Nickelodeon's SpongeBob SquarePants quietly passed its 21st anniversary last month, but the long-running cartoon exhibits no signs of sinking into the depths of animation obscurity. With a new movie and spinoff series on the watery horizon, the TV show that's enthralled kids and adults the world over for over two decades is just getting started — and is now ready to take the plunge into an exciting future of oceanic possibilities.
Scheduled to hit theaters Friday, Aug. 7, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run is the franchise's third feature-length film and the first to be entirely animated with 3D characters. Recently speaking with SYFY WIRE, Tom Kenny (who voices the happy-go-lucky Porifera) described the film as "really wild" and "really fun," also touching on the nature of the CG aesthetic, which was briefly utilized in the climax of 2015's Sponge Out of Water.
"[Series creator Stephen] Hillenburg was always a little cautious about the 3D thing, and I think he wanted to use the last film as kind of a test to see how he felt about seeing the characters like that," Kenny says. "Steph was very much a traditional animation person — flat 2D, and he didn't know if the characters would work like that, and then when he saw it, he really loved it."
Prior to his passing from ALS in 2018, Hillenburg did get to leave his mark on early aspects of Sponge on the Run, which was written and directed by longtime SpongeBob scribe Tim Hill (whose screenwriting credits go all the way back to the series' first movie in 2004).
"[Hillenburg] was able to be involved in the planning of the movie and the writing of the movie," Kenny continues. "It's gonna be interesting to see [the characters] in 3D. I've actually seen some of it, obviously, because we're doing ADR and stuff like that, and it looks really cool, really great. It's a really nice blend of that old-school squash-and-stretch flat animation; Looney Tunes meets current CG look. So we're really excited about it. I think fans will really dig it."
The film finds SpongeBob and Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) setting off on an epic maritime quest to find the former's pet snail Gary (also voiced by Kenny), who has gone missing once again. As always, Squidward (Rodger Bumpass), Sandy (Carolyn Lawrence), Mr. Krabs (Clancy Brown), Plankton (Mr. Lawrence), Karen (Jill Talley), Mrs. Puff (Mary Jo Catlett), and Pearl (Lori Alan) are along for the ride. Keanu Reeves, Snoop Dogg, Awkwafina, and Reggie Watts are set to make guest appearances.
As evidenced by the trailers, fans will get to see the very first meeting between SpongeBob and Gary during SpongeBob's prepubescent years at Camp Coral. That glimpse back in time is directly tied to Nick's prequel spinoff show, Kamp Koral: SpongeBob's Under Years (it's a tad confusing, but the two Ks are likely in reference to The Krusty Krab).
"I can say that we're recording the spinoff series, which kind of springboards off of some stuff in the movie," Kenny reveals. "Some scenes in the upcoming movie where it's flashback stuff to SpongeBob and his pals at summer camp, at Camp Coral when they're really, really younguns. So the Kamp Koral TV series takes that and expands on it."
All of the original voice cast are returning for the new project, along with Carlos Alazraqui (Rocko's Modern Life) and Kate Higgins (Blaze and the Monster Machines), who are voicing a pair of new characters, Nobby and Narlene, narwal siblings who live in the woods around the camp.
Animated with CG as well, Kamp Koral was conceived by Marc Ceccarelli and Vincent Waller, who, like Hill, are longtime SquarePants veterans.
"The people that make it have always been a pretty small group. It's Steph and Marc Ceccarelli, Vince Waller, Paul Tibbitt, and Mr. Lawrence. Those are all people that have pretty much been on it, if not since the beginning, then almost since the beginning for many years," Kenny says. "It's definitely got a family feel, and it's turned into this part of people's lives that they really like. And in some ways, in times of trouble and stress, it's a go-to for them. It's comfort food, just the way a Krabby Patty would be for people in Bikini Bottom. 'I need to get out of the crazy and watch 11 minutes of an old SpongeBob [episode] that used to make me laugh my head off back in the day.'"
The 13-episode prequel was set to air next month, but may end up delayed after Sponge on the Run had its theatrical opening postponed by the global pandemic.