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The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie

Loony 'Toons a Delight for Kids, Adults

SpongeBob SquarePants and his best buddy, Pat, are the unlikely heroes of The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, a 90-minute glimpse into the zany adventures of a walking, talking sponge with a pathological fondness for ice cream sundaes. Yes, it stands to reason that SpongeBob, in the movie bearing his alliterative moniker, should save the tiny town of Bikini Bottom and foil an evil madman bent on world domination. Yet he remains an improbable savior because he's so blissfully oblivious to his surroundings and so easily distracted from the task at hand.

Perhaps that's why his boss, the amiable Mr. Krabs, passes him over for a promotion at his beloved Krusty Krabs restaurant. As Krabs gently explains, SpongeBob is just a kid, well-meaning but too immature to supervise a business. Only a man can manage, Krabs reasons, and he needs a manager, not a "kidager," for his lucrative new eatery, Krusty Krabs 2 -- conveniently located next door to the original.

SpongeBob, who's given to laughably dramatic bouts with depression that sometimes culminate in projectile sobbing, is dejected at the news and throws himself into an all-night ice cream binge that leaves him in a delirious haze. (Luckily, animated sundaes contain zero calories, enabling SpongeBob to fit into his square pants the next morning.) When he comes to, he sets out to prove that he is, in fact, a man.

The rest of the movie documents SpongeBob and Pat's rite of passage, during which the two timid, hyperactive buffoons blossom into courageous, hyperactive buffoons, saving King Neptune's missing crown and foiling the mischievous Plankton's Evil Plan Z in the process. That they happen to be riding David Hasselhoff -- quite literally -- during the movie's dramatic climax is just icing on this very tasty cake.

The good news for uninitiated adults is that SpongeBob SquarePants is, like Ren & Stimpy before it, a gleefully subversive blend of brilliant, breakneck animation and over-the-top humor with plenty of subtle jokes aimed at moviegoers over the age of 12. (Note that SpongeBob's trip to the ice cream parlor plays like a barroom debauch, as a clearly hung-over SpongeBob summons the courage to chew out his unappreciative boss.)

Tom Kenny and Bill Fagerbakke, who provide the voices of SpongeBob and Pat, respectively, breathe enough life into their characters to make them a genuine treat, innocent, high-pitched fools whose antics are as endearingly naÔve as they are amusing. In the end, they are still kids at heart, but they have learned one important lesson -- that hair-metal can set you free -- and reminded audiences of another: that sentimentality and clichť are no substitutes for inspired, family-oriented comedy.

What's not to like about that?

Stars: 4 out of 5