Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
Fifty Percent About Money, Fifty Percent Entertaining Sequel
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run has one of the worst cases of release syndrome any film, animated or otherwise, could be cursed with. The New Mutants is the only 2020 film that has had it worse. It was originally set to be released in 2019 to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the SpongeBob Squarepants animated series, which premiered in 1999, but it was pushed to May 2020 to avoid being released alongside Dora and the Lost City of Gold.
The film was then bumped to August 2020 before being taken off the theatrical release schedule altogether and is now a VOD release. The film was set to debut on CBS All Access sometime in 2021, but it was released in a ton of other countries besides the US on Netflix on November 5, 2020. The film would eventually debut on Paramount+ in the US, which launched on March 4, 2021.
The entertainment value of Sponge on the Run is slightly compromised as well. The film has flashbacks to all the characters meeting at a young age at Camp Coral. The flashbacks, apart from Gary meeting SpongeBob and the overall message that everyone, regardless of appearance, deserves a friend, are unnecessary. SpongeBob met Sandy as an adult in the original animated series ("Tea at the Treedome" from season one), so his “meeting” Sandy at a young age seems to retcon their introduction or at least revamp it.
The SpongeBob franchise is following in the footsteps of We Bare Bears and is developing a Kamp Koral (spelled differently in the series) spinoff, which will focus on the younger characters (Kamp Koral: SpongeBob's Under Years also debuted on Paramount+ on March 4). At the same time, the 13-episode first season of The Patrick Star Show with a late-night host format is also being developed (the series is set to debut on Nickelodeon in the summer of 2021). Sponge on the Run seems to shoehorn those flashbacks in during SpongeBob’s trial with Poseidon in Atlantic City just as a way to take a minuscule back-stroke towards these inevitable spinoffs that nobody wants.
In Sponge on the Run, Plankton realizes after another failed attempt of stealing the Krabby Patty formula from Mr. Krabs that SpongeBob’s idiotic innocence and annoying good manners are what’s getting in the way of Plankton being successful. Meanwhile, the self-obsessed King Poseidon has developed a wrinkle on his face. His face cream treatment, snail slime, has run dry and he’s on the search for a new snail. In an effort to get rid of SpongeBob forever, Plankton sends Gary to Poseidon while SpongeBob and Patrick go chasing after him with the help of a few new friends.
The idea of a completely CGI SpongeBob film is a bit disheartening at first. The show began as being traditionally drawn by hand and is still drawn that way, but with the assistance of Cintiq tablets. But the CG animation is a natural progression for the films that also keeps the tone and hilariousness of the original series alive. Sponge on the Run has the same animation that The Peanuts Movie, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Promare, and The WIlloughbys used.
The SpongeBob Squarepants Movie was traditionally animated, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water was a hybrid of traditional and CG animation, and Sponge on the Run is entirely CGI (other than one live-action sequence). If a fourth film is made, it’d be fun if it was stop-motion animation since the series has had a few specials in that format.
Sponge on the Run allows those amazing and hilarious facial expressions to transition to 3D animation from 2D rather flawlessly. While it is likely that some prefer the traditional/hand-drawn style overall, certain elements like Sandy’s hair/fur look so real and so detailed in computer-generated animation.
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The new film doesn’t have an end-credits sequence, but has an in-memoriam dedication to series creator Stephen Hillenburg who died of ALS-related issues in 2018. Sponge on the Run feels like an homage to the original SpongeBob Squarepants Movie with SpongeBob and Patrick going on a road trip away from Bikini Bottom, Atlantic City having a ton of similarities to Shell City, and King Neptune and King Poseidon feeling like complementary characters.
After voicing Bubbles the dolphin in Sponge Out of Water, Matt Berry returns to voice Poseidon in Sponge on the Run and delivers some truly epic dialogue. Seeing Poseidon do the hand gesture and head bob Rick and Morty utilized for Get Schwifty as he says, “home slices,” near the end of the film is an amusing bonus.
The film seems to explore the PG rating to an unexpected degree with phrases such as, “army of the damned,” “crappy,“ and, “just for the halibut/hell of it,” included in the film. Patrick also chews, eats, and swallows an entire litter box full of used snail litter, which all seems like a gag directly out of Ren and Stimpy.
The cast includes a guest lineup bigger than ever before. Sponge on the Run is sandwiched with a brand new Weezer song at the beginning followed by their cover of A-ha’s “Take on Me” at the end while Snoop Dogg appears as himself. Keanu Reeves has the most screen time as the spirit guide tumbleweed Sage while Danny Trejo and Tiffany Haddish have brief cameos. In Atlantic City, SpongeBob and Patrick sing along to Ricky Martin’s “LIvin’ La Vida Loca.” Kenny G, despite having no lines, appears as the musical artist Kelpy G.
Sponge on the Run is much more enjoyable than expected, especially after its release was messed up so badly. The storyline is complex with Plankton essentially being more mischievous than ever and the CG is surprisingly satisfying despite distancing itself from its hand-drawn roots. The only aspect that really hurts the film is knowing that a Camp Coral/Kamp Koral spinoff is in the works. This makes the arrival of Mr. Krabs, Squidward, and Sandy in Atlantic City along with SpongeBob’s trial with Poseidon feel like nothing more than a cheap attempt at expanding the franchise.
What You Expect from Bikini Bottom
SpongeBob fans will have a ton of fun with Sponge on the Run though. It’s just as funny, ridiculous, and brilliant as you’ve come to expect from the Bikini Bottom native. It also still manages to be entertaining for both adults and children with jokes and one-liners that only adults will catch while the kids will enjoy the crazy antics and wildly vivid animation. Sponge on the Run stays true to SpongeBob’s roots and feels mostly successful in its new three-dimensional format.
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run is now available on Paramount+ and is free for subscribers. The film is also available to rent through most on demand outlets for $19.99.
© 2021 Chris Sawin
Cheryl E Preston from Roanoke on March 06, 2021:
Thank you. I will watch it with my grandchildren.