YOU GOTTA LOVE SpongeBob. Coolest sponge in the sea, although this one has a suspiciously manufactured look. Not exactly the sessile, aquatic, porous being you'd find underwater. More like the yellow block you'd buy at Safeway -- except with a cheesy, grinning face. And tautly stretched underpants around his nether regions.
In "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie," he's a squeezable delight for a strange coalition of fans: young children, of course; parents who get a kick out of his asides (not to mention his weirder pals, like Patrick Star the starfish); and college-age kids who (this is a theory) get to vicariously relive the childishness they're supposed to be too cool to enjoy anymore.
SpongeBob (voice of Tom Kenny) is convinced he's getting the manager job at a brand-new fast-food venture, the Crusty Crab 2. But manager Eugene H. Krabs (Clancy Brown) gives the job to dour Squidward Tentacles (Rodger Bumpass). SpongeBob isn't mature enough, Krabs tells him.
Not mature enough? NOT MATURE ENOUGH?? Why, that's enough to make SpongeBob scream and wail like, well, a kid. But his chance to prove himself comes soon enough. King Neptune loses his royal crown, which the extremely small but evil Sheldon J. Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) has not only filched but fooled the fishtailed ruler into believing was taken by Larry the Lobster (Lawrence as well). SpongeBob and Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) have to find the crown before Neptune aims his burning trident at Larry and turns him into lobster crisp.
Of course, the little comic flourishes are the high points of any SpongeBob adventure. Like the way SpongeBob has absolutely no reaction for about 10 seconds when Plankton baldly states he intends to create evil and mayhem. Or the way SpongeBob showers: swallows a bar of soap and lets it froth through his pores. Then there's the extreme flip-outs or glee attacks he and goofy Patrick enjoy. They either cry themselves literally into a puddle or hoot hysterically.
SpongeBob creator Stephen Hillenburg, a marine biologist-turned-animator, throws humorous fish bones to the older crowd, too. In a mixture of cartoon and live action, our central pals take a ride on the hairy body of David Hasselhoff as a surfing dude ex machina. And adults will enjoy SpongeBob's reaction before and after the news about the managerial job. At first, he skips happily toward the Crab 2, repeating "I'm ready, promotion, I'm ready, promotion." But after hearing he's not getting the position, he slinks away chanting, "I'm ready, depression, I'm ready, depression."
Sponge fans, are you ready?
THE SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS MOVIE (PG, 88 minutes) -- Contains cartoon butts, fart and burp humor, an extremely mild obscenity and underwear tug-downs -- all the good stuff. Area theaters.