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Patrick (voiced by Bill Fagerbakke), SpongeBob (voiced by Tom Kenny), and Otto (voiced by Awkwafina) in The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run.

Photo Credit: Paramount Animation/Courtesy of manufacturer

  • The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run
  • Directed by: Tim Hill
  • Written by: Tim Hill (Based on the SpongeBob SquarePants series created by Stephen Hillenburg)
  • Starring: Tom Kenny, Awkwafina, Clancy Brown, Rodger Bumpass, Bill Fagerbakke, Carolyn Lawrence, Douglas Lawrence, Reggie Watts
  • Classification: G (except AB, where it’s PG, and Quebec rates it Subject to Classification)
  • Length: 91 mins


rating

1.5 out of 4 stars

To be honest, I never did understand SpongeBob SquarePants. I knew it was a popular TV series for children, but I didn’t find the titular character appealing in any way. In fact, I found his made-for-gags laugh downright annoying. Nevertheless, the show was beloved by a multigenerational audience. Children loved the goofy characters and their childish humour. Older folks appreciated the adult subtexts of SpongeBob’s aquatic life, job and peers, and were charmed by his relentless optimism.

So, I totally understand if the latest SpongeBob SquarePants movie spinoff will draw in longtime fans and new audiences brave enough to venture into a movie theatre this Friday. (That’s right, Canadians get to enjoy the theatrical release of The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run. It’s expected to release in America in early 2021 via video-on-demand.) However, for me and my two kids (aged 10 and 8), this dive into the deep sea wasn’t as thrilling an adventure as we’d hoped for.

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I didn’t tell the kids what they were going to watch. I didn’t want to taint our experience with my disdain. As soon as the Attenborough-like voiceover (by director/writer Tim Hill) opening mentioned “Bikini Bottom,” both my kids yelled “SPONGEBOB!” and profusely thanked me. They’d only ever gotten to watch the TV show at their cousin’s house, since we are a no-cable-TV household. Their enthusiasm soon mellowed, however.

The story is straightforward. As many likely know, SpongeBob lives in an underwater city called Bikini Bottom, with his pet snail Gary, who – for some reason – meows like a cat. He’s best friends with Patrick Star, a not-so-bright starfish, but a loyal friend and neighbour. His other neighbour, Squidward Tentacles, is a morose and grumpy octopus, who also happens to be SpongeBob’s co-worker at a fast-food restaurant called the Krusty Krab, and who likes to play the clarinet.

Other characters include Krusty Krab’s miserly owner Mr. Krabs; Mr. Krabs’s rival Plankton, a copepod who runs the unsuccessful restaurant the Chum Bucket; and Sandy Cheeks, a Texan squirrel who wears a diving suit to live underwater – another one of SpongeBob’s friends.

When Gary is “snail-napped” by Poseidon (a Greek god making an underwater appearance, natch), SpongeBob and Patrick set out on a rescue mission to The Lost City of Atlantic City. Their road trip becomes yet another vehicle to deliver punny lines and meta-analysis.

To wit: “This is like a buddy movie,” says Patrick. “It feels like the journey of a singular hero who battles adversity,” replies SpongeBob. I sort of smiled – just like when I recently watched a Korean drama featuring a Nietzsche-spouting gangster. I mean, the writers are trying, right?

Throw in a tumbleweed cameo by Keanu Reeves. “I’m Sage,” he says in characteristic Keanu-speak. “Because I am made of sage, and I am sage.” Whoa! I watched my kids watching Reeves’s exchanges with SpongeBob and Patrick with zero sense of irony, and wondered how long Reeves would meme-ify himself, and whether I should bother explaining it all to my kids. Those with sharp ears might also catch other cameos by Awkwafina and Tiffany Haddish playing characters that do nothing to bank on their particular style of comedy. The plot, meanwhile, kept moving forward.

How do SpongeBob and Patrick rescue Gary? What does it mean to be a friend? How can we accept our true selves? These are the tough life questions The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run tries to answer in its own fashion. At the end of it all, my kids and I shrugged our shoulders. In these dog days of summer and the pandemic, the slightest distraction is welcome. When I asked them about the most memorable parts of the movie, responses involved both fart jokes and one of the more subtle instances of cultural commentary involving a narrative device called “The Window of Meanwhile.”

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It should be noted that this is the first movie of all three in the franchise to be fully rendered in CGI versus traditional 2-D animation. The screener with a large anti-piracy watermark in the middle of the frame didn’t allow us to appreciate that quality of the movie. Is it enough to get bums on the seats in the theatre? Will the movie inspire more memorable SpongeBob SquarePants memes, which are in part responsible for the show’s longevity?

These are questions I’ll be asking as I keep (re)considering my apathy toward this particular sea sponge.

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run opens in theatres Aug. 14.

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