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"SpongeBob's Runaway Roadtrip": A Trip to Less Than Bountiful

Do people still use slide projectors to share photographs of their vacations? It’s a sign of just how boring SpongeBob’s Runaway Roadtrip is that none of the five episodes included on the DVD theme set could distract me from that admittedly pointless question.

For the record, the five episodes in question are “A SquarePants Family Vacation,” “Patrick’s Staycation,” “Walking the Plankton,” “Mooncation,” and “Mr. Krabs Takes a Vacation,” which are surrounded by some brief interstitial material that has the characters putting on some of the abovementioned slide shows. Briefly, on each:

In “A SquarePants Family Vacation” SpongeBob, Patrick, and SpongeBob’s parents set off on a road trip to the Great Barrier Reef, which promises lots of rides and excursions. But the car breaks down, and the boys wind up having an adventure in a demented wilderness that recapitulates all the fun they were looking for at the Reef. It’s a chain of one slapstick bit followed by another, all punctuated with a lot of screaming, and it nicely sets the tone for everything that follows, and by “nicely sets” I mean “distills to a tedious essence.”

“Patrick’s Staycation” does a little better, mostly because it is organized around Patrick’s idiocy. The plot has the moronic starfish upending the lives of his neighbors by interpreting their houses and activities as elements in a resort after SpongeBob convinces him he doesn’t need to go on an expensive trip in order to enjoy all the perks of a vacation. There is some fun to be had by watching how much trouble he can get into, but invention flags long before the clock runs down.

“Walking the Plankton” has SpongeBob, Mr. Krabs, Plankton, and Plankton’s wife/computer Karen taking an ocean cruise. This is part of another one of Plankton’s plots for seizing the formula to the Krabby Patty, which means there is a lot of squashing to be had, if that is your thing. Karen comes close to stealing the show a couple of times, as she is unaware of what Plankton is up to and thinks the trip is a second honeymoon, but there’s so little to steal that it’s not worth the effort.

“Mooncation” takes SpongeBob and Sandy Cheeks to the Moon for an “extreme” vacation, but it is even worse than “Family Vacation” because the ratio of mere screaming to actual slapstick is woefully high. Long-time SpongeBob viewers will also probably find themselves nostalgically recalling “Sandy’s Rocket,” which turned the same conceit on its head by having SpongeBob and Patrick mistake Bikini Bottom for the Moon.

Finally, “Mr. Krabs Takes a Vacation” has Mr. Krabs and SpongeBob touring the Bikini Bottom Mint. Clancy Brown has always been one of the standout performers on the show, and he doesn’t disappoint here as Mr. Krabs falls into one gibbering fit after another. But you don’t have to recognize the particular gags to have an intense feeling of déjà vu each time Mr. Krabs’ eyes explode.

The episodes on this collection are more purely comic than some of the other recent episodes I’ve watched–they are blessedly free of plot and storylines–and the animation has a lot of energy and character to it. But by the end it’s not hard to feel that the juggernaut show itself, and not just the characters, are in dire need of a little R&R.

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