stop explaining the plot from here on. Just trust me when I say that 1) this is not your average “buddy” movie or any kind of movie for that matter and 2) the fun is not in the storyline itself but the outrageously STUPID things that happen along the way but 3) far from having to “park your brains at the door”, I actually believe you’ll enjoy this more if you keep your eyes and ears open.

I said earlier that the movie had a serious message. In fact, I think it has two. The first message is that the world and what it cherishes are largely indistinguishable from madness. Take anything too seriously and we risk ending up in the madhouse or sending the planet there. 

Consider the major scene in the movie in which a Hobbesian nightmare breaks out and there is a war of  “all against all” simply because... the burgers are no more. This is absurd in substance but is dangerously true in form. 

In our world today, what kinds of absences of negativities threaten to cause all-out anarchy? Straight-forward ideas would be if, say, our oil wells ran dry. But what else? 

What are people so obsessed with that they’d be willing to kill in the absence of said thing? What would cause a breakdown in social order leading us to do unimaginable things? I

f one answer is democracy and we’re willing to cause havoc if there is no democracy, then the movie’s lesson to the world is profound: Democracy is no better than a burger.

Which brings me to what I feel is the movie’s second message: There is a redemptive kind of madness to counter the destructive madness which exists. 

The solution to the world’s outrageous condition is not necessarily more “logic”, “reason” and “truth.” Perhaps what we need is an even more outrageous kind of love, crazy forms of dedication to one another, insane acts of peace and kindness. 

If our “best and brightest” are leading the country towards socio-political catastrophe and environmental meltdown maybe our world’s hope lies with our “worst and dimmest.” 

Perhaps we don’t need heroes with OxBridge degrees and CEO credentials; perhaps we need a Saviour whose biggest talent is catching cannonballs with bubbles and loves nothing more than spending time with his pet snail. 

Even the very nature of the movie caters to audiences who are mad enough to “get it”; people who privilege reason and logic above all else will, I bet, find this show a waste of time. 

Listening to a Leonard Bernstein performance and complaining that he’s so much harder to appreciate than Richard Clayderman says everything about the listener and nothing about Bernstein.

So I urge you: Go and enjoy this superb presentation of society’s truths presented in the form of spectacular nonsense. Why must the true be shown in the guise of the insane? 

Who knows, maybe some truths can only be appreciated sideways?

 * This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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