"The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run" stars Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbakke, Rodger Bumpass, Clancy Brown, Mr. Lawrence, Jill Talley, Carolyn Lawrence, and Mary Jo Catlett. Released in Canada on August 14, 2020, followed by a Paramount+ release on March 4, 2021, the film has SpongeBob going on a quest to rescue his pet snail Gary.
The film was written and directed by Tim Hill, who also directed films such as "Muppets from Space", "Alvin and the Chipmunks", "Hop", and "The War with Grandpa". It is based on the television series SpongeBob SquarePants created by Stephen Hillenburg. Nickelodeon is the home to some of the best cartoons of the 1990s. You got the likes of "Rugrats", "Ren & Stimpy", "Rocko's Modern Life", "Hey Arnold", and of course, "SpongeBob SquarePants". Ever since its debut in 1999, "SpongeBob" has been an unstoppable cultural phenomenon that refuses to slow down and one of the popular cartoons that fully defined the channel. Created by marine science educator Stephen Hillenburg (Rest in peace, good sir.), this animated show centering on an anthropomorphic sponge and his nautical misadventures has been on the air for more than 20 years, spawning 13 seasons as of this writing, video games, theme park rides, and three full-length movies. Today, I am finally looking at SpongeBob's latest adventure that took forever to come out in the United States. I was really excited about this film because I personally adore SpongeBob growing up. I was also curious to see how the show's style translates from 2D to CGI animation, which is the first in the film series to utilize this type of animation. Of course, the pandemic hit, theaters were closed down, and the film got delayed with the other 2020 releases. After a while, Paramount decided to release the film in international territories via Canadian theaters and Netflix and allow the United States to get it last via on-demand and the newly-rebranded Paramount+. I'm not too fond of the studio's release strategy back then, and I'm still not fond of it now. They're so lucky that Paramount+ has a lower price. That's pretty much the reason why I was so late to the party, along with many others who also reviewed it late. However, all that matters is that it's finally here in the States, and I have enough money to add Paramount+ to my streaming service collection so that I can revisit everyone's favorite sponge. With that in mind, let's dive right in and see if this sea-worthy adventure is as fun as eating a Krabby Patty.
The story once again follows SpongeBob SquarePants (Kenny), a fun-loving sponge who enjoys pretty much everything, such as his friends, his job at the Krusty Krab, and more importantly, his pet snail Gary (also voiced by Kenny). One day, Plankton (Mr. Lawrence), the Chum Bucket's tiny owner, realizes that SpongeBob was responsible for his failures and not his business rival Mr. Krabs (Brown). To get SpongeBob out of the picture, Plankton abducts Gary and takes him to Atlantic City, where a selfish ruler named King Poseidon (Matt Berry) uses slime from sea snails to keep himself young. It's now up to SpongeBob and his best friend Patrick Star (Fagerbakke) to travel to Atlantic City and rescue Gary from Poseidon. If you're familiar with the show and the previous two film adaptations, you would immediately recognize its comedic style right out of the gate in "Sponge on the Run". It's energetic, it's silly, it's meta, and it's also heartfelt. Those qualities are what made "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie" and "Sponge Out of Water" so delightful and fun for longtime fans and newcomers. "Sponge on the Run" is unsurprisingly no exception. Filled with nonstop laughs and a charming yet delirious road trip plot, the film offered almost exactly what audiences would expect from a full-length SpongeBob adventure. Not only that, but it also works as an endearing celebration of the popular character and the people's hearts he has touched for years. Considering the fact that Tim Hill has worked on the show with Hillenburg for 20 years, this shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Although, I would have to agree that the film's story wasn't as sea-worthy as SpongeBob's first big-screen outing. Similar to "Sponge Out of Water", the plot in "Sponge on the Run" borrows plenty of elements from some of the show's episodes, especially the "Have You Seen This Snail?" special in the show's fourth season. There were also some flashback sequences that showcase SpongeBob's first encounter with his friends during summer camp, especially Gary. Those sequences happen to tie into the show's first spin-off series, "Kamp Koral: SpongeBob's Under Years", which is also available to watch on Paramount+. The flashbacks were admittedly cute and thoughtful despite being used as a source of promotion for the spin-off. However, they do tend to break up the pace a bit in the film's third act. Plus, the flashback involving SpongeBob's first encounter with Sandy Cheeks (voiced by Carolyn Lawrence) as children messed up the show's continuity as they first met in the series premiere back in 1999. Aside from those flaws, the story is an entertaining blast of colorful insanity with respectable messages that should resonate well with younger fans and newcomers. Keeping up with the source material's tradition, the film featured a few celebrity guest stars joining alongside the series' central voice cast, such as Keanu Reeves, Awkwafina, Snoop Dogg, Danny Trejo, Reggie Watts, and Tiffany Haddish. Out of all of those people, I personally enjoyed Reeves and Awkwafina the most in terms of the humor and screentime. Reeves plays Sage, a tumbleweed with the actor's face on it who assists SpongeBob and Patrick, while Awkwafina voices Otto, Sandy's ill-mannered robot. Those two actors succeeded in providing as many laughs and zaniness as the main characters themselves. As for the main cast, they're just as fantastic as always, with Tom Kenny and Bill Fagerbakke being the main highlights as SpongeBob and Patrick, respectively. Matt Berry also did pretty well with his amusing vocal performance as Poseidon, the main antagonist. Fun fact: Berry also starred in "Sponge Out of Water" as Bubbles the Dolphin. While I wouldn't say that Poseidon is a well-written villain, I would give the filmmakers credit for coming up with something new for SpongeBob to face rather than reusing Plankton from the first film. The next thing I want to talk about is the film's animation. As mentioned before, this is the first SpongeBob film to be animated in CGI as opposed to the regular 2D animation from the show and the first two films. This direction did seem odd at first, but after seeing how much care and effort the animators put into making this style, I got used to it right away. The CGI animation worked wonders in matching the vibrant slapstick and zany style of the show's 2D animation in terms of the character designs and the backgrounds. Plus, whoever decided on detailing the textures on Sandy's fur deserves a raise. It's no Pixar, but it's pretty enough to earn this animation upgrade. The humor was also just as hilarious and clever as some of the comedy in the show's earlier episodes. There were a couple of jokes that tend to appeal to the modern crowd, but they managed to provide some suitable laughs regardless.
Overall, "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run" is a lively blast of nautical nonsense that relies on charm and humor to overcome its familiar story. Even though it falls a bit short of its predecessors, there's still some fun to be had in the film that'll leave longtime fans laughing with delight. With its brilliant voice cast, its charming yet flawed story, amusing humor, and solid animation, "Sponge on the Run" is another respectable addition to the show's legacy. It's not an absolute must-see for everyone, but it may help cure people's boredom during the pandemic. It's worth checking out on Paramount+ or on-demand if you're a SpongeBob fan. As for those who aren't, I would say watch the earlier episodes and the first two films first and then decide whether to watch it or not.