There are a couple of constants in the world we live in. Things we know will never change no matter what. We know the sun will always come up in the morning, and the moon comes out at night. We know that the laws of gravity and physics will never change, and that every year we all get just a little bit older. And finally, we know that no matter what happens, “SpongeBob SquarePants” will never, ever end.
The undersea adventures of SpongeBob and his Bikini Bottom-dwelling fans have been going on since 1999, entertaining multiple generations and sparking that age-old debate about which era of the sea sponge’s escapades is the best. Well, it’s not much of a debate per se, it’s more like the original generation of viewers (now fully-grown adults) yelling at the younger generation, who don’t seem to be paying much attention because they’re too busy trying to watch “SpongeBob.”
Regardless of what you think about the new or old episodes of the show, it doesn’t seem to matter much to Nickelodeon or Paramount, who seem more concerned with the immeasurable amount of money that the franchise is making them (and Viacom). It’s no secret that “SpongeBob SquarePants” is Nick’s biggest money maker. Countless brand deals, toys, video games, and more since the series’ original incarnation have proven how profitable the little sponge and his pals truly are. But perhaps the best example of how Nick has struck “yellow gold” is with the character’s theatrical ventures.
The Spongebob Squarepants Movie was a huge success in 2004. It grossed roughly $141 million at the box office and was so well-received by critics and fans alike that it actually saved the series from cancellation. It was followed by a second film in 2015, and Sponge Out of Water blew the first film’s earnings out of the…well, water. It grossed roughly $325 million at the box office, though it did cause a bit of a divide amongst viewers, due in part to the generational divide between fans.
Now, SpongeBob (and his voice actor, Tom Kenny) is back for his third theatrical outing, and in keeping with tradition, Sponge on the Run features an entirely original story completely separate from the previous two films. There’s a rift this time, too, caused by the fact that the film’s existence kind of goes against the original creator’s wishes. Stephen Hillenburg, creator of SpongeBob (the character and the show), didn’t really want spin-offs and separate franchises sprouting from his original idea. This was a fact Hillenburg himself stressed many times before his untimely passing in 2018. He simply didn’t want the show declining in quality and stretching itself out for the sake of content. Despite this, the idea behind Sponge on the Run clearly stems from Nickelodeon’s plans to create multiple spin-off series.
In fact, a good amount of the movie’s runtime is dedicated to advertising the new Paramount+ original series “Kamp Koral: SpongeBob’s Under Years,” a spin-off that sees SpongeBob and his friends as children at summer camp. The scenes promoting the spin-off also serve as mini-retcon moments, changing aspects of SpongeBob’s origins, like having him meet Sandy and Mr. Krabs as a child rather than in his adulthood. If you were wondering why you’ve been seeing so many angry Millennial and Gen Z tweets about SpongeBob recently, now you know.
That’s not to say the entire movie is an advertisement, though, just that it does spend a noticeable amount of time on these flashback “Kamp Koral” scenes. Although, the scenes set in present day aren’t exactly as original as you might think. The plot of Sponge on the Run, written by former series developer and writer Tim Hill, follows SpongeBob and Patrick as they leave Bikini Bottom to journey to the fabled Lost City of Atlantic City to rescue the pet snail Gary, who has been “snail-napped” by King Poseidon.
The plot of the film seems to borrow pretty heavily from both the “Have You Seen This Snail” episode of the show, as well as the first movie. The influence from “Have You Seen This Snail” is obvious, with both the episode and this movie centering around Gary disappearing and SpongeBob desperately searching for his beloved pet. Everything else, from Plankton’s involvement to SpongeBob and Patrick going on a journey involving the King of the Sea to the appearance of the Patty Mobile, are all taken from the first film.
There are even celebrity cameos that come (pretty comically) from out of nowhere. Sponge on the Run ditches the obligatory Hasselhoff cameo, however, and replaces him with the likes of Snoop Dogg, Danny Trejo, and Keanu Reeves’ head. Oh, and a fish voiced by Tiffany Haddish named Tiffany Haddock that genuinely got a chuckle out of me despite how silly that might sound.
Despite its recycling of previous material, Sponge on the Run isn’t a bad movie. In fact, it’s pretty entertaining. The story leaves much to be desired, but it does manage to capture the charm and humor of the original series, delivering itself in a way that feels less forced than some of the sea sponge’s recent outings. I can’t say I enjoyed it more than the first film, from which it borrows heavily for many of its story elements. But I did like it more than the second one, squashing my concerns that these movies were only declining in quality with each entry.
The decision to make the film using 3D animation rather than the traditional 2D also turned out to be a good choice. The animation is honestly gorgeous in this film, and while it never reaches Into The Spider-Verse levels of stylization, it lends itself well to the underwater setting of the iconic show. There are also some genuinely heartfelt moments in the movie, with some of them even coming from those “Kamp Koral” flashbacks. There’s a scene close to the end of the movie that admittedly goes on for just a bit too long, but it does a well-enough job of displaying the heart and charm of SpongeBob, and it even reminded me of why I was such a fan of the series growing up in the first place.
Truthfully, this and the “Kamp Koral” spin-off are projects that don’t sound like they would get the greenlight from Stephen Hillenburg (though Hillenburg did assist in the development of this film). Sponge on the Run was made with money and marketing in mind, and for that it’s a little difficult talking about its quality as a movie separate from its intentions. That said, it’s a relief to see how much love was apparently put into making this film. It’s not the most original idea out there, and it certainly has its flaws.
For example, the movie has the attention span of a goldfish. There are several moments that seem to serve only as distractions rom the plot through quirky cameos, dumb jokes, and a means of extending the movie’s runtime. Sponge on the Run is only 90 minutes long, but it feels longer because for some reason, somebody decided an entire sequence involving dancing undead cowboy pirates, a Snoop Dogg rap number, Keanu Reeves’ head in a mystical prophecy-speaking tumbleweed, and a boss fight against Danny Trejo as the devil was a good idea to stick right in the middle of this movie. And out of principle I’m just upset that this movie forced me to write that sentence.
Sponge on the Run isn’t perfect in any sense of the word. But it is the best we could have hoped for in a world where new SpongeBob content is not only promised, but just expected at this point.