‘The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run’ Review: A Zany, Colorful Trip That Should Amuse All Intended Parties

The past year has been full of a lot of upsetting things, so it’s good to see a film that looked rough turn out not only good, but respectful of a series that is important to me.

“The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” is the third feature film about the titular undersea sponge, and follows SpongeBob and Patrick as they try to find the missing Gary the Snail.  Longtime series members Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbakke, Carolyn Lawrence, Clancy Brown, and Mr. Lawrence return to their roles, while Awkwafina, Matt Berry, Tiffany Haddish, and Keanu Reeves join the cast; Tim Hill directs.

I grew up as a huge fan of SpongeBob SquarePants, and attest that the first film from 2004 is one of the better animated movies of all-time (the cast is great and the jokes hold up). The 2015 sequel had me worried since the trailers emphasized 3D animation over the classic 2D, but the end result was a trippy experience that mostly played out like an extended episode. This latest film ditches the 2D animation altogether for computer animation, something that really made me think that the filmmakers had completely abandoned the spirit of the source material. But to my surprise, the different animation style is the only thing that has changed, as “Sponge on the Run” manages to pay homage to the show and characters and feels just like the episodes I grew up on.

Tom Kenny’s laugh has become a pop culture staple, and his voicing of SpongeBob here is again amusing. People who find the high-pitched, somewhat nasally voice inflections of the character likely abandoned ship long ago, but for those of us who have never grown tired of SpongeBob’s naivety the character is as charming as ever. The rest of the returning cast offers comfort as well, from the deep-voiced lovable idiot Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) to the scheming Plankton (Mr. Lawrence).

The new cast members are really the highlight of the film, however. Awkwafina voices Otto, a servant robot who offers several amusing and deadpan quips. Keanu Reeves’ human head appears inside a rolling sage tumbleweed, occasionally offering SpongeBob and Patrick guidance on their quest to find Gary (“I’m a sage, and I’m made of sage, so it kind of works out” he says). Tiffany Haddish (playing a fish credited as Tiffany Haddock; I chuckled) is also funny in a brief role. There are also a few celebrity cameos that weren’t in the trailers but take part in some of the film’s amusing musical numbers.

The animation is colorful and zany, and plays out like a spiritual sequel to the recent “Barb and Star Go to Vista del Mar.” At this point I can’t imagine anyone over the age of 10 who has never seen or liked “SpongeBob” would bother to see this film, but for those who grew up on the series or just enjoyed the previous two films this does exactly what it has to.

The film runs at just 91 minutes, and moves quickly. The biggest issue I have with “Sponge on the Run” is it does go out of its way to promote the new “Kamp Koral” spin-off show that is going to be airing on CBS All-Access. It even goes to the point where characters literally stop the film in its tracks to say “I remember when I first met SpongeBob…” and we get a flashback to their days as youth at summer camp. Not only is it random and clearly a commercial, but it goes against the cannon SpongeBob lore with several characters, not that anyone but longtime fans will notice or care.

“The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” is a wonderful surprise, a film that stands on its own as children entertainment and as a solid installment to the treasured franchise. One could argue that they are milking the brand (and by argue, I mean point out; creator Stephen Hillenburg wanted the franchise to end after the 2004 film), but this is Hollywood; if it makes money, it will be made. But there are way worse cashgrabs out there than this.

Critics Rating: 7/10

Paramount Pictures

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