The popularity of Nickelodeon’s mascot has returned in movie form with The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run. You come to expect it to be the fast-paced adventure that’ll be more enjoyable than the recent episodes aired on television, and that may be true. But you’re also going to question if there was a point to this being made or the type of movie you can’t get high while watching.
What’s the Story: When SpongeBob SquarePants (voiced by Tom Kenny)’ beloved pet snail Gary goes missing, a path of clues leads SpongeBob and his best friend Patrick (voiced by Bill Fagerbakke) to the powerful King Poseidon (voiced by Matt Berry), who has Gary held captive in the Lost City of Atlantic City. On their mission to save Gary, SpongeBob and the Bikini Bottom gang team up for a heroic and hilarious journey, where they discover nothing is stronger than the power of friendship.
Who didn’t watch SpongeBob when they were growing up, and who doesn’t love re-watching the first three seasons now? I still do because it’s able to give me joy when Nickelodeon continues to air the originals, while still shoving out episodes that might not be as good. This isn’t the first time they brought the beloved yellow character in a full-length movie, as 2004’s The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie was a ton of fun, and 2015’s The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water can describe itself as forgettable, but I remembered having fun with it, despite feeling like two different movies in having the first half animated and shifting into a live-action hybrid later on. And this is, unfortunately, coming out three years after the series creator Stephen Hillenburg sadly passed away. But the third installment took a while to get released since it was delayed by its May release because of the pandemic and Paramount Pictures’ strategy to get it out to the public is messy. It already came to theaters in Canada back in August, then it was available internationally on Netflix. So, the U.S. was the last place for people to watch it, which is now streaming on the newly rebranded Paramount+ and On-Demand.
Was I looking forward to finally watching Sponge on the Run? Of course, I was since the nostalgia of the series (when it was good) was still attached to me. But when compared to the previous two movies we got, it never quite reached the level of fun I hoped to get from this, which made me not be the biggest fan of this latest film.
Let’s talk about the animation because this uses CGI animation instead of its traditional 2D approach, and it looked great for being the first movie of the franchise to use 3D animation from Mikro Image. This gives the look of the characters and its underwater setting pop more in its stylization that worked to make it stay what we have known for over 20 years. It also does a good enough job at staying true to what the show was at first when establishing its characters and their traits without ruining them. We still love seeing SpongeBob’s love for Gary as his pet or how Plankton (voiced by Mr. Lawrence) is still on this much-needed quest to get his hands on the Krabby Patty secret formula without getting foiled again.
There’s nothing wrong to say about the animation and the vocal performances of its cast. However, there was nothing about the story that wasn’t fully grabbing me. Director Tim Hill (Hop, Alvin and the Chipmunks) was already a warning sign, even though he co-wrote the first movie and was a story editor on the show. Did I go into this wanting the greatest plot in the world? Not in the slightest. Much like what the show has been going through for a decade now, it lost sight of what it wants to be to appeal to its fanbase in pushing ideas to make some kind of sense and it didn’t know where it was going as the movie continued. Watching this follows familiar beats as its first outing on the big screen, with SpongeBob and Patrick going on a buddy road trip, but not as memorable this time around when it’s more of an expansion of the classic episode “Have You Seen This Snail?” with interactions with a meaningless sequence with zombie pirates or cowboys in a Western ghost town or having a boring villain in Poseidon, who uses snail slim for his skincare routine.
With the jokes, the humor wasn’t getting to me as not all of them work. Something in my head was wondering if I was getting old, but it’s going to be funny for children who are currently watching the show. A few moments made me chuckle, including this montage of SpongeBob and Patrick having a ball in the City of Atlantic City with Ricky Martin’s “Livin La Vida Loca” in the background. And I won’t lie when saying out of the cameos in here that worked, Keanu Reeves as the rolling tumbleweed Sage had the best scenes whenever he shows up to provide insight during the pal’s adventure. More of a supporting role than I originally thought. Everybody else with the live-action cameos (Snoop Dogg, Danny Trejo) or those who lend their voices (Awkwafina) weren’t used to their advantage.
Because was the point of this movie? My guess was probably to shoehorn a promotion to the series’ prequel Kamp Koral: SpongeBob’s Under Years, an idea Hillenburg would’ve hated if he were still alive. That’s pretty much what you’re getting when it has flashbacks to when SpongeBob was a little kid and how the other characters tell their story about how they mean much to him at camp, which was the focus in the third act. Truthfully, I didn’t care about any of this since it’s unimportant and it’s telling us it’s going to reckon how these characters first meet each other. Even die-hard fans remembered how SpongeBob met Sandy since it was the third episode of the entire show (“Tea at the Treedome”). It goes on too long for it to be a setup for a show I can guarantee no one is going to watch, including me.
Final Thoughts: The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge of the Run brought the beautiful animation to the forefront and contains the goofiness we’ve come to expect from the property now, but the lack of a good plot and little laughs ultimately makes this the weakest movie of the trilogy, and that’s probably going to be agreed upon everyone else. Children at a young age will find a lot of enjoyment from this, regardless, but there’s a strong chance it will be a letdown for adults. Grade: C+