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Thursday, Nov. 18, 2004 04:21 pm

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The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie

Soak up a little joy with SpongeBob

To say that SpongeBob SquarePants looks at the world through rose-colored glasses is an understatement: He is, without a doubt, the happiest animated household cleaning product ever. Nowhere is this more evident than in his motion-picture debut, which features all of the familiar characters of Bikini Bottom, including SpongeBob's best pal, Patrick the starfish; his miserly boss, Mr. Krabs; his morose neighbor, Squidward; and everybody's archenemy, Plankton.

The plot is straight out of the Greek classics: Buoyed by the success of his fast-food emporium, the Krusty Krabb, Mr. Krabs (voice by Clancy Brown) is struck with the truly inspired notion of opening up a second location. (That it happens to be right next door to his original store seems to be an oversight his customers are willing to forgive.) SpongeBob (Tom Kenny) is convinced he will be named manager of the new location but is passed over because, as his boss points out, he's "just a kid." (He's also referred to as a "jerk," a "ninny," and "Knucklehead McSpazzatron," all of which are frightfully accurate.) Crushed, SpongeBob is suddenly unsure of his future, but he finds a purpose when Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) puts into motion another plan to procure the secret recipe of Mr. Krabs' Krabby Patty and makes it look as if the restaurateur has stolen the crown of King Neptune (Jeffrey Tambor) and sold it to a shop in faraway Shell City. Encouraged by Neptune's daughter Mindy (Scarlett Johansson) and with Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) in tow, SpongeBob decides to retrieve the crown to save his employer, who is scheduled for execution in six days. He's warned that he will meet great peril and encounter a fearsome Cyclops, and he's given a bag of winds to aid him in his quest.

You got it: SpongeBob meets Homer, and I don't mean Simpson.

The genius of SpongeBob is the willingness of its creator, Stephen Hillenburg, and his team of writers to take the simplest of situations and exaggerate them past the point of reason. The sight of SpongeBob hung over from an all-night ice-cream bender is the perfect example of Hillenburg's modest but hilarious style, and the film's climax, a '70s rock & roll extravaganza, is a testament to unbridled silliness that you can't help but laugh at.

Obviously SpongeBob is no Polar Express or The Incredibles; it doesn't dazzle us with groundbreaking visuals or tug at our heartstrings. It's just a celebration of the inner child (or optimistic sponge?) that resides in all of us and a reminder that we need to let it out to frolic from time to time. (CK)

More gloom than inspiration in artless tale of French saint

The story of one of Roman Catholicism's most beloved and modern saints is once more told on film. An inspirational tale aimed at believers, Thérèse is unlikely to make new converts or deepen the faith of the sympathetically inclined. The narrative of the French child who joined the Carmelites at the age of 15 and died young of tuberculosis in 1897 is fitfully told in dramatic and visual strokes lacking artistry and technique. Director Leonardo Defilippis also plays one of the story's central roles, that of Thérèse's father -- the pious Louis Martin, a young widower with five daughters. The script is written by Patti Defilippis, with an occasional voice-over assist from the saint's now-famous diaries.

The movie will do little to explain to nonbelievers the originality of Thérèse's simple philosophy, which she recorded in her diaries. She spoke of the "little way," an egoless approach to finding God in the smallest gestures. The spirituality of her decision to commit herself to God is rendered by the filmmakers as little different than all the other moments of her life. In fact, the film seems to make a case for Thérèse's being a spoiled, willful child whose desire to join the convent is just another of her self-centered whims.

It's also possible to interpret the Defilippis' movie in analytically Freudian terms. In particular, the first third of the movie plays like a repressed-lesbian drama from the '50s: Thérèse's mother dies when she is 4, then her surrogate mother abandons her for the nunnery. Dad calls his baby daughter "my queen," and the sisters always spark to the touch of a hand. I'm certain that none of this is what the filmmakers intended, but we've got to trust what we see on the screen. And what we see is the story of a psychically doomed young girl whose honest meditations in her diary become known only after her death. Her mortal story seems one of sadness rather than inspiration. (MB)

Marjorie Baumgarten writes for the Austin, Texas, Chronicle, where this review first appeared.

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