In this moistened epic, Antonio Banderas plays a raffish brigand of the deep named Burger Beard whose role is both narration and villainy. (He’s also the punch line.) But when we first meet BB, he pulls out a big leatherbound book to explain the story to a number of nosy seagulls while pulling a switch on the ship’s wheel that turns on the “Automatic Pirate.” Later, when full-on war breaks out between Burger Beard and SpongBob’s neighbors in Bikini Bottom, they fire condiments at each other (of course). One of the generals commands them to let loose with the mayonnaise. “With relish,” says SpongeBob.
This whole movie would make James Joyce happy; it’s brimming with puns, narrative loops, and complicated satirical references to philosophical issues. But don’t get confused: The real issue concerning SpongeBob, Patrick, Squidward, and their TV gang is their ongoing pitched battle with tiny, disgruntled Plankton over a plundered secret formula for Krabby Patties, which necessitates a trip up to dry land and computer animation. In other words, this complicated bit of nonsense and slapstick cartoon-meets-live-action plot is, like most great contemporary comedy, about nothing but itself.
It’s lovely in 3D, and the animators have made shifting perspectives, watery designs, and surprising juxtapositions the rule. At one point, the Bikini Bottom questers get transported to a the cosmic realm of a “watcher,” a talismanic comic book character who has observed the movements of the planets for 10,000 years without a bathroom break. SpongeBob offers to watch the universe for him while he pees, with predictable results. It’s a cosmic perspective on bathroom humor, a finny version of Finnegan’s Wake.