The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie
dir. Hillenburg
Opens Fri Nov 19
Various Theaters

The first thing I came across while I was researching The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie--and yes, I actually did research for The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie--was a raging internet debate as to whether or not the film's titular character is gay. (The debate had even spread to the conservative Wall Street Journal, which printed a front page story about Mr. SquarePants: "There is something about SpongeBob that whispers 'gay.'") C'mon, people. It's a cartoon, made for kids and stoned suburban teenagers--not a political manifesto.

Like his wildly successful TV show, SpongeBob's film takes place in the undersea city of Bikini Bottom. But all's not all right--temperamental King Neptune's crown has gone missing. Enter the gleefully sexually ambiguous SpongeBob and his starfish sidekick, Patrick Star, who volunteer to travel the long road to Shell City to recover the crown. No one's ever returned from Shell City, and the duo's journey proves suitably exciting and appropriately wacky. SpongeBob and Patrick's travels put them in contact with the requisite lineup of crazy characters, from a hit man biker named Dennis, to a slew of horrible monsters, to an evil tourist shop owner who wants to dry out SpongeBob and turn him into a trinket. All of this, of course, culminates in a final battle between our heroes and Dennis--enacted, for some reason, upon the hirsute real-life body of David Hasselhoff. (Don't ask. Just see it.)

In the light of recent animation blockbusters like Shark Tale, The Incredibles, and The Polar Express, SpongeBob is something of a relief--it's nothing more than a giddy cartoon, far from the sweeping epic that every other cartoon movie of late strives so hard to be. And it doesn't hurt that SpongeBob himself seems perfectly happy--dare I say even a little gay--about just being a kid. His film follows suit. It's a colorfully funny and whacked-out flick that should please the kiddie, stoner, and parent crowds all at once--as long as they can leave their sponge-orientation preconceptions at the door.