I don't think there's ever gonna be a cartoon that's like "SpongeBob SquarePants". Since 1999, the cartoon has been delighting children for many years on Nickelodeon with the goofy titular main character and his many sea friends in the city of Bikini Bottom. He's also been in a couple of crazy films as well including "The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie" from 2004 and "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water" from 2015 which had their moments and plenty of laughs. Now he and his buddies are back in a brand new adventure in the third film in the series "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run". Unfortunately though, this film is nowhere near as good as the previous two but rather is a huge mess which results in this film being one of the most flawed and badly put together animated films I've seen all year.
In the underwater town of Bikini Bottom, SpongeBob (Tom Kenny) has been living a happy life working at his job at the Krusty Krab for his boss Mr. Krabs (Clancy Brown), hanging out with his best friend Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) much to the annoyance of their next-door neighbor Squidward (Roger Bumpass), and loving his pet snail Gary. All seems well until one day Gary goes missing much to SpongeBob's sadness and shock. He then discovers that Gary has been taken to Atlantic City and is being held by King Posiedon (Matt Berry) Hoping to get him back, SpongeBob and Patrick embark on a mission to go to the underwater city Atlantic City to retrieve him while Squidward, Krabs, Sandy (Carolyn Lawrence), and Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) go after SpongeBob and Patrick to rescue them from an impending doom which I won't say.
Given what you've read of this premise, it doesn't seem like the film would be that messy but it sadly is and there's a lot of reasons why. For one thing, the film feels out of control and has a lack of direction and pacing which results in a film that has a lot happening without reason to be there which leads to my biggest problem with this film easily being the story. The story seems simple enough, but the problem was that the story was that had some very odd pacing issues and also had a bunch of scenes that only seemed to be filler for the film just to pad out the runtime. For example, there was a scene where SpongeBob and Patrick were in a western town where there would be asked to free the souls of these creatures and it features cameos from the likes of Keanu Reeves, Snoop Dog, and Danny Trejo. However, the whole scene was essentially a dream sequence and served nothing to the film at all and just left me asking what the purpose of that was other than to fill run time. There were also some scenes involving flashbacks with SpongeBob and his friends at a summer camp and the way they were written into the film was not really good as it seemed very basic and not well fleshed out like other flashbacks I've seen in other animated films. Speaking of the writing, most of the script didn't work. The jokes mostly fell flat and it mostly fell into the repeating buddy comedy tropes we're all too familiar with. There's even a joke in the first act that seems to mock the third act break where the main characters yell at each other and get sad and then realize they need each other which seemed funny until the film actually decided to use that trope. The joke really loses some value when the cliche it's mocking ends up happening in the film. It's really a poor example of how to mock a cliche compared to something like "The Lego Movie" which knew how to mock the chosen one story perfectly while still being funny and fresh at the same time. As far as the characters go, most don't really have much to do. I mean, SpongeBob and Patrick do have a goal of rescuing Gary, but neither really have much character development throughout the film. Compared to the first two movies where both characters grew, both of them remained the same and didn't see any change. I did like seeing more screentime with Krabs, Squidward, Sandy, and Plankton, but they don't have much to do in the film either. I'll give credit that both Krabs and Plankton sort of growing as characters due to realizing mistakes they made and Squidward and Sandy sharing some funny moments, but there's not much to them other than that. As far as the movie characters go, there's not much to say about them. There's this tumbleweed character played by Keanu Reeves known as Sage, but he's essentially a pointless motivation fairy and serves no purpose to the film other than to say some motivational dialogue. King Poseidon is also kind of a weak antagonist as he doesn't really have a lot of screen time and only seems thrown in so the film can have a threat for SpongeBob. It was really sad. The best thing I can say about this film is that the animation looks really great. The textures are amazing and most of the characters really shine brightly with how well they move. Not to mention, it really has eye-popping sets. However, it's not enough to save this film.
In the end, "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run" is a huge mess. Despite the animation look very impressive and beautiful, the story is very basic and doesn't have any real strength to it and the characters don't have much to do and feel wasted. I don't really recommend this film as I feel it just doesn't really add up to much and feels like a film that doesn't do anything unique or clever. I would rather stick to the first two films instead as those have moments that people can come back to and enjoy. This film though isn't quite the wonderful sponge.