Saturday, 21 November 2020

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge On The Run (2020) - Movie Review

I’m in the mood for something fun today. And we’re already off to a good start since, with all the release schedule shuffling, I’m surprised this even made it over here this year. But man, am I glad it did because this is Spongebob doing what Spongebob does best.

Nickelodeon must have gotten bit by the CGI bug after Sponge Out Of Water, as this is the first film in the franchise to be presented entirely using 3D animation. It still has some live-action stuff (mainly to show off the delicious array of cameos on offer), but for the most part, we’re dealing with something that looks closer to Battle For Bikini Bottom: Rehydrated than the show proper. And it fits weirdly well.

The animation itself, mainly for the characters, has this odd stuttering quality I usually associate with stop-motion; there’s some definite LEGO Movie energy here, and for depicting Spongebob’s iconic style of hyperactive lunacy, it works very nicely. Seeing all the familiar locales, and even the new ones like the hilarious Lost City Of Atlantic City, rendered in this fashion makes this world feel bigger than ever before.

It also works with all the incredibly weird specifics of the plot, like snails being kidnapped for use in beauty treatments, a wise sage in the form of a sentient tumbleweed, a flesh-eating cowboy pirate zombie hip-hop dance crew… once again, it’s being able to write these statements as things that actually happened that make me love this job. And because the plot is a lot closer in pace to the first film than Sponge Out Of Water, it feels less episodic and more like it’s a road trip movie. No matter the diversions, it’s all building up to something.

The soundtrack for this thing is fucking amazing as well, equal parts eclectic and nostalgic. While Hans Zimmer and Steve Mazzaro’s compositions do well in backing up the main action (and having a show-stopping musical number co-written by Cyndi Lauper certainly helps), it’s the needle drops that genuinely impress here. Livin’ La Vida Loca, a snippet from Royal Crown Revue’s soundtrack for The Mask, Weezer’s cover of Take On Me in a context that really makes it pop, and the end credits… holy shit. I am legit jealous of Tainy’s production skills, as he manages to chop up samples from the theme tune for two different songs in Agua and Krabby Walk, and yet it’s nowhere close to repetitive. I mean, it ain’t I’m A Goofy Goober, but it’s damn close.

And speaking of the ending to the first film, there’s also the emotional engagement to get into with this one. Now, admittedly, nothing here really captures the zeal of that finale, where the franchise’s cross-generational appeal was channelled through one of the most enriching displays of Peter Pan Syndrome ever put to film. However, the way it gets into the relationships between the characters, and to Spongebob specifically, makes the plot into a reaffirmation of what makes him such a lovable character and, in turn, what makes the show so beloved to this day. As much as part of my brain wants to correct the retcons in how these characters met each other, that gets muffled quickly by the sheer levels of d’aww on display. For a film dedicated to the memory of creator Stephen Hillenburg, it makes for a very moving tribute to his legacy.

This is just a really solid and fun movie, one I can easily see appealing to kids as well as adults who can operate on the same wavelength. The acting is great (and the cameos even more so; I swear, meme-casting Keanu Reeves still hasn’t gotten old yet), the comedy is tight as ever, the plot actually exists for a change, and at just over 90 minutes, it all fits together splendidly.

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