‘SpongeBob: Sponge on the Run’ misses out on the magic of ‘SpongeBob’


(Image is free use from pixabay.com)

The long-running, wildly popular animated series of SpongeBob Squarepants has remained a beloved television show for audiences all over the world for decades, and when the release of a third addition to the Spongebob movie franchise, in which Spongebob and Patrick embark on a journey to find and recover pet snail Gary, was announced to the public in late 2019, critics and viewers alike buzzed with anticipation. But the movie’s lack of focus, failure to get across any meaningful message, and inability to capture the magic of Spongebob himself has made the film fall miserably short on its expectations.

As a preface, the Spongbob movie franchise isn’t exactly something to apply conventional movie standards to. I mean, a colorful, animated underwater world full of nautical nonsense just isn’t meant to be perceived as a serious, deep-thinking piece to its audiences, regardless of age. But still, even considering the fact that the bubbly world of Bikini Bottom is a kids’ show (and perhaps especially considering this), there should be some kind of takeaway or deeper message from the film at the end of the day. 

That’s something that the preceding two installations in the movie franchise were able to achieve: the first movie is a coming of age story that seeks to teach viewers grounded life-lessons as the sponge himself goes through a good deal of character development (or as “grounded” as you can get in a universe where fish lose their minds over partial baldness and magical tears screw with an outlet that revives the lives of our seemingly deceased protagonists). And as for the second movie, though a lot more lighthearted than the first, the statement still stands: the film seeks to give the audience lessons on the value and meaningfulness of friendships. But for the third movie, there’s nothing to take away. No character progression, no lessons on friendship, and no moral messages are left for the viewer to walk away with. Much of this can be attributed to the greatest downfall of this movie: it’s lack of focus.

Unlike its predecessors, this movie had a terrible pacing and focus, appearing instead to be a bunch of disjointed scenes stapled haphazardly on top of each other. It jumps from dream sequences to Plankton, to Squidward, to Mr Krabs, to Sandy’s B-Story, to the King, to random flashback sequences, to out of place pop songs. (Yes, I too became lost in this mess of scenery cacophony.) The overall lack of direction makes the movie as a whole come off as poorly directed and written. 

Story-wise, the film reaches its plot resolution less than halfway through, and the latter half is just chock-full of unnecessary filler scenes to cough up some remaining screen time. Not to mention the fact that a good fourth of the movie is dedicated to flashback exposition. Furthermore, many conflicts and plotlines that appear in the film have already been used previously on the show. “Spongebob’s never missed a day at work!!” “Squidward get back there and rev up those fryers!!!” “The Krusty Krab is in shambles!!!” “Evil king is the bad guy”, etc, etc. There’s nothing new here, and the viewer isn’t left with much besides old and overused Spongebob motifs. 

The first movie had a structure, and was designed to specifically be a road trip movie, but focused more on showing cool underwater setpieces than trying to create some overly complicated drama. You see Spongebob and Patrick go through exaggerated versions of real-life places you’d find under the sea, which I always thought was really cool. They were always grim and dark, which complimented the whole message of “growing up” really well. I’m sorry, but it’s really hard to love a movie that plays pop songs every 10 minutes, has Squidward twerking his butt, has Keanu Reeve’s be a main character that talks about on-demand services, skype, and facetime, and experience a story that retcons nearly everything about the show while still trying to reference older seasons to appeal to a minority of their audience. It felt like I was being shoveled down an advertisement for the new spinoff, rather than being told a fun and cool story. Also wasn’t really fun to see “in memory of Stephen Hillenburg” accompanied with a… trap remix of the theme song for the credits… really…?

I’m not a purist for Spongebob, I love most of the series but this movie does not capture the joy of Spongebob. Spongebob is about the “nautical nonsense” and the fun Hawaii tunes, and the cool character dynamics, and the relatable moments, and the absurdist comedy. This movie fails on nearly every part of that. Previous movies and even episodes had funny references to other media or shows, but they were always played off for a joke. Keanu Reeves stops being a “joke” when he becomes a main character that says the same old “Spongebob and Patrick are really annoying lawl!” line.  Also, looking at this director’s resume, I shouldn’t even be surprised that the movie felt so lazy. This is the same dude who directed Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and…. Grumpy Cat Saves Christmas…. Look, I can hear the whole “it’s for kids” argument all day, but movie making is an art form, and it’d be disrespectful to say properties like Spongebob are only aimed for children. This movie didn’t do it for me, and it didn’t do it for a lot of other people. It’s the equivalent of watching a stoner movie made for kids. Having good animation and looking good doesn’t equate to being a good movie. 

All in all, Sponge on the Run fails to impress on all sides. From its faulty pace and failure to express a meaningful message to its inability to capture the magic of Spongebob himself, I think I’ve finally found a film trilogy that sucks more than the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy. Now that’s really saying something.