I love Spongebob.
This revelation is often met by groans of disapproval from my peers, or worried frowns. Now, I’m not a fanatic. In fact, I haven’t really watched any of the episodes past season 3. Like all popular things, a good example being The Simpsons, the corporate overlords soon displace the creative team and ensure that the show is never allowed to die. And so it stumbles on, an animated corpse, bereft of any emotion or vision that made it great in the first place. But the networks will still buy it, so that’s okay.
Thing is, back in 1999 when Spongebob first aired, there wasn’t a lot else like it. It had a cute, surreal charm and wacky characters that made it an immediate hit with the kids, but it also had a dry wit and penchant for the grotesque that soon hooked the adults. It cracked me up, anyway. I have a bunch of episodes on VHS that still bring tears to my eyes.
2015 marks the tenth anniversary of the The Spongebob Squarepants Movie. I struggle to believe it, myself. The show had been going for five or six years by the time of the movie’s release, and for the most part it was winding down. Sponge-mania had passed. So it’s all the more surprising that the show is still going and a second movie is on the way. It feels like just yesterday that I went to the cinema to see the first one. It was really rather good.
The story revolves around Spongebob’s quest to be a man. He realises that everyone sees him as a kid, and no-one takes him seriously. It starts when he asks to be appointed manager of the Krusty Krab restaurant. He’s shot down by his boss and laughed at by the customers. He falls into a deep depression, and only snaps out of it when a crisis looms; the town of Bikini Bottom is enslaved by the evil Plankton (and his computer wife, Karen) in a vicious and well-played coup.
To save the day, Spongebob must travel to a distant land and retrieve King Neptune’s golden crown. Along the way, he has run-ins with robbers, thugs, terrifying monsters and a bounty hunter called Dennis. Throughout he struggles to reconcile his childlike leanings with the seriousness of the quest at hand, and eventually loses faith in himself and his mission.
However, with a little luck and some help from David Hasselhoff, Spongebob manages to get the crown and return to Bikini Bottom just in time to… be mercilessly mocked by Plankton, who says that Spongebob is just a stupid kid, and never had a chance of saving the day or being a hero.
Briefly accepting this assessment, Spongebob looks back at his quest and looks deep inside himself and has an epiphany. Maybe he is just a kid… But he fought the monsters, and got the crown, and rode the Hasselhoff and did everything that they said a kid couldn’t do! So he realises that he doesn’t have to fit in, he just has to be himself. His confidence renewed, Spongebob magically transforms into a guitar-playing wizard and frees the populace of Bikini Bottom with the power of music.
And that is why I love Spongebob.
“Hit with the kids”