The third SpongeBob movie, Sponge on the Run, has a few of the not-so-secret ingredients that made the original television show so popular. But over twenty years removed from the launch of the franchise, this outing shows signs of growing laziness, rehashing of ideas, and corporate influence.

The idea of SpongeBob’s pet snail Gary disappearing and SpongeBob and his friend Patrick having to leave their home in Bikini Bottom to search for him was done previously in a popular episode of the series in 2005 titled Have You Seen This Snail? This was no ordinary episode either. Nickelodeon gave it a huge promotional push with it’s own special, a month-long commercial campaign, and a contest. A Tony Award winner wrote and performed a song just for the episode. It ended up as one of the most watched shows on TV for the entire year among kids, only behind the Super Bowl. Sure in the TV episode Gary runs away and here Gary is snail-napped. But it still feels a little too similar an idea for a big budget feature film to rehash one of the most well known episodes from its small screen counterpart.

Putting that aside, the story itself is sloppily put together. Instead of one coherent through line, the plot consists of several mini-stories that aren’t well connected. Spoilers ahead! We get stories about: Plankton trying to steal the Krabby Patty formula; the king needing a snail; SpongeBob and Patrick going to look for Gary after he’s taken; a strange and completely unnecessary trip to an old west town with zombies; Mr. Krabs, Squidward, Sandy, and Plankton going to look for Spongebob after realizing how much they miss him; a night in Atlantic City; a trial; a cloying musical number about how everyone loves SpongeBob; and flashbacks to when all the main characters were much younger and at a summer camp. While there is plenty of humor in some of these storylines, they don’t feel like they’re from a single movie, but are instead just a bunch of leftover TV show storyboards slapped together.

Perhaps the worst part of the film is the fact that it seems like it was created by some corporate entity looking to launch a spin-off series to keep that SpongeBob money rolling in, rather than to be actually entertaining as a standalone movie for the long time fans of the franchise. The previously mentioned summer camp storyline sets up the Paramount+ series Kamp Koral. Every flashback in the film itself was clumsily set up, and none of them was remotely funny. They all featured the same conceit, showing SpongeBob being kind to someone he just met and therefore becoming lifelong friends. Between all the sickly-sweetness of the SpongeBob love-fest by the other characters in the movie proper and the preschool-like gentleness of the flashback scenes, too much of Sponge on the Run felt more like a Blue’s Clues movie than what fans have come to expect and love about the show.

The animation in this film has switched from the old-school-looking 2D style used on the series to 3D-CG-style used by almost all major animation studios today. While it is beautiful and extremely well done, the change is not an improvement at all when it comes to the characters themselves. With the CG animation, they gain a little too much gravity, making their movement slightly more lumbering and heavy than the freer, lighter way they moved on TV. And facial expressions lose a lot of the frenetic and fun energy they used to have, and instead feel more rigid and rubbery.

As I’ve mentioned previously on this site, I’m a huge fan of SpongeBob. So maybe I’m being a bit harder than others might be on this film. But with a mess of a story, a spinoff angle that felt forced in, and an over-the-top and embarrassing attempt to almost canonize the main character, there’s no denying fans of the show deserved better. Feel free to run from this sponge.

(Speaking of rehashing, apparently I could have just taken the review I wrote for the last movie and changed a few of the plot points to fit this film!)

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run
March 4, 2021
91 minutes
Rated PG
directed by Tim Hill