No Pixar? No problem! An unstoppable good-mood generator, the resolutely 2-D SpongeBob SquarePants Movie has more yuks than Shark Tale and enough soul to swallow The Polar Express whole. It's a kids' movie that deigns to understand what kids want to seehysterical amplifications of kid-like behavior and the making funof oldsters, rather than the pop-cult winking and cruddy nostalgia that said oldsters presumably favor. When the mighty King Neptune (Jeffrey Tambor) discloses his shiny pate, onlookers shriek, "Bald! Bald!" (One poor soul moans, "My eyes!")
In a bid for undersea domination, the devious Plankton frames SpongeBob's fast-food-stand boss, Mr. Krabs, as a thief, in order to steal his secret Krabby Patty formula. The tiny villain lures the denizens of Bikini Bottom to his Chum Bucket, then slaps on mind-control headgearwe see them slaving like orcs to construct the grim new city of Planktopolis. (The film is ambivalent enough about such kid-friendly eateries to serve as a Super Size Me for small fry.) In a gleeful meta-movie maneuver, the quest of the titular cardboard-trousered porifera (Tom Kenny) and his doughy starfish chum, Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke), to retrieve Neptune's missing crown from the forbidding Shell City is positioned as a matinee offering attended by a crew of rowdy if softhearted pirates. It's a safety valve: Any tendency toward mawkishness gets dressed down as overserious movie-ness, and the deliriously out-of-nowhere climax is both a thrilling rip-off and cheeky parody of School of Rock's big emotive moment. Could SpongeBob, all gangly goodwill and ice cream appetite, be the anarchic savior for our stressed-out times? It's enough for him to be (in one superannuated character's words) a "Knucklehead McSpazzatron."
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