SpongeBob SquarePants (character)
|SpongeBob SquarePants character|
|First appearance||"Help Wanted" (1999)|
|Created by||Stephen Hillenburg|
|Voiced by||Tom Kenny|
SpongeBob SquarePants is a fictional character in the animated television series SpongeBob SquarePants. He is voiced by Tom Kenny and first appeared on television in the series' pilot episode "Help Wanted" on May 1, 1999. SpongeBob was created and designed by cartoonist and marine biologist Stephen Hillenburg shortly after the cancellation of Rocko's Modern Life in 1996. Hillenburg intended to create a series about an over-optimistic sponge that annoys other characters. Hillenburg compared the concept to Laurel and Hardy and Pee-wee Herman. As he drew the character, he decided that a "squeaky-clean square" (like a kitchen sponge) fits the concept. His name is derived from "Bob the Sponge", the host of Hillenburg's comic strip The Intertidal Zone that he originally drew in 1989 while studying at the California Institute of the Arts. SpongeBob is a naïve and goofy sea sponge who works as a fry cook in the fictional underwater town of Bikini Bottom.
SpongeBob has achieved popularity with both children and adults, though he has been involved in public controversy. The character appeared in a We Are Family Foundation video promoting tolerance, which was criticized by James Dobson of Focus on the Family because of the foundation's link to homosexuality.
Role in SpongeBob SquarePants
SpongeBob is depicted as being an optimistic, cheerful, naive, enthusiastic yellow sea sponge residing in the undersea city of Bikini Bottom alongside an array of anthropomorphic aquatic creatures. He works as a fry cook at the fast food restaurant, the Krusty Krab, to which he is obsessively attached. At work, SpongeBob answers to Eugene Krabs, a greedy, miserly crab who shows SpongeBob favor (mainly because SpongeBob is willing to work enthusiastically and efficiently for very little pay), alongside his ill-tempered, hateful, snobbish neighbor Squidward Tentacles. His favorite hobbies include his occupation, jelly-fishing, karate (albeit at an elementary level, with Sandy Cheeks as his sensei), relentless fandom of superheroes Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy, and blowing bubbles. He is often seen clowning around with his closest friend Patrick, who lives on the same street as SpongeBob two doors down (with Squidward's home separating the two). However, SpongeBob's varying intelligence, unlimited optimistic cheer, and irritating behavior often leads him to perceive the outcome of numerous endeavors and the personalities of those around him as happier and sunnier than they often actually are; for instance, he believes that Squidward enjoys his company in spite of the fact that he clearly loathes him. A recurring gag in several episodes is SpongeBob's extremely poor "boating" (driving) ability and his repeated failures to pass his road test at "Mrs. Puff's Boating School." He lives in an iconic pineapple with his pet snail Gary.
Stephen Hillenburg had made several "horrible impersonations" before he finally conceived his character. He intended to create a series about an over-optimistic sponge that annoys other characters. Hillenburg compared the concept to Laurel and Hardy and Pee-wee Herman. As he drew the character, he decided that a "squeaky-clean square" (like a kitchen sponge) fits the concept. His name is derived from "Bob the Sponge", the host of Hillenburg's comic strip The Intertidal Zone that he originally drew in 1989 while studying at the California Institute of the Arts.
The first concept sketch portrayed the character as wearing a red hat with a green base and a white business shirt with a tie. SpongeBob's look gradually progressed to brown pants that was used in the final design. SpongeBob was designed to be a kid-like character who was goofy and optimistic in a style similar to that made famous by Jerry Lewis.
Originally the character was to be named SpongeBoy but this name was already in use. This was discovered after voice acting for the original seven-minute pilot was recorded in 1997. The Nickelodeon legal department discovered that the name was already in use for a mop product. Upon finding this out, Hillenburg decided that the character's given name still had to contain "Sponge" so viewers would not mistake the character for a "Cheese Man." Hillenburg decided to use the name "SpongeBob." He chose "SquarePants" as a family name as it referred to the character's square shape and it had a "nice ring to it".
Although SpongeBob's driver's license says his birthdate is July 14, 1986, which would make the character 13 years old at the time of the series' "official" premiere on July 17, 1999, Hillenburg joked that he is fifty in "sponge years". He explained that SpongeBob actually has no specific age, but that he is old enough to be on his own and still be going to boating school. The decision to have SpongeBob attend a boat driving school was made due to a request from Nickelodeon that the character attend a school.
SpongeBob is voiced by veteran voice actor Tom Kenny. Kenny previously worked with Hillenburg on Rocko's Modern Life, and when Hillenburg created SpongeBob SquarePants, he approached Kenny to voice the character. Hillenburg utilised Kenny's and other people's personalities to help create the personality of SpongeBob.
The voice of SpongeBob was originally used by Kenny for a very minor female alligator character named Al in Rocko's Modern Life. Kenny forgot the voice initially as he created it only for that single use. Hillenburg, however, remembered it when he was coming up with SpongeBob and used a video clip of the episode to remind Kenny of the voice. Kenny says that SpongeBob's high pitched laugh was specifically aimed at being unique, stating that they wanted an annoying laugh in the tradition of Popeye and Woody Woodpecker.
When SpongeBob SquarePants is broadcast in non-English languages, the voice actors dubbing SpongeBob's voice use Tom Kenny's rendition of the character as a starting point but also add unique elements. For example, in the French version of the series, SpongeBob speaks with a slight Daffy Duck-style lisp.
Throughout the run of SpongeBob SquarePants, the SpongeBob character has become popular with both children and adults. In June 2010, Entertainment Weekly named him one of the 100 Greatest Characters of the Last 20 Years. TV Guide listed SpongeBob SquarePants at number 9 for its 50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of All Time. However, not all critical reception for the character has been positive. AskMen's Top 10: Irritating '90s Cartoon Characters ranked SpongeBob at number four saying that his well-meaning attitude is extremely annoying.
Criticism and controversy
In 2005, a promotional video which showed SpongeBob along with other characters from children's shows singing together to promote diversity and tolerance, was criticized by a Christian evangelical group in the United States because they saw the character SpongeBob being used as an advocate for homosexuality though the video contained "no reference to sex, sexual lifestyle or sexual identity." James Dobson of Focus on the Family accused the makers of the video of promoting homosexuality due to a gay rights group sponsoring the video.
The incident led to questions as to whether or not SpongeBob is a homosexual character. In 2002, when SpongeBob's popularity with gay men grew, Hillenburg denied that SpongeBob was gay. He clarified that he considers the character to be "almost asexual;" he has been shown in various episodes to regenerate his limbs and reproduce by "budding", much like real sponges do. After Dobson's comments, Hillenburg repeated this assertion that sexual preference was never considered during the creation of the show. Tom Kenny and other production members were shocked and surprised that such an issue had arisen.
Dobson later stated that his comments were taken out of context and that his original complaints were not with SpongeBob or any of the characters in the video but with the organization that sponsored the video, the We Are Family Foundation. Dobson noted that the We Are Family Foundation had posted pro-homosexual material on its website, but later removed it. After the controversy, John H. Thomas, the United Church of Christ's general minister and president, said they would welcome SpongeBob into their ministry. He said "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we".
Jeffrey P. Dennis, author of the journal article "The Same Thing We Do Every Night: Signifying Same-Sex Desire in Television Cartoons," argued that SpongeBob and Sandy are not romantically in love, while adding that he believed that SpongeBob and Patrick "are paired with arguably erotic intensity." Dennis noted the two are "not consistently coded as romantic partners," since they live in separate residences, and have distinct groups of friends, but claimed that in the series, "the possibility of same-sex desire is never excluded." Martin Goodman of Animation World Magazine described Dennis's comments regarding SpongeBob and Patrick as "interesting."
In April 2009, in a tie-in partnership with Burger King and Nickelodeon, Burger King released an advertisement featuring SpongeBob and Sir Mix-a-Lot singing "Baby Got Back". Angry parents and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood protested the ad for being a sexist and inappropriately sexual, especially considering that SpongeBob's fan base includes pre-schoolers. Susan Linn, the director of the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood said "It's bad enough when companies use a beloved media character like SpongeBob to promote junk food to children, but it's utterly reprehensible when that character simultaneously promotes objectified, sexualized images of women." In an official statement released by Burger King, they claimed that "this campaign is aimed at parents."
In 2013, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit watchdog and consumer advocacy group, launched a campaign against Nickelodeon for allowing characters from its popular television shows, such as Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants, to appear on snack food packaging targeted toward children. The CSPI purchased a full-page ad in The Hollywood Reporter in the form of a wanted poster featuring mug shots of SpongeBob SquarePants. The ad criticized Nickelodeon for "impersonating a responsible media company while aggressively marketing obesity to kids."
Throughout the run of SpongeBob SquarePants, the SpongeBob character has become very popular with children, teens, and adults. The character's popularity has spread from Nickelodeon's original demographic of two- to eleven-year-olds, to teenagers and adults, including college campuses and celebrities such as Sigourney Weaver and Bruce Willis. Salon.com indicates that the unadulterated innocence of SpongeBob is what makes the character so appealing. SpongeBob has also become popular with gay men, despite Stephen Hillenburg saying that none of the characters are homosexual. The character draws fans due to his flamboyant lifestyle and tolerant attitude.
The popularity of SpongeBob translated well into sales figures. In 2002, SpongeBob SquarePants dolls sold at a rate of 75,000 per week, which was faster than Tickle Me Elmo dolls were selling at the time. SpongeBob has gained popularity in Japan, specifically with Japanese women. Nickelodeon's parent company Viacom purposefully targeted marketing at women in the country as a method of building the SpongeBob SquarePants brand. Skeptics initially doubted that SpongeBob could be popular in Japan as the character's design is very different to already popular designs for Hello Kitty and Pikachu. The character also spawned a soap-filled sponge product manufactured by SpongeTech.
On May 17, 2013, Build-A-Bear Workshop introduced the new SpongeBob SqaurePants collection in stores and online in North America. "For the first time ever, Build-A-Bear Workshop Guests can finally take home the underwater fun of SpongeBob SquarePants and his friends," said Maxine Clark, Build-A-Bear Workshop founder and chief executive. "We are excited to be working with Nickelodeon to bring this iconic series and its lovable characters to life at Build-A-Bear Workshop." Shoppers can dress their SpongeBob and Patrick plush in a variety of clothing and accessories. Sandy Cheeks and Gary the Snail are also available as pre-stuffed minis. Build-A-Bear Workshop stores nationwide celebrated the arrival of SpongeBob with a series of special events from May 17 through May 19.
SpongeBob also inspired vehicle designs. On July 13, 2013, Toyota, with Nickelodeon, unveiled a SpongeBob-inspired Toyota Highlander. The 2014 Toyota Highlander as launched at the SpongeBob Day at San Diego's Giants v. Padres game. The SpongeBob Toyota Highlander visited seven U.S. locations during its release, including the Nickelodeon Suites Resort Orlando in Florida.
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- SpongeBob SquarePants at the Internet Movie Database
- SpongeBob SquarePants on Facebook
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