SpongeBob actors call new movie a welcome 'dose of silly' in pandemic
Let’s face it — SpongeBob SquarePants is annoying. Where does he get off being so yellow? That laugh, it bores though the brain. The optimism — what nerve! Doesn’t he know we’re in a pandemic?
Plus, the whole sea-sponge identity just doesn’t hold any water. And not to nitpick, but his pants, they’re square. Why can’t he wear a vertical leg covering like the rest of us?
OK, fine. Maybe his laugh is actually infectious, and his joy as buoyant as a sun-dappled day. No self-respecting adult wants to admit it, but we’re watching SpongeBob in droves.
In fact, in a 60-day survey of social media, fan ratings and piracy, Parrot Analytics found last month that the animated Nickelodeon series has been the most popular show during the pandemic.
“I think SpongeBob is comfort food for fans,” says Tom Kenny, who’s voiced the frenetic fry cook for the past 21 years. “It’s this go-to place when you just need a dose of silly to take you out of your troubled life and into dumb goofiness, bright colours, crazy music and familiar characters being insane.”
And you can bet your barnacles that the third movie in the franchise will do just as well. The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run debuts in Canadian theatres on Friday, and will subsequently regale fans on Netflix.
As the first all-CGI SpongeBob movie, it’s everything you’d expect and more.
After SpongeBob’s pet snail Gary is kidnapped, our porous pal and his starfish friend Patrick set out for The Lost City of Atlantic City to rescue him. Also, there’s Snoop Dogg as a zombie cowboy! And Keanu Reeves as a tumbleweed spirit guide! And the stories of how all the Bikini Bottom buddies came to be friends!
“One of the things I was regretting over not having the traditional red carpet première is that I won’t be able to talk to Keanu, who filmed his stuff totally separate from us. We never met him,” says Kenny. “Now Snoop, I have worked with and have run into him socially over the years — he’s the greatest. As you might guess, a highly entertaining individual.”
If you keep your eyes peeled, you’ll also catch a bittersweet tribute to SpongeBob SquarePants creator Stephen Hillenburg, who died from ALS complications in 2018. Hillenburg was a marine science educator who, legend has it, started fiddling with the idea of an undersea animated show around 1986.
“Steve knew who these characters were from the beginning, when they was just drawings locked away in his drawer before he ever showed it to anybody. He did so much of his homework that when he showed you these characters, the voice — at least in my case — just came out of me, and he said ‘great.’ That sound never came out of me before. It was almost metaphysical.”
Bill Fagerbakke, who voices Patrick, picks up the story.
“When the rest of us auditioned for the series, we got to hear Tom. Steve said, ‘This is SpongeBoy’ — he was called SpongeBoy at the beginning. I heard Tom’s voice and built on what Tom did as this character. It was unlike anything else I’d ever experienced.”
Hillenburg was involved in the early stages of Sponge on the Run — by that time well past his ALS diagnosis — and gave input where he could.
“Steve continued with the show even after he really started getting hit hard by ALS,” Fagerbakke says. “He would come to every session, literally as long as he was able to, and he would just sit there and smile. And it was so gratifying and enriching to see him there. Every time I do Patrick, I think of him.”
Adds Kenny: “It’s great that this thing he created can go out into the world and help people smile and laugh and act silly, especially now. It’s the greatest legacy that anybody can leave behind.”
Since SpongeBob SquarePants debuted in 1999, the show has won four Emmy Awards, 17 Kids’ Choice Awards, two BAFTA Children’s Awards and has inspired a 2017 Broadway musical. You could argue that Fagerbakke and Kenny themselves have their legacies pretty much set in stone, too. Fans constantly ask them to do SpongeBob and Patrick’s voices, or, perhaps more entertainingly, take it upon themselves to share their own impressions.
“I love it,” says Kenny. “And if they’re too good at it, I get a little nervous to be honest. Like, ‘Don’t do that around any Viacom executives.’”
Both actors have kids, and Fagerbakke says when his daughter was 11, she once tried to hide the fact that her father was, essentially, a giant pink starfish incarnate. Kenny empathizes.
“Initially I think my kids were a little uncomfortable and weirded out by it, but now at 17 and 21, they’ve cycled back into some semblance of pride,” he says.
Three spinoff series related to SpongeBob SquarePants are now in development — Kamp Koral: SpongeBob’s Under Years, an untitled show based on the character Squidward Tentacles, and The Patrick Star Show.
“The more the merrier, right?” says Fagerbakke. “Someone came up with this idea of a younger Patrick who’s still living with his parents and who loves to have his own talk show in his house with his little sister. But we’ve only done two episodes. We’ll see where it goes, but boy, we’re off to a fun start.”
For now, though, fans have plenty of seabound shenanigans to enjoy with Sponge on the Run and the original show. Says Kenny: “We’re working every day on SpongeBob and a whole bunch of other stuff, which is hugely comforting and useful for me.”
We couldn’t let a chat with SpongeBob’s dynamic duo end without asking the inevitable, digging at the mystery that’s been the centre of the show for 21 years: What’s the secret ingredient in the beloved Krabby Patty burger served up at the Krusty Krab?
“I think they take the essence of poutine,” says Fagerbakke.
See that right there? That’s exactly why SpongeBob is our main squeeze.