Coinciding with the launch of yet another streaming service, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run arrives this Thursday on the newly rebranded Paramount+ platform.
Though this is the first time American audiences will have a chance to see it, the film was distributed internationally on Netflix last November and even had a Canadian theatrical run way back in August.
Sadly, the third entry in the SpongeBob SquarePants franchise comes as an afterthought not only due to its awkward release strategy but also because it adds little to the legacy of the iconic series that has run for over 20 years now.
It’s another road trip/buddy movie variation that has even lower stakes than the prior two films and even more transparent fluff to pad its scant 91-minute runtime.
We begin at the start of what seems to be another ordinary day in Bikini Bottom, the quaint underwater city home to all manner of talking sea creatures. The pineapple-dwelling SpongeBob SquarePants (Tom Kenny) wakes up, hugs his beloved mollusk Gary (also voiced by Kenny) and goes off to flip Krabby Patties at the fast food joint Krusty Krab. Plankton (Mr. Lawrence), owner of the rival restaurant The Chum Bucket, has been after the Patty formula for years. After another unsuccessful attempt at stealing it from Krab owner Mr. Krabs (Clancy Brown), he instead decides to “snail-nap” Gary and hand him over to the vain King Poseidon (Matt Berry) to supplement his skin care regimen. With the help of his trusty friend Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke), SpongeBob sets out to The Lost City of Atlantic City to save his treasured companion.
Both fans of Spongbob and first-timers will notice early on in Sponge on the Run that something looks a little, for lack of a better word, off. That’s mostly due to the fact that this is the first SpongeBob outing to be completely in CGI, replacing the trademark 2D animation style of the series from which it’s adapted. This gives the characters and settings a brighter sheen that will no doubt draw in the eyeballs of younger audiences, but it comes across as hollow for those who experienced the show from its humble beginnings.
The first SpongBob movie, which came out five years after the series debuted in 1999, actually has the feel of a supersized original episode of the show, but Sponge on the Run retreads storylines from existing episodes without adding much in the process.
It becomes apparent about a third of the way through, with the appearance of a live-action Keanu Reeves as a mystical sage, that this film is going to rely on celebrity cameos even more than the first movie relied on David Hasselhoff. Moments after Reeves’ initial musings, Spongbob and Patrick enter the Inferno Saloon and we’re treated to a completely out of place musical number by Snoop Dogg followed by Danny Trejo as an umbrella-wielding bar-owner. Worse yet are the litany of flashbacks by each of the main characters, which are only included to set up Kamp Koral, a spin-off series also debuting on Paramount+ this Thursday.
SpongeBob creator Stephen Hillenburg, who died in 2018, wanted to conclude the series after its third season for fear that it would jump the shark. Sadly, it seems that’s exactly where we’ve ended up.
Of course the movie isn’t totally devoid of jokes that land. My favorite bit, taking place at our hero’s low point, is scored by an ominous portion of Hans Zimmer’s musical contribution, only to reveal that it’s actually the result of Patrick playing around with sound patches on his keyboard. I appreciated the sparing but effective use of Awkwafina as Otto, an automaton whose original function was to fire employees at the Krusty Krab but who ultimately serves as a perpetually unreliable getaway driver.
Despite a few amusing gags, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run wrings nearly all of the goofball charm and surreal wit out of what used to be a shining spot in the world of TV animation.
Also New to Streaming This Weekend
Arriving on Amazon Prime is Coming 2 America, the belated sequel to 1988 comedy, again starring Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall, about an African monarch who searches for his long-lost son in the United States.
Available on Disney+ through Premier Access is Raya and the Last Dragon, a fantasy adventure starring Kelly Marie Tran and Awkwafina about a magical realm where a young warrior searches from the world’s last remaining fire-breather.
Premiering on Hulu is Boss Level, a sci-fi action movie starring Frank Grillo and Mel Gibson about a retired soldier who finds himself trapped in a program which results in a never-ending time loop, leading to his repeated death.