The reassuringly zany first trailer for Paramount’s The Spongebob Movie: Sponge on the Run is here, featuring casinos, a gag about ironing, and Keanu Reeves’s disembodied head. But what might be most impressive is the 2d-to-cg translation of the characters, which surpasses expectations for a Spongebob adaptation and suggests this film could be a refreshingly original visual treat.

Sponge on the Run is billed as an origin story for the Pollyannaish sponge, who turned 20 this year. Watch the trailer and read the official synopsis below:

After Spongebob’s beloved pet snail Gary is snail-napped, he and [his best friend Patrick Star] embark on an epic adventure to The Lost City of Atlantic City to bring Gary home. As they navigate the delights and dangers on this perilous and hilarious rescue mission, Spongebob and his pals prove there’s nothing stronger than the power of friendship.

This is the third feature in the franchise, and the first to come out since the death of its creator Stephen Hillenburg. It’s also the first to offer a fully cg version of the Spongebob universe. Some sequences employ a hybrid style in which the characters interact with the real world (this also happened in the previous film, The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water). Hence Keanu Reeves’s head.

The producers have described Sponge on the Run as an homage to Frank Capra’s feel-good Christmas weepie It’s a Wonderful Life. This was reflected in the original title, The Spongebob Movie: It’s a Wonderful Sponge, which was officially changed a few days ago, and it’s not clear to what extent the film still pays tribute to Capra’s classic.

Animation is being handled by Mikros Image’s studio in Montreal, Canada, which has built a solid reputation in recent years for its graphic approach to cg animation. The studio also created the animation for Dreamworks Animation’s Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie and the French production Asterix : The Secret of the Magic Potion.

Tim Hill directs from a screenplay by Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger, and Michael Kvamme. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the cast includes Awkwafina and Reggie Watts alongside Reeves and returning Spongebob voice actors, and the film will feature original songs by Cyndi Lauper and her co-writer Rob Hyman. Ryan Harris is producing.

The first two Spongebob films netted around $465 million at the global box office, and this follow-up could do very well for Paramount Animation, which didn’t exactly set the box office afire with its last release, Wonder Park. At first sight, Sponge on the Run seems to have dodged the pitfalls of cg franchise reboots, honoring the spirit of the Spongebob universe with its highly stylized animation and faithful character designs.

Meanwhile, Netflix and Nickelodeon have just announced a major production partnership. The New York Times reports that the deal includes a music-based Spongebob spin-off centered on Squidward, the moody anthropomorphic octopus who lives next to Spongebob.

The Spongebob Movie: Sponge on the Run is due to hit U.S. theaters on May 22, 2020.

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