By Christian DiMartino
Can you believe that Spongebob Squarepants has been on television for over 20 years? That honestly blows my mind, especially because it’s nearly as old as yours truly, and yours truly still watches it. That’s right, a grown, 24 year old man still watches Spongebob Squarepants… or, er, the old episodes. Come 2009, at least, things start getting weird with the show. At times it forgets to be funny, and typically the reaction it elicits ranges from either “ew” to “what were they on?” Spongebob was perhaps always a secret show for stoners, but the early episodes are genuinely funny, even for adults. Every so often with current Spongebob, you’ll find a decent episode, but just around the corner is something rather baffling.
Nearly 22 years on the air and two films in, we now have The Spongebob Movie: Sponge on the Run, which was scheduled for a theatrical release last May, and has now landed on ParamountTV+ (probably to gain hype, more on that later), and other Pay Per View services. As a longtime Spongebob devotee who quotes it like no other, and who enjoyed the previous two outings, The Spongebob Squarepants Movie and The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, I’ll say this: there are things here that don’t necessarily work, but it does have moments of pure comedic inspiration. It’s essentially a 90 minute episode, and it often plays like the new ones: baffling, and weird. Yet there is fun to be had in the baffling and weird that is put on display. The film also has a heart that’s in the right place, yet it doesn’t quite feel at the right time (more on that later too). That being said, faults and all, as a film that is perhaps pure product, Spongebob 3 has more of a soul, and more going for it, than last year’s boringly abysmal Scoob. At least there’s some joy on display.
There is not a character on television that I relate to more than Squidward Tentacles, Spongebob’s grouchy, artistic cephalopod neighbor and co-worker who loathes Spongebob but secretly has a soft-spot for him (funny, I hated my neighbor too growing up, and he ended up becoming my best friend). Yet you gotta hand it to Spongebob: as happy and obnoxious as he may be to some, the little yellow guy is always in such admirably great spirits. Which, considering these times, is probably what we could use. As the film opens, Spongebob (voiced, as always, by Tom Kenny) is basically going through his usual routine of working at the Krusty Krab, flipping burgers, and lovin’ it. All seems well. Of course, Plankton, the cycloptic nemesis of Spongebob’s cheapskate boss, Mr. Krabs, is hatching another plan to steal the recipe for the Krabby Patty. He is not successful, again, but opportunity knocks whenever he discovers that Poseidon is in search of of a snail, because the goo that a snail leaves behind cures his wrinkles (yes, you read that correctly).
So Plankton hatches the idea to give Poseidon Spongebob’s pet snail, Gary, which would ultimately send Spongebob into a tizzy, and lead to the demise of the Krusty Krab. Upon discovering Gary’s disappearance, Spongebob and his right-hand starfish Patrick set off on a quest to find Gary and rescue him from Poseidon’s clutches. Said quest at one point involves a group of singing dancing cannibalistic pirate zombie cowboys, and Keanu Reeves as an all-knowing tumbleweed named Sage. Again, weird. Yet this happens to be the funniest portion of the movie, in a “I don’t know what is happening, but I’m laughing because of it” kind of way. The latter half of the film has moments too, but more on that later.
Reeves (do you ever wonder if he knows how cool he is?) and the singing dancing cannibalistic pirate zombie cowboys aside, I’ll tell you that, as a devotee, the film covers stuff that Spongebob has done before. As the previous film pretended that he’d never been to “dry land,” Gary has also gone missing, and Spongebob has also had to go up against a God, of the sorts (ahem, the first movie). Yet the recycled parts of the story don’t really get in the way too much, because the film does have energy. It’s not always funny, but sometimes it has bursts of comedic inspiration. It should also be said that the film is visually cutting edge; a film that dazzles the eye from beginning to end, and what a pity that we can’t see it on the big screen.
As Spongebob 3 goes on, there really isn’t a dull moment, but it does lead to a climax that is difficult to put my finger on. Spongebob’s friends come to his rescue, and plea for his life, discussing what a wonderful, gentle soul he is, reflecting on the impact he’s had on them and when he first came into their lives. As someone who loves the show dearly (again, the old episodes), the scene is sweet, and I feel a lot of care went into it. Yet in the back of my mind, I can’t help but feel like maybe this scene was in service of product placement. See, also premiering on ParamountTV+ is a new series called Kamp Koral: Spongebob’s Under Years, a prequel that focuses on all of the characters when they’re way younger, similar to the sequence I’m discussing. It’s not that this sentimental moment isn’t necessarily earned (if you’ve watched the show long enough, you can understand why these characters are saying the things that they’re saying), but it doesn’t fully feel right within the context of this movie. Perhaps there should’ve been a more emotional arc from the start, and then it would’ve made a little more sense. As is, it’s a nice moment, and it’s nice enough to get an “aww,” but also, it is a bit of a detour from the rest of the movie, which makes it feel somewhat shoehorned.
This is an uneven experience, but from where I’m sitting, it’s difficult to knock something as good natured as this. It’s a film that sets out to entertain children, and entertain children it should. It entertained me too, and again, Spongebob has been going at it for over 20 years. It’s nuts. It’s an extended episode, yet if you’re wanting to enjoy it, chances are you will. It is perhaps a product, but it’s a product that was made with enough care to where you can enjoy it, unlike that corporate monstrosity that was Scoob. Spongebob might be going on 22 years, but there’s still a bit of gas left in the tank.