'SpongeBob' is soaked with fun

The big-screen version taps the inner child in everyone.

I'll admit it. I'm a few decades older than the primary demographic of "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie."

I'll also admit I had a great time at "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie." Why? I'll admit that, too. The picture put me in touch with my inner child. In a nutshell, "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie" recognizes that my inner child is about 95 percent crazy and at least half out of control - and that's on the good days. The other days are even more fun, but let's not go there. SpongeBob goes there for us.

The story starts in Bikini Bottom, an underwater kingdom where (as in the TV show it's based on) the main concerns of life are which restaurant to eat in, whether your sandwich should have cheese on it, and similar stuff. Things turn serious (by SpongeBob standards) when someone steals King Neptune's crown, and our absorbent hero sets off with starfish Patrick Star to retrieve it from sinister Shell City, and save the wrongly accused Mr. Krabs in the process.

That's not a very original tale, but plot is hardly the point here. The delights of the movie lie in its zany characters, its goofy settings, and above all its surrealistic visual style. It bombards you with more dazzling colors, dreamlike shapes, and more out-of-the-blue sight gags than your inner child has seen in ages. Imagine a Jerry Lewis movie designed by Salvador Dali and you'll have an inkling of what I mean.

Lewis's films (and "Pee-wee's Playhouse," too) came frequently to mind as I watched SpongeBob's adventures, since similarities are everywhere - in the daffy incidents, the touches of moralizing about "being yourself," and the concern for color that led French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard to call Lewis one of the great "painters" of the screen.

Along with his cinematic technique, Lewis's greatest filmmaking asset was to remind us of how cockamamie our inner children are, and that however hard we try to repress them - to be "men not kids," as SpongeBob and Patrick constantly put it - they never quite learn to behave themselves.

All of which means "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie" should be a monster hit.

Rated PG; contains mild vulgarity

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