With The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water boasting one of the most bonkers trailers in recent memory and a similarly extraordinary poster, the time has come for any newbies out there to get to know the legendary heroes of Bikini Bottom.
The epic adventures of these underwater cartoon icons have long been overlooked by cinemagoers, but with the first movie over ten years old and this new sequel coming out early next year, it’s time to give in and learn to love Nickelodeon’s marine-based slice of inspired lunacy.
Before the turn of the millennium, 100% genuine former marine biologist-turned-Rocko’s Modern Life veteran Stephen Hillenburg turned his mind to developing a few latent concepts from his previous life as a scientist. As it turned out, his unpublished educational comic book The Intertidal Zone was perfectly primed to become off-the-wall, stoner-friendly, kid-catnip (kid-nip?).
The content of this enlightening volume of maritime knowledge, which focused on anthropomorphic versions of lifeforms found in tide pools, had potential beyond expectations, and would go on to form the basis for Bikini Bottom, the fantastical home of SpongeBob SquarePants.
Based in the Pacific Ocean, beneath the real-life Bikini Atoll, Bikini Bottom is a unique visual landscape, subverting and expanding our conceptions of life under the ocean waves. In this world, both rocks and pineapples can become homesteads, and the concept of physics itself can be questioned.
In Bikini Bottom you can expect fry cookers, boatmobiles (a car/boat hybrid, obviously), cloud-like ‘sky flowers’ and many more diversions for our conventional understanding of the underwater realm. There is also a squirrel in a space suit and, as you may already know, a talking sponge.
Without its star, it’s hard to know what would have become of this show. At the very least, it would need a different name. Inhabiting the aforementioned pineapple under the sea is the glue that holds this surreal serialised show together – SpongeBob SquarePants himself, as portrayed by voice artist Tom Kenny for a decade and a half.
He’s yellow, absorbent and porous, bearing more resemblance to the household cleaning tool than the multicellular, heterotrophic, organ-lacking sea-sponge that inspired him. More importantly, SpongeBob is a hero, with all the necessary traits: kindheartedness, boy-next-door good looks, mild idiocy and, on occasion, true courageousness.
Day-to-day, SpongeBob lives a humble life as a fry cook, slaving over the famously tasty ‘Krabby Patties’ at his place of employment between his many adventures. He has a passion for blowing bubbles (despite living underwater), a beginner-level understanding of karate and a passionate love for the fictional superheroes Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy. Despite how bizarre that character bio sounds, it makes for a charming mix, which could well make him a lot of new fans when he hits the big screen (again) in 2015. Another fun fact: he has a pet snail.
The Actual Star
Best friend to SpongeBob is one of the most hapless-yet-hilarious sidekicks around: Patrick Star – a dimwitted, incredibly lazy starfish with a severe lack of common sense. Despite a few moments of clarity and wisdom, Patrick is generally the butt of most jokes by the end of each episode.
He is, however, an undoubted fan favourite. Somewhere in the blend of cunning script-writing, endearing animation and Bill Fagerbakke’s voice performance lies one of the small screen’s most loveable lumps. His loyalty to SpongeBob makes him an excellent role model for SpongeBob SquarePants' young viewership, and in fact, as an expert in the art of doing nothing, Patrick is an inspiration to us all, making the most of a bad situation by constantly reconstructing the unreliable furniture in his sand-based abode. You’re a star in more ways than one, Patrick.
SpongeBob SquarePants’ female lead, Sandy Cheeks, is an excellent role model for young women, despite her silly name and the big pink flower she carries around on her space suit helmet.
She’s skilled at defending herself, acting as a karate Sensei to SpongeBob, as well as being extremely intelligent and incredibly proud of her heritage. She’s from Texas, if you were wondering, which perhaps explains her Mission Control-friendly choice of spacesuit over diving suit for her underwater adventures. Her passion for invention, coupled with her ability to best the rest of the cast at pretty much everything, makes her one of the most positive characters on screen, even if she does sometimes show a vindictive side.
Although occasionally referenced as the object of SpongeBob’s desires during the yearly annuals, Sandy isn’t defined by romantic roles during the show itself, which is a bonus.
The Krusty Krab Crew
Named after either a converted retirement home or an old pirate ship (depending on the episode), the Krusty Krab is the go-to restaurant in Bikini Bottom, with signature dish the Krabby Patty so popular that its recipe remains a closely-guarded secret – until the events of the upcoming movie, that is.
Two key supporting characters are regularly seen here. Mr. Krabs, owner and secret-recipe-holder extraordinaire, is one. His quest to safeguard his most popular dish from rival restaurateur Plankton (who is unsuccessful due to the inedible chum on his menu) is a constant plot propeller and gag machine.
Here we also regularly see Squidward Tentacles, SpongeBob’s miserable neighbor, who works as a cashier. Extremely cynical and bad-tempered, Squidward is the antithesis of SpongeBob and Patrick, creating big laughs through sheer contrast. But without this dour juxtaposition, SpongeBob SquarePants could easily have become another forgettable brightly-coloured kids’ show, so Squidward’s a vital addition. Even so, there are occasional flashes of friendliness and redemption from Squidward, removing any chance of dull or generic characterization. Even the grumpy ones are likeable in this show.
If that over-analysis hasn’t been enough to convert you to the legions of SpongeBob fans, there’s one final ace in the pack which might push you overboard into the sea of fandom. Here’s the show’s theme tune, performed by one-time Mighty Mouse Patrick Pinney. Good luck getting it out of your head.