21 years ago, SpongeBob SquarePants debuted on our screens. While he has conjured nostalgia for those who grew up with him, he has further cemented himself in pop culture history thanks to meme culture - Because of this, the series has newfound relevancy, which since the 2004 film is something the show was looking for. While a sequel was released in 2015, it was nowhere near as beloved as the show or the original film. We even got a freaking Broadway musical that surprised everyone with amazing songs and a heartfelt story. As part of Nickelodeon's 20-year celebrations of the yellow ball of sunshine, a new film was greenlit - and now we have his third feature-length outing in 'The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run'.
Having a typical Bikini Bottom day, everyone is up to their usual things. SpongeBob is loving his job at the Krusty Krab (much to Squidward's chagrin), Sandy is inventing, Mr Krabs is loving money, Plankton is working out the latest way to steal the Krusty Krab secret formula, and Patrick is - well, Patrick. A note from the Lost City of Atlantic City arrives in town, with King Poseidon asking for snails to retain his youth. Plankton comes up with the plan to send SpongeBob's pet snail Gary, thus removing him from his job and leaving the secret formula free for the taking.
Also important to note, next year the new streaming service CBS All Access launches the first SpongeBob spinoff show, 'Kamp Koral: SpongeBob's Under Years', featuring the characters grown down at a summer camp. How is this relevant to this film? Stay tuned!
Unlike the previous films, 'Sponge on the Run' is - unfortunately - entirely CGI. While 2015's 'Sponge out of Water' featured the characters in CGI when they entered the real world, this time all of Bikini Bottom has gotten the "upgrade". This is a shame, and I hoped there would be some interesting creative reason for the removal of hand-drawn animation - but no. Everything just looks emptier than anything we have seen in this world before. While the animation is smooth and nice to look at, when compared to what they do with characters in a hand-drawn form, it's just disappointing.
As for the film itself, I found myself enjoying the comedy, but the plot and especially the third act really stopped the film from reaching any kind of new heights. The last episode of SpongeBob I watched would have been the 2012 stop-motion Christmas special, and unlike current seasons of 'The Simpsons' or more so 'Family Guy', there is still a lot of good comedy in this franchise - they just needed a tighter story, which they easily could have. Most of the marketing has a "Where's/Find Gary?" tagline which excited me, sounding somewhat worthy of a feature-length endeavour (and yes, I know there is a season 4 episode where Gary goes missing, but with a longer run-time this could be a fun road trip movie). Even looking at the musical - and honestly, they should have done an animated version of that - it keeps the comedy but adds a lot of heart and a soundtrack that slaps so hard (catch me blasting 'When the Going Gets Tough' all day), which compared to this movie made for an overall more engaging venture.
Back to the upcoming spinoff 'Kamp Koral': we get one flashback of a younger SpongeBob towards the beginning of the film, detailing when he first met Gary. It was cute and simple, and knowing about the spinoff, I thought it was a nice tease for the show without overdoing it - however, I spoke too soon. When we get to the big third act, all of the main characters stop dead to individually recount how they met SpongeBob... which were all at Kamp Koral. It was so out of place and had nothing to do with the storyline, plus it leaves little for the show to explore. Some of the backstories we get also make the characters' relationships odd. I don't really need to know how everyone met; I can assume Patrick and SpongeBob grew up together, but it adds little to the cannon. Also, you'll never guess but the show will be CGI, so I guess that's why the whole movie was animated this way.
The biggest letdown of 'Sponge on the Run' is really because we were so blessed with the original film. We already had our perfect feature adaption, and everything that follows is just living in its shadow.
The movie also stops dead for a pointless live-action sequence - I guess because the other two had them - with extremely pointless cameos (Keanu Reeves isn't a cameo; his character is in more of the film than expected and, of course, is an absolute delight). It's just another point where the film loses steam.
Like every other 2020 film, 'Sponge on the Run' was also met with many release changes due to COVID-19 outbreak, and it's easily one of the most strange in terms of how its release is being handled. Already delayed in 2019, when it was originally set to debut alongside 20th-anniversary celebrations, the movie was scheduled to be out July this year... then May, back to July, and then August, before being removed completely from Paramount's release schedule - only to be moved to CBS' streaming service due out in 2021. But that's not where it stops: in August, the film was released in Canadian cinemas from what felt like nowhere. This is the only country where the film will be released theatrically, with everywhere outside of USA and Canada getting a Netflix release starting in early November.
Surprisingly, the film lacks any fan service moments - not that this is a bad thing. Considering where our underwater friends' relevancy lies in memes, I'm shocked they didn't include any in the film. Even little things like Patrick and SpongeBob's handshake song seemed like an easy way have a callback to their 'I'm a Goofy Goober' song from the first movie. And also - now for the third time - the best story we can come up with is SpongeBob goes on a road trip while back home the Krusty Krab fails without him. The film's villain, King Poseidon, is a very cheap knockoff King Neptune but with none of the comedy nuances.
The biggest letdown of 'Sponge on the Run' is really because we were so blessed with the original film. Much like when the inevitable sequel to 'The Simpsons Movie' comes out, we already had our perfect feature adaption, and everything that follows is just living in its shadow.
Thanks to its meme resurgence, a surprisingly successful musical, three spinoff shows in the works and the thirteenth season currently airing, there is no slowing down Bikini Bottom's finest. As a fan, it was nice to spend some time with these characters who I haven't seen in a while - but the original movie and first few seasons are still superior in every way.