STORY WRITTEN BY DEBRA WALLACE/For Digital First Media
Fans of the lovable little yellow guy from Bikini Bottom will be thrilled to discover that “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water,” will open on Feb. 6.
The long-awaited film is from Paramount Animation, Nickelodeon Movies, and United Plankton Pictures. This is a sequel to the 2004 animated film, “The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie.” In this story, SpongeBob goes on a quest to discover a stolen recipe that takes him to our dimension, our world, where he tangles with a pirate.
The film stars the regular TV cast, who are returning to reprise their roles from the serie. It is clear that this movie, or anything SpongeBob related, would not be authentic without voice actor, Tom Kenney, who has been voicing the little yellow guy from the outset.
Kenny believes the character of SpongeBob is so appealing to children and adults alike, both locally and around the world, but it is difficult to explain the popularity.
“SpongeBob is truly international. What gives it that resonance? I think it’s a mixture of what’s elemental in the characters and also the design and color elements in the physical artistic pallet of the show are very familiar,” Kenny said during a recent press day in L.A.. “Obviously, if it was that easy, there’d be a whole lot more shows that are as big and long lived as SpongeBob.”
But he knows that the TV show, and the films, are a world-wide phenomenon. “There are many countries where SpongeBob plays, and I’m obviously not doing the voice because I don’t speak Italian or Spanish or whatever, but that’s kind of a trip for me,” Kenny said.
“This character resonates with all these different cultures, so it’s kind of cool to think that there are all these guys in foreign countries trying to figure out how to do my tone of voice in Finnish! I was talking on the phone with the SpongeBob of Helsinki! It was really funny to me.”
He said that the creator of SpongeBob, Stephen Hillenburg, described the character and showed Kenny some concept art, even before he had suggested the show to anyone at Nickelodeon. “This was something he had in a desk drawer. We had met on another animated series, and it was his first job and my first job in animation.”
A few years later when Hillenburg was ready to pitch the idea of the show to the studio he called Kenny and said he had me in mind to record the voice. “He told me, ‘I think you’re the guy that can channel this little guy.’ He described SpongeBob and his personality as being half child half adult, kind of like a munchkin, a Jerry Lewis, Pee Wee Herman and Stan Laurel; childlike but not a little kid in the sense that Charlie Brown is a little kid. Since he’s not a human being, he doesn’t have to be a 100 percent of anything.”
Kenny said he came up with “a sort of adenoidal, overly enthusiastic voice. It was really happy.” And Hillenburg said, ‘Yes. That’s the voice I’m hearing in my head, but I couldn’t make that sound.’ So it came about actually fairly easily, much easier than many things do.”
Today, he does work for Nickelodeon, Disney and the Cartoon Network, so it is frequently running around to the various film and TV studios. His extensive resume of film and TV voice work includes: the Powderpuff Girls, Spyro the Dragon, Rocko’s Modern Life, Winnie the Pooh, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genuis, Tom & Jerry, Futurama, and many others.
He said that most of his fans are children or people who are fans of either SpongeBob or his previous work. “Once TMZ spotted me in an airport,” Kenny recalled, “and it was just the worst feeling! I was just so disappointed that I was recognizable now, because I worked so hard to keep all of that stuff out of my life.”
A cartoon lover from a young age, Kenny said he would watch them and wonder about the people who did the voices – who they were and whether this was an actual occupation.
“I wasn’t particularly a look at me show-off -kind of kid. But I got more confident in high school, and people started to think that I was rather funny,” he said. “I became more confident, and then I started doing standup comedy in clubs and playing in rock ‘n roll bar bands and things like that when I was still in high school. That was kind of intoxicating.”