Getting to Know SpongeBob Squarepants
SpongeBob Squarepants is the very famous protagonist and title character of the American animated TV series, which goes by the same name. SpongeBob is actually a sea sponge who works at a fast-food restaurant. He is a fry cook at Krusty Krab, famous for the Krabby Patty, its signature burger. SpongeBob is known for his childlike attitude and optimism, and other comedic characters such as Pee-Wee Herman and Stan Laurel influence him. Tom Kenny, the actor, and comedian gives him his voice.
The character has gained immense fame among kids and adults alike. He has also garnered good reviews from media critics. He is often counted among the best cartoon figures of all time. However, he, too, like many other cartoon characters, has had his share of controversies. A few conservative social groups have accused the show of allegedly promoting homosexuality, even though the character has been described asexual by his creator, Stephen Hillenburg.
The History of SpongeBob Squarepants
SpongeBob was designed and created by Stephen Hillenburg, an artist as well as a marine science educator. SpongeBob gets its name from ‘Bob the Sponge’, the host in Hillenburg’s comic book ‘The Intertidal Zone. Hillenburg drew the book in the 1980s when he taught marine biology to the visitors of Ocean Institute. He started to develop a show based on this premise soon after Rocko’s Modern Life, directed by Hillenburg, got canceled in 1996. The first appearance of SpongeBob was in the pilot episode “Help Wanted”. It premiered on 1st May 1999.
The Character of SpongeBob SquarePants
SpongeBob is portrayed as an enthusiastic, good-natured, and naïve sea sponge. He lives in Bikini Bottom, an undersea city, with various other anthropomorphic aquatic beings. He is a fry cook by profession and is obsessively attached to Krusty Krab, the restaurant he works at. He is completely devoted to it over other restaurants. A greedy crab named Eugene Krabs is his boss who treats SpongeBob like his son. SpongeBob’s snobbish and ill-tempered neighbor, Squidward Tentacles, is an octopus working as a cashier in the same restaurant. SpongeBob’s hobby is to fish for jellyfish and to blow bubbles. He also loves to practice karate with Sandy Cheeks. A friend of SpongeBob, Sandy Cheeks, is a squirrely hailing from Texas.
SpongeBob’s best friend, who is also his neighbor, is starfish Patrick Star. Both of them often hang out together. SpongeBob lives with Gary, his pet snail, inside a submerged pineapple. As he is always optimistic, his cheer usually leads him to perceive the outcome of various endeavors and the nature of creatures around him as more joyful than they actually are. For instance, he believes that Squidward Tentacles loves his company, although he clearly showcases a deep dislike for SpongeBob. However, they do get along on very rare occasions. SpongeBob’s biggest aim in life is to acquire a driver’s license from a boating school run by Mrs Puff. Sadly, he usually panics and ends up crashing while driving a boat.
Design and Creation
Hillenburg came up with numerous “horrible impersonations” of the character before conceiving the final design. He compared his concept with Pee-Wee Herman as well as Laurel and Hardy, stating, “I think SpongeBob [was] born out of my love of Laurel and Hardy shorts. You’ve got that kind of idiot-buddy situation – that was a huge influence. SpongeBob was inspired by that kind of character: the Innocent – à la Stan Laurel.” The first conceptual sketch depicted the character sporting a red hat with a green base and a tie-on his white business shirt. Gradually, his look changed. SpongeBob was also sketched wearing brown pants, which are a part of the final sketch too. He was designed as a childlike, optimistic, and goofy character. His optimistic nature was pretty similar to what gained fame by Jerry Lewis.
Originally, Hillenburg named the character SpongeBob, and the series was called SpongeBob Ahoy!. However, a mop product was already using this name at that time. It was discovered after the voice acting was recorded for the original seven-minute pilot. On learning this, the creator decided to come up with a name without removing the word ‘Sponge’ from it, so the audience would not confuse him for a Cheese Man. In 1997, Hillenburg decided on naming the character “SpongeBob”. He also added “SquarePants” as his family name as it not only had a “nice ring to it” but also went well with his square shape.
So, How Old is Our SpongeBob?
According to the episodes from 2000 to 2001, SpongeBob’s birthdate was given July 14, 1986. So, it makes him 35 years old. However, his age remains unclear all through the series. Throughout the TV show’s run, SpongeBob Squarepants, the character, gain immense popularity with audiences across ages. His fame spread from the original demographic of Nickelodeon of little kids to teenagers and also adults. It became famous even on college campuses and among celebrities such as Bruce Willis and Sigourney Weaver.
According to Stephanie Zacharek from Salon.com, SpongeBob’s unadulterated innocence makes him so endearing and appealing. Even though Hillenburg made it clear that none of the characters in his series is homosexual, the show also became popular among gay men, attracting fans with a tolerant attitude and flamboyant lifestyle. In June 2010, SpongeBob Squarepants was named among Entertainment Weekly’s “100 Greatest Characters of the Last 20 Years”. The show was listed at number nine on TV Guide’s list of “50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of All Time”.
The Voice of SpongeBob
Veteran actor and voice artist Tom Kenny has given his voice to SpongeBob, the character. He had previously worked with Stephen Hillenburg on Rocko’s Modern Life. After creating SpongeBob Squarepants, Hillenburg approached Kenny for voicing the character. He also used the personalities of Kenny and others while creating the character. Originally, Kenny used SpongeBob’s voice in Rocko’s Modern Life for a minor background character. At first, he forgot the voice as it was used for just one occasion.
However, Hillenburg had this in mind while creating SpongeBob and played a clip from Rocko’s Modern Life to remind Kenny. After hearing Kenny voicing the character, Hillenburg said, “That’s it—I don’t want to hear anybody else do the voice. We’ve got SpongeBob.” The high-pitch laugh of SpongeBob was particularly designed for being unique, as per Kenny. The creators wanted to come up with an annoying laugh, just like Woody Woodpecker and Popeye. (See Why Spongebob is popular?)
The Evolution in SpongeBob’s Voice
All through the series, we see SpongeBob’s voice evolving from low-key to high-pitched. Kenny described this change as a slow process, as erosion. As time moves on, SpongeBob needs to be brought to more places and different places by coming up with more scripts and stories. Talking of the first-season episodes in contrast with the ones in the seventh season, Kenny did agree to a slight change in the protagonist’s voice, but he didn’t think it to be an extreme change in any way.
When the show got prepared for broadcast in other languages apart from English, Tom Kenny’s rendition of SpongeBob was used as a starting point by the voice actors who dubbed the character’s voice. Unique elements were also added to it. For instance, if you watch the French version of the show, you would find a little Daffy Duck-style lisp in the way SpongeBob speaks.