Saturday, May 29, 2021

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run

As a juggernaut of TV animation, SpongeBob SquarePants is no stranger to the silver screen. The first feature, aptly titled The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, released in 2004 around the peak of the show’s popularity, followed eleven years later by a sequel, Sponge Out of Water. The third movie, Sponge on the Run (originally subtitled It’s a Wonderful Sponge), would have a comparatively rocky release, however. Though Paramount originally planned a full theatrical release, the global COVID-19 pandemic forced them to reconsider the distribution, including at least one release date change. Eventually, the film got a domestic theatrical release exclusively in Canada, followed by an international Netflix release a few months later and a US release in March 2021 exclusively through the Paramount+ streaming service (formerly CBS All Access). This is how we viewed the film once we could access the service, though we mostly did so since Paramount hyped it as their main draw. While an admiral attempt at expanding on the series’ lore, Sponge on the Run is ultimately underwhelming, especially for those who grew up with the show’s first three seasons.

In Bikini Bottom, Plankton’s (Mr. Lawrence) latest plan to steal the Krabby Patty secret formula goes awry when SpongeBob (Tom Kenny) inadvertently foils it while locking up at night. This incident convinces Plankton that SpongeBob, not Mr. Krabs (Clancy Brown), is the real threat to his plans. Meanwhile, in the lost city of Atlantic City, King Poseidon (Matt Berry) has completely drained his royal snail of all of its slime, which keeps him rejuvenated, and panics when he discovers that sea snails are nearly extinct. As such, Poseidon puts out a decree for a new snail, which Plankton uses as an excuse to kidnap SpongeBob’s pet snail, Gary (Tom Kenny), and get rid of SpongeBob. When SpongeBob realizes Gary is missing, he sets outs to Atlantic City with his best friend Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) to get him back.

I’ll mention first that the animation is easily the film’s strong suit. As much as I wish it was animated traditionally, as with the first two films, the characters are faithfully translated to 3D while maintaining much of the series’ charm. Some of the effects look a little off at times and it’s odd at first seeing Sandy with more realistic fur, but the fluid and expressive motions make up for this. Bikini Bottom and Atlantic City are also rendered with a lot of depth and a semi-realistic touch that still fits the show’s aesthetic. If nothing else, it’s a sign of how well CG has advanced in terms of stylization. It does bother me, however, that King Neptune/Poseidon has completely changed designs in every single appearance of the character, including this film.

The animation near-perfectly replicates the show.

SpongeBob’s voice cast also shows that they’ve still got it after all these years. SpongeBob himself isn’t too obnoxious in his personality and the other voice actors give some surprisingly emotional performances towards the end of the film. There aren’t any real complaints here, though the film does noticeably downplay the music associated with the series in favor of licensed music, some of which felt out of place.

As for the story, it had a solid idea but could have used better execution. Ignoring the many structural similarities with The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, and similarities with S4E3 “Have You Seen This Snail?” (aka “Where’s Gary?”), it did have a good idea in showing how SpongeBob met Gary, since the show hadn’t explored that. However, the explanation involved introducing Camp Coral, itself a massive retcon with how SpongeBob met the rest of the cast compared with what the show had established as far back as the very first episode. Considering how often Camp Coral came up, including an extended sequence towards the end where the other characters talk about how they met him there and how pivotal that was in their lives, it easily makes the film look like an extended ad for the Paramount+ spin-off series Kamp Koral rather than something that could stand on its own.

Apparently, Camp Coral is integral to SpongeBob lore.

Consistent pacing issues cropped up throughout the film, including two scenes that came off as padding. Aside from the aforementioned Camp Coral segment, there’s an extended sequence where SpongeBob and Patrick go through a saloon in the real world and encounter characters played by real-world celebrities Keanu Reeves, Snoop Dogg and Danny Trejo. Not only does this sequence contribute next to nothing to the film’s plot, it comes off as an excuse to add extra star power the film didn’t necessarily need. Even Keanu Reeves, whose screen time extends beyond the initial encounter, feels like he’s only in there because he had become more or less a living meme by that point. The fact that anyone could have filled in Reeves’ role and still barely affect anything also makes his involvement superfluous to the film.

Was Snoop Dogg really necessary?

Unless you’re a diehard SpongeBob fam, it’s hard to recommend Sponge on the Run. The animation is spectacular and there are some genuine laughs here and there, but the film’s pacing issues and massive retcons bring it down and make some amount of its 91-minute runtime hard to sit through.

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