After a pair of agreeably absurd feature films, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run transforms the big-screen adventures of its titular goofball into a backdoor pilot for Kamp Koral, a Muppet Babies-ish variation on the long-running TV series. Both the film and the series premiere today in tandem with the launch of Paramount+ (the new name of CBS All Access).
If incessant third-act flashbacks to toddler times with SpongeBob, Patrick, Sandy and such are any indication, Kamp Koral is strictly for die-hards and hard-up parents. For those who are less sycophantic to the sponge, Run plays more like Bob and Star Go to Vista Sub Par.
Originally scheduled for release in 2019 before push-backs and pandemics bumped it to Paramount+ (although it’s been internationally available for a few months), the indifference with which it’s now presented indicates how inessential it is next to the other films. This threequel’s thrust follows SpongeBob and Patrick’s attempt to rescue SpongeBob’s kidnapped snail, Gary, from the vainglorious King Poseidon (who has otherwise exhausted snails to smear across his face as a skin-care regimen).
But that’s hardly enough to fill 91 minutes. So there’s a superfluous live-action side quest that finds the heroes trying to liberate flesh-eating cowboy-pirate zombies. Yet another subplot about jealous restaurateur Plankton trying to steal the formula for Mr. Krabs’ far-more-successful Krabby Patty. And all of those flashbacks during a trial of SpongeBob and Patrick that comes to feel like a tribunal all its own.
Run is also the franchise’s first foray into fully computer-generated animation, which lends some extra definition to Spongebob’s noodly legs and Patrick’s belly blemishes. It’s a natural extension of the pot-cloud aesthetic this animation has generally held for the childless crowd all along, and easily the film’s most intriguing, if occasionally inelegant, aspect.
Building off previous films’ memorably weird in-person appearances from David Hasselhoff and Antonio Banderas, Run triples down with Snoop Dogg, Danny Trejo and, as the face and voice of Sage, a shamanic tumbleweed advising our heroes on their journey, human meme Keanu Reeves. His face is lit like a moving novena candle, and Reeves’ increasingly exasperated mentorship of these two morons is good for a few easy-bake laughs — especially as Sage extols the Window of Meanwhile, “the video on demand service of parallel action.” But like the rest of the film, even Reeves seems to run out of energy and enthusiasm before an hour has even expired.
It’s generous to say an hour with commercials is what Run should run, given its Saturday-night Nickelodeon special feel. And when you consider his previous work on a listless live-action Garfield sequel and an execrable Alvin and the Chipmunks movie, writer-director Tim Hill approaches Run with all the creative investment of a supply chain solution. You know SpongeBob lives in a pineapple under the sea. But now he just gives life to spinoff TV.