by Kristy Puchko, IGN
SpongeBob and friends set off on a wild adventure, full of celebrities, laughs, and oddball antics.
Who lives in a pineapple under the sea, boasts 13 seasons of kooky cartoon hijinks, and is finally fronting his third feature film? SpongeBob SquarePants! The giggling goofball with a heart of gold returns with The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge On The Run, a road trip romp that is celebrity-studded, candy-colored, and full of family-friendly humor.
It's an average day in Bikini Bottom. An ever-ready SpongeBob (Tom Kenny) frolics with his pet snail, Gary, before heading to work as a fry cook at the Krusty Krab. Like clockwork, Mr. Krab's pint-sized nemesis Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) will endeavor to steal the secret recipe for the delectable Krabby Patty. As always he will fail in a way hilariously embarrassing. But change is on the horizon when this aspiring "slop king" realizes the only thing standing between him and formula is the "boob savant" behind the grill. To kick SpongeBob out of the kitchen, Plankton steals Gary and sells him to the vain and dangerous Poseidon (Matt Berry), who rules over the Lost City of Atlantic City. To rescue his beloved pet, SpongeBob teams up with his BFF Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) on a quest that will take them through wild terrains, bonkers beats, and a show-stopping musical number.
Of course, Plankton, Squidward (Rodger Bumpass), Mr. Krabs (Clancy Brown), and Sandy (Carolyn Lawrence) will join in on the shenanigans too. This signature cast crackles, delivering the sugar-high energy that fans have come to expect from these outlandish undersea creatures. The visual gags and banter are still gleefully silly. For instance, when SpongeBob commends Patrick for his sense of "irony," the dopey starfish responds by ironing a shirt with comically smug satisfaction. Yet for all this familiar fun, there's a new look to the crew.
The hand-drawn animation originated by the late Stephen Hillenburg has been re-imagined in bouncy CGI. This is a cuddlier 3D aesthetic than was unfurled for the climax of The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, where the gang took to land and briefly became superheroes. This time, the characters look like squishy toys that might spring from the screen to run amok around your living room. Their soft makeover pairs with a string of childhood flashbacks to serve as a backdoor pilot for the upcoming spinoff series, Kamp Koral: SpongeBob's Under Years. Though these detours to the past are fun, they slow down the rollicking ride of this road trip comedy. Thankfully, a pit stop in the Western ghost town of Goner Gulch provides a wallop of welcome wackiness.
In this live-action setting, a parade of celebrity cameos begins, including Danny Trejo, Snoop Dogg, and Keanu Reeves, who plays a talking tumbleweed of sage, named Sage, who is a wise sage! While some co-stars might match SpongeBob's level of zany, Reeves plays his role surprisingly straight. Tumbling after the dim-witted duo and delivering advice, Sage grows irate as they barrel into one radical mistake after another. A recurring gag is born from their irrepressible impulsiveness challenging Reeves's trademark chill, turning his grumbles into our gain.
Matt Berry proves another stellar addition to the SpongeBob universe. The What We Do In the Shadows star lends his bold voice and bravado to Poseidon, swiftly establishing the immodest merman as a megalomaniac from the first boom of a petty pronouncement. Whether he's hollering at his servants or applauding a stage show, Berry brings the kind of over-the-top energy that makes Poseidon snap right into place with the rest of these wild maroons.
Poseidon's kingdom is a casino metropolis under the sea, providing a dramatic contrast to the small-town vibe of Bikini Bottom. Naturally, SpongeBob and Patrick get caught up in the razzle-dazzle and sugary churros. The bright lights, big city vibe allows director Tim Hill to pack the final act with eye-popping color. Plus, this more mature location sets the stage for allusions that'll play better to grown-ups, like a tentacle parody of Kenny G or spoofs on courtroom dramas and castle-crashing showdowns. There's a healthy dose of action in chase scenes and fights, more playful than violent. Yet there's something missing that keeps The SpongeBob Movie from being great. It's just not weird enough.
SpongeBob has long been defined by a brand of humor that is kid-friendly, silly, slyly observational, but ultimately unapologetically weird. The films thus far took Hillenburg's bonkers realm and spun it into wondrously WTF big-screen spectacle, like SpongeBob and Patrick riding the freckled back of Baywatch's David Hasselhoff as he serves as a human jet ski. Moments like these are so bizarre they feel like Pop Rocks are bursting in your brain. The surreal unpredictability brings a rush of joy! The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge On The Run absolutely has bizarre bits, but nothing so out there that it achieves that Pop Rocks rush.
Perhaps it's unfair to expect SpongeBob and his friends to still surprise us after all these years. Our familiarity with the franchise might be why mind-blowing thrills are a bridge too far. Besides, director Tim Hill has a lot on his plate here. Not only was he charged with making a fun movie with a suitably grand sense of spectacle, but also he has to work in the Kamp Koral stuff to tie into the new series. Then, he was tasked with continuing the SpongeBob canon after the loss of Stephen Hillenburg, to whom the film is dedicated. To Hill's credit, this film is a joyful and loving tribute to the oddball world that Hillenburg envisioned. Though not as joltingly outrageous as its predecessors, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge On The Run is a winsomely wacky good time, alive with laughs and light-hearted lunacy.
Editor: Mike Andrews, ACE