Especially for 90’s kids, one of the hallmark trademarks of adolescence was coming home from school and binge watching Nickelodeon and their plethora of sitcoms. It wasn’t until 1996, where Nickelodeon decided to expand their properties onto the silver screen with their debut feature Harriet the Spy. This resulted in a slew of successes, including the cult classic Good Burger, the Academy Award winning Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, and plenty more famed modern classics. Nickelodeon Movies was known for their risky children’s stories, where they weren’t afraid to shy away from the occasionally mature gag or even subplot. It wasn’t until 2011, after the release of Rango and The Adventures of Tintin, where the company gradually started falling apart. Just last year, they released Wonder Park, a literal direction-less flop that failed to amuse or even capture the child-like sensibilities of its modern audience.
Though there is still light at the end of the tunnel for the supposedly doomed company. Milking one of their most beloved properties more time, SpongeBob SquarePants returns to the silver screen exclusively in Canada for a limited pandemic engagement. One could argue all day if the very existence of this film is ethical or not, with the following death of the show’s creator Stephen Hillenburg and his executive producer credit. Though in all honesty, unlike most unnecessary continuations of supposedly dead properties, SpongeBob’s legacy is infinite. Sure it won’t have the same spark as the previous films or even early season episodes; though the same charm and general authentic appeal is still intact in this third flick.
What I adore most about the three films in this self-contained franchise is how different they all look in size and visual appeal. The first one is identical to the original series, where the rough hand-drawn animation is evident in every colorful frame. The second film is arguably the most grandiose and dense, with an interesting hybrid of more refined linework for its 2D sections and tastefully adapted 3D animation “above water” superhero segments. The latest rendition is all completely computer animated in a 3D space; though the textiles and the lighting are stylized to make the colors more soothing for the eye and more kid-friendly for younger audiences.
In some ways, Sponge on the Run is the culmination of all the best attributes of the prior two SpongeBob flicks. A plot involving an infamous Greek god, live-action comedy segments, popular celebrity cameos, and a script riddled with juvenile randomness; the film is non-stop with its consistent hyperactivity and an elusive visual flare. Though something feels missing from the end product. This sequel feels corporate. It misses the mark in creating something actually entertaining for all viewers. The first film in particular still holds up terrifically to this day, due to its non-stop quips, innuendos, and genuinely bizarre subplots — involving but not limited to a robotic David Hasselhoff and a ridiculously catchy Goofy Goober anthem. Relying more on family-friendly fare over what made the original episodes and films so special, Sponge on the Run lacks the same amount of ingenuity and gusto in stark comparison with the previous outings.
Sometimes a prophetic Keanu Reeves tumbleweed and a Zombie pirate ghost cowboy Danny Trejo doesn’t always cut it. A significant downgrade in comparison with the other films (largely in part with the loss of the series creator), Sponge on the Run unfortunately fails to capture the same exuberant energy of the original 90’s television series. A satisfying enough reboot for today’s youth, the franchise is however still stuck in murky Bikini Bottom waters. With the added pressures of budget limitations and lack of clear creative control, I feel as though it’s time to let SpongeBob go. The kids will be alright, and I’m sure this is what Hillenburg would’ve wanted at the end of the day. Stick with the reruns I suppose, unless you’re in a dire need to return to your local Canadian multiplex anytime soon.
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run is now playing exclusively in Canadian Cinemas