A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
Stands out for positive messages.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run is a buddy road-trip musical that marks the third feature film based on the long-running TV show/franchise. SpongeBob (voiced by Tom Kenny) continues to be a wellspring of optimism and innocence in an underwater world full of comically self-absorbed narcissists, money-hungry bosses, and cranky co-workers. That said, this time, the villains are a bit more menacing than usual, and, in addition to cartoon violence, there's a live-action fire-shooting zombie leader (Danny Trejo) who tries to knife the heroes before burning to ash. SpongeBob and Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) must also discover their courage to do what's right in environments that make it easy to go along with what's wrong. The two besties gamble and party all night in The Lost City of Atlantic City, with SpongeBob ripping his clothes off and one character observing Patrick passed out in a pool of what appears to be vomit (although it turns out it's only drool). Background characters also appear to be drinking alcoholic beverages. As is often mentioned about this series, there's insulting language ("dumb," "losers") and attitudes directed at the two best friends. But even those who are typically exasperated with SpongeBob profess their love and admiration for their square buddy, who exemplifies how to be a true friend.
- Parents say
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What's the story?
In THE SPONGEBOB MOVIE: SPONGE ON THE RUN, SpongeBob SquarePants' pet, Gary, is "snailnapped" as a gift for the nefarious King Poseidon (voiced by Matt Berry). Despite facing mortal danger, SpongeBob (voiced by Tom Kenny) and his best friend Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) hit the road on a quest to save Gary, guided by a sage tumbleweed (Keanu Reeves). Snoop Dogg, Danny Trejo, Awkwafina, and Tiffany Haddish are among the cast.
Is it any good?
As he finds the courage to save his pet, SpongeBob is a scaredy-cat no more -- but his humor isn't quite as sharp as it used to be, either. Our sponge-y innocent still sees the world with wonder, but the movie's nonsensical storyline and pointless musical numbers may make adults wonder whether this now-decades-old cartoon character is ready for retirement. Kids, on the other hand, are much more likely to eat it up. For elementary-age kids especially, spending a couple of hours with SpongeBob and Patrick is entertaining enough. And while "the courage is inside you" message may not make a lasting impact on young viewers, there's another message that will. As part of the movie, the members of the Bikini Bottom gang reflect on specific moments of how SpongeBob's thoughtfulness and kindness have impacted their lives. Hearing how others see and value them is something kids crave. With Sponge on the Run, SpongeBob’s positive example may resonate into showing kids how to be a good friend.
SpongeBob and Patrick are truly on a quest of mythical proportions as they take their trip to the underworld (actually, in this case, it's the above world) to free the undead. They lose track of time during a wild night at a casino, gambling the hours away. Likely inspired by the Lotus Eaters section of Homer's The Odyssey, the casino scene also feels like it was lifted almost directly from Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief. Regardless of origin, it begs the question: Why would you choose to place a children's character in a casino where he parties until he passes out? Or face a kill-or-be-killed scenario with a demonic vaquero? Or have children’s heroes face the guillotine in a modern-day world? The story makes as much sense as Reeves' disembodied head rolling around uttering wisdom, or Snoop Dogg appearing out of nowhere in a zombie saloon. Bottom line? Kids will like it, but as much as the film may try, it's not epic in any sense of the word.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the enduring popularity of SpongeBob. Why do you think that a sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea is so appealing to kids and adults?
One criticism of SpongeBob is that characters can be rude and sometimes speak to each other in insulting ways. Do you think kids are likely to pick up and mimic that behavior in real life? Does this film's ending balance the mean treatment?
There's a lot of SpongeBob-related merchandise out there. Does watching the movie make you want to get more of it? At what age do kids understand what marketing or advertising is?
How does the impact of the live-action violence compare to that of the cartoon violence? Does it make it less scary knowing it's all a dream?
SpongeBob and Patrick are on a hero's journey. What are the elements of a hero's journey, and why is it so popular as a storytelling device? What other films or books do you know that follow this template?
- On DVD or streaming: March 4, 2021
- Cast: Keanu Reeves, Awkwafina, Clancy Brown, Tom Kenny
- Director: Tim Hill
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Friendship, Ocean Creatures
- Run time: 91 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: rude humor, some thematic elements, and mild language
- Last updated: January 12, 2022
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