The guest artist voices should be a clue that the filmmakers haven't trusted entirely in what got 'em there -- the amusement, charm and irritations spawned by the love-hate relationships between the lead characters: the emotionally hyper SpongeBob, his goofy starfish pal Patrick, the money-hungry restaurant owner Mr. Krabs and the gloomy neighbor Squidward. Occupying too much screen time are King Neptune (voiced by Jeffrey Tambor), his dishy fishy mermaid daughter Mindy (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), and a big ugly biker hit man (voiced by Alec Baldwin). Although these characters are essential to the plotline of the slightly scary journey SpongeBob and Patrick take to try to recover Neptune's crown, which Mr. Krabs has been falsely accused of stealing by the evil Plankton, the big name (and presumably high-cost) voices that emerge from their mouths add nothing really wonderful to the whole. Better we'd been allowed to hear more of Rodger Bumpass as squelchy, wingeing Squidward or Clancy Brown's grating bossiness as the greedy Mr. Krabs, both of whom are reduced to sideline players as the story heads out of Bikini Bottom on the quest to the creepy Shell City.
Somehow, the delightful anarchy created by SpongeBob's irrepressible naivety is overtaken in this story by a much less pleasing nastiness resulting from too many fight sequences and some off-the-wall stuff which seems merely attention-getting rather than integral. Yes, we expect underwear jokes, but not quite so many rock-bottom references as have crept in here. And although SpongeBob's bipolar moods always mean he tends to weep copiously one minute and cackle with laughter the next, here it seems there's too much crying -- although it must be said a tear is used as a clever plot point.
The fanciful color and imaginative transitions that make the TV cartoons so appealing to both adults and kids seems a little muted and hasty super-sized on the big screen. There's also a lot of music to fill out a soundtrack album, but none of it is especially effective within the story.
The characters' creator and movie's director Stephen Hillenburg has always had eye-poppingly bright ideas about what is weirdly humorous, but perhaps having "Baywatch" hulk David Hasselhoff use his sparsely clad body as a surfboard for the little square-bottomed hero and his five-pointed sidekick, is just going one brainwave too far. Voiced by Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbakke, Rodger Bumpass, Doug Lawrence, Jeffrey Tambor, Clancy Brown, Alec Baldwin and Scarlett Johansson. Directed by Stephen Hillenburg. Written by Stephen Hillenburg, Derek Drymon, Tim Hill, Kent Osborne, Aaron Springer and Paul Tibbitt. Produced by Julia Pistor and Stephen Hillenburg. A Paramount release. Animated/Comedy. Rated PG for some mild crude humor. Running time: 84 min