Review: ‘The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run’ unleashes joyful nonsense for fans old and new

Patrick and SpongeBob in "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run."
Patrick (voiced by Bill Fagerbakke) and SpongeBob (voiced by Tom Kenny) in “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run.”
(Paramount Animation)

If you’ve somehow missed 13 seasons of “SpongeBob SquarePants” (created by the late Stephen Hillenburg) on Nickelodeon and two previous feature films of this animated absurdity (raises hand), “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” quickly establishes the beloved characters for the uninitiated. But it’s obviously the fans, both young and old, who are the target audience for the franchise’s first all-CGI-animated adventure. However, “Sponge on the Run” does serve as an enjoyable entry point to the phenomenon if cultural osmosis hasn’t provided an education for those to know the difference between SpongeBob (voice of Tom Kenny) and Squidward (Rodger Bumpass). It all makes sense — or at least as much sense as it can make — while still being delightful nonsense.

A major plot point in “Sponge on the Run” — yes, there’s a semblance of a story amid the sweet flashbacks, goofy musical numbers and live-action dream sequences — revolves on the youth-chasing undersea god Poseidon (Matt Berry) and his desperation for snail mucin to keep his face wrinkle-free. (This acknowledgement of the real-life anti-aging powers of the creature’s excretions is the film’s closest thing to science.) With no K-Beauty store inside the boundaries of his domain of the Lost City of Atlantic City and his own snail supply fresh out of slime, Poseidon puts out a call for a new snail to keep his skin glowing.

The devious but inept Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) sees an opportunity to finally snag the secret Krabby Patty burger recipe from Mr. Krabs (Clancy Brown): He will lure SpongeBob far away from the the Krusty Krab restaurant, which he can do by snail-napping SpongeBob’s beloved pet snail, Gary. Is it the best plot (on behalf of either Plankton or the film’s screenplay from director Tim Hill)? Nope, but it does set SpongeBob and BFF Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) off from Bikini Bottom and on the road to the Lost City of Atlantic City to rescue Gary, driven there by robot Otto (Awkwafina), a creation of ever-inventive Sandy the squirrel (Carolyn Lawrence). In inspired casting, Keanu Reeves — or at least his head — appears as the face of a wise sagebrush named … Sage. who helps SpongeBob in his quest. Danny Trejo, Snoop Dogg and Tiffany Haddish (playing a fish named Tiffany Haddock, naturally) all show up too because, well, why not?


Hill’s movie does raise questions — “How is there a lake under the water?” “Why is Patrick eating the snail litter” and “How is Sage still dry and fluffy in the ocean?” — though all logic is rightly forgotten in a sea of silly jokes. This trip is filled with goofy fun, though it wanders enough to occasionally test the attention spans of those neither young enough nor high enough to be in the film’s target audience.

‘The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run’

Rated: PG, for rude humor, some thematic elements and mild language

Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes

Playing: Available March 4 on PVOD and streaming on Paramount+