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Fun-Soaked Splash: 'SpongeBob SquarePants'

By Jennifer Frey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 19, 2004; Page C01

Oh, who lives in a pineapple under the sea?

SpongeBob SquarePants!

SpongeBob (Tom Kenny) hopes to prove to the denizens of Bikini Bottom that he's not wet behind the ears. (Paramount Pictures)

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Absorbent and yellow and porous is he!


Singing along yet? Ahhh, it's okay. He's hard to resist, this kitchen-sink-sponge kid who dresses in (what else?) square pants and lives at the bottom of the ocean in the amusingly named Bikini Bottom. SpongeBob and his fellow cast of characters -- chief among them his doofy friend Patrick, a starfish -- have been drawing laughs for five years with their television show on Nickelodeon.

Created by Stephen Hillenburg, a former marine biologist, the "SpongeBob" cartoon is a classic: It's silly, it's sweet, and it's full of all those adolescent jokes many find hard to resist (think flatulence). And for those already acquainted with this sponge and his friends, "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie" provides an amusing enough romp through his familiar undersea universe -- along with detours to the dreaded Shell City (supposedly protected by a cyclops) and the mainland.

The movie opens (well, after a live-action spoof featuring a bunch of bumbling pirates thrilled to receive tickets to the SpongeBob movie) with SpongeBob (voiced by Tom Kenny) exuberantly anticipating the announcement that he will be the new manager at the Krusty Krab 2, a franchise of the restaurant where he works. He is giddy! He is excited! He is about to receive some real, grown-up responsibility!

Or not. To SpongeBob's utter dismay, owner Eugene H. Krabs gives the job to persnickety cashier Squidward (voiced by Rodger Bumpass -- and no, to all those snickering out there, that is not a misprint). SpongeBob, Mr. Krabs explains, is only a kid. Heartbroken, SpongeBob heads off with Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) to the bar at Goofy Goober's, where they proceed to order round after round of ice cream, which leads to all manner of staggering, public singing and on-the-floor collapsing. They wake with bloodshot eyes, five o'clock shadows and decidedly less square pants.

Meanwhile, though, the evil Plankton, jealous as always over the Krusty Krab's success (his own restaurant, the Chum Bucket, is perpetually empty), has decided to set in motion "Plan Z."

"It's evil! It's diabolical! It's lemon-scented!" he crows.

It consists of stealing the crown of King Neptune (guest voice Jeffrey Tambor) and framing Mr. Krabs for the theft. If the crown -- now supposedly in Shell City -- is not returned in six days, Neptune will execute Mr. Krabs for the sin of permanently exposing his (gasp!) bald spot.

Enter SpongeBob, who decides that he and Patrick will prove they really aren't "just kids" by journeying to Shell City to rescue the crown. The adventure that follows occasionally feels drawn out -- the movie, after all, is seven times as long as the "SpongeBob" cartoons, which come two to the half-hour. Welcome additions, though, are Tambor, Scarlett Johansson as his softhearted daughter (who makes Patrick slobber and swoon), and Alec Baldwin as Dennis, the hit man sent by Plankton. The film's also peppered with hilarious musical numbers (including the mustached SpongeBob and Patrick belting out "Now That We're Men"), those classic 9-year-old boy jokes (Patrick gets depantsed, only to be found wearing Goofy Goober underwear); and some truly clever one-liners:

"You can't fool me, I listen to public radio!"

"I rode the Hasselhoff!"

I rode the Hasselhoff?

Ah, yes, the Hasselhoff. In a hilarious spoof, David Hasselhoff, aka the dean of "Baywatch," shows up late in the film to help rescue SpongeBob and Patrick (who, we must point out, encounter a bit more scariness in the movie than they usually do in the cartoon). We won't spoil all the fun, but getting to see the hairs on Hasselhoff's back (and thighs, and calves) magnified exponentially is perhaps a bit creepy. Like the movie, it's all in good fun.

The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (88 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG for some cartoon violence.

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