The sixth season of the long-running show "South Park" (18 seasons and counting) included an episode titled "Simpsons Already Did It," bemoaning how the venerable animated sitcom (26 seasons and counting) had been everywhere, done everything first. It's a notion that leaps to mind while watching "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water," a TV-to-feature-film sequel that, while pleasingly zany, feels like it's going through tired motions.
"SpongeBob SquarePants" may only have logged nine seasons and two films to date, but it's been on the cultural landscape since 1999. Over those 16 years, Stephen Hillenburg's Nickelodeon series has remained popular with tykes even as it slid out of cultural prominence among adult animation fans. Now the sequel to 2004's "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie" arrives to flog a dead (sea)horse. The film's promotion has centered around SpongeBob at last being in 3-D, including sequences blending live-action footage and 3-D computer-generated versions of the familiar 2-D models. Guess what? "Simpsons" already did it (in 1995's "Treehouse of Horror VI").
More importantly, "Sponge Out of Water" treads water with a plot line that's as old as the gills, and sadly accurate self-reflexive jokes about a protracted running time. Anchored as always by apple-cheeked sea sponge SpongeBob (Tom Kenny), the cast of literally bubbly characters find their most basic plot scenario (fast-food competitor Plankton steals the secret recipe to the Krusty Krab's addictive Krabby Patty) dressed up with hyperbolic plot accessories including a time machine and a climax shifting from under-the-sea Bikini Bottom to live-action-land Salty Shoals. (Our world holds a troublesome pirate named Burger Beard, played by a live-action, scenery-chewing Antonio Banderas.)
The film is often mildly amusing, with a dedicated kookiness (a food fight that's an excuse for lame puns: "Unleash the condiments!" "With relish"), wildly careening plot (Bikini Bottom dissolves into a "post-apoca-watchamacallit"), and an overriding comic optimism (rainbows, lollipops, and needlepoint) playing into a nominal theme -- complete with theme song -- of teamwork.
In the end, this sequel retains the series' pleasing weirdness, but the concept dried up some time ago.
Rated PG for mild action and rude humor. One hour, 33 minutes.