Ever since my school friend showed me Spongebob Squarepants when I was 12, I’ve always been a huge fan of the show. The silly and, at times, obscure humour was appealing to me since it matched my own sense of humour. And it continued to stay strong up until the unfortunate and untimely passing of its original creator, Stephen Hillenburg, in 2018. Since then, the show has lost some of its charm that it’s known for. While this is a shame, the prospect of another film is something I will never pass up.
The Spongebob Movie: Sponge On The Run follows Spongebob Squarepants and his best friend Patrick Starr as they travel to the Lost City of Atlantic City to rescue Gary, Spongebob’s beloved pet snail, after he’s been kidnapped. This was another film that was due for a cinematic release, but wasn’t given this opportunity due to the pandemic. Thankfully, the film has been uploaded to Netflix UK as a Netflix Original Film. After seeing, and liking, the two previous films, I was excited for this entry. And, after two strong entries, Sponge On The Run can only be described as mediocre.
The voice cast from the show return once again and are the best part of the film. They bring a charm to the occasional confusing film and, due to the show’s 21-year run, the cast blends well together. The stand outs, as always, are Tom Kenny and Bill Fagerbakke as Spongebob and Patrick. Their friendship and innocent view on the world are, once again, delightful to watch and even more important now in this unprecedented time. The rest of the cast also get their own time to shine too; from Sandy Cheeks and her new contraptions, one of which serves as a plot point for the lead characters, to Plankton whom has a slight change of heart towards the end of the film. While Spongebob and Patrick carry the main story as best as they can, the rest of the main characters also have their own story arc and motivations.
However, this is as far as I can go to channel my inner Spongebob and think positively of the film.
The first, obvious, aspect to mention is the animation style. While the previous film, Sponge Out Of Water, had CGI animation in its third act, Sponge On The Run adopts the CGI animation for its entire running time. While the change in animation worked for the previous entry, because it showcased the characters going up to the surface, the change in style here is odd and jarring. The almost plasticine look was, on occasion, painful to the eyes and didn’t add anything to the film or its settings. The departure from its usual 2D-like animation is a strange and nonsensical decision.
Not only is the plot barely enough to carry the film, but long-time fans can’t deny that this is a storyline that has been done before. One of the most famous episodes of the TV show is called ‘Have You Seen This Snail?’ in which Gary the snail runs away, and Patrick and Spongebob try to find him. While it’s delightful to have another Spongebob film, it is frustrating watching a story that was done better in the show 15 years prior. It’s also clear that the writers didn’t know how to expand the story more, making this a confusing entry in the franchise. While the previous films had certain themes throughout that were constantly called back on (first film being the idea of growing up; second film was being loyal to something/someone), Sponge On The Run seems to struggle to keep any theme afloat. Any mention of Spongebob’s love for Gary is through dialogue but is also quickly forgotten about or thrown away with a gag.
This leaves the film grasping at any scenes it can think of to fill the running time. An example is a 15-minute dream sequence where Spongebob and Patrick end up in an abandoned town and meet Keanu Reeves (who plays a Tumbleweed) and a cast of dancing zombie pirates…including Snoop Dogg. The sequence is nonsensical and has no relevance to the plot. And, while Keanu Reeves stays with the two lead characters throughout the film, it’s clear that the writers wanted him onboard during his career comeback. Other cameos appear too, mainly in this sequence but, like previously mentioned, they’re not required for the plot; the film just wanted celebrity guests to feature. And, while the first film had this too, the cameos all served a purpose for the plot.
Overall, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge On The Run is a mediocre entry in the film’s franchise and feels like a TV special. It’s not only used a 15-year-old plot, but it struggles to keep that plot afloat, and random absurd scenes are placed in to pad out its 1 hour and 35-minute running time. The film doesn’t include any references or call backs to the show (a mention of the 15-year-old episode would’ve been nice?), so long-time fans won’t find anything of value here. Adding insult to injury, the film half-heartedly shows the main characters’ origins and how they met. Thus, going against the late Stephen Hillenburg’s wishes of not wanting to tell viewers the show’s origins in any way. While it’s nice to have such a positive character like Spongebob Squarepants return in such an uncertain time like this, Sponge On The Run is more of a whimper than a celebratory dance into our lives. The previous entries are stronger films, plus the first film is still on Netflix in the UK!