‘SpongeBob’ an absorbing role for Kenny
MONTREAL (CP) – Tom Kenny never expected to be soaking up the adulation of fans for so long as the voice of cartoon icon SpongeBob SquarePants.
He admits he didn’t really expect the cheerful little yellow sponge be so successful he’d go from household item to household name. “No one did,” Kenny said in a telephone interview as he battled gridlock on a freeway in Los Angeles. “That was a complete, flukish crazy happenstance.
“It definitely was not designed with that in mind and in fact Steve Hillenburg, the creator, is I think a little ambivalent about how huge it’s become.
“Most people are waiting for that day where something they’ve created is on lunch boxes and sheets and he is flattered by it to some degree but feels a little bit like Dr. Frankenstein on the other hand.”
SpongeBob, who has cleaned up with the cartoon set and a hefty number of adults and teens, jumped to the movie screen from the TV screen earlier this month.
In the big screen adventure, SpongeBob and his pal Patrick the starfish – “the time-honoured doofus,” as Kenny describes him – set out to recover King Neptune’s purloined crown and save the good folk of Bikini Bottom from the nefarious plans of the villanous Plankton.
SpongeBob SquarePants: The Movie is an absorbing, goofy romp that boasts an impressive voice cast including Alec Baldwin and Scarlett Johansson and a hilarious send-up of Baywatch legend David Hasselhoff.
“It’s definitely weird, strange, which is part of the goal,” said Kenny of the movie with a laugh. “To make a kids movie that was as odd and crazy and stuff as Willy Wonka and stuff like that, that blew our minds when we were kids, that fascinated and somewhat traumatized us at the same time.”
He acknowledged that SpongeBob’s animation style is a nod to the surrealistic Fleischer cartoons of the 1930s and 1940s, which boasted such characters as Popeye, Betty Boop and an art-deco looking Superman.
“I think it has a lot of laughs in it,” Kenny said of the SpongeBob movie, comparing SpongeBob and Patrick’s adventure to the old road movies by comedians Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. “It really was fun to play something in that genre.”
Kenny, an accomplished voice actor and standup comedian who has played at Montreal’s Just for Laughs comedy festival, was the immediate choice of creator Hillenburg to give SpongeBob his trademark voice.
“He heard me do this voice as the voice of a very obscure character in the background of a crowd scene on a different animated series and remembered it,” Kenny said.
“I had totally forgotten the voice. It was something I did once and never really went back to it. I had to look at the show again.”
Then came the tweaking to get the voice perfect.
“He was such a distinctive looking character and the character design was so evocative, we wanted a voice that did the drawing justice and seemed to believably come out of the mouth of this drawing.”
He said he was also chosen because Hillenburg seemed to see “some SpongeBobian characteristics” in him – like being an enthusiastic, hyperactive, hard worker.
“I never complain,” Kenny said. “I’m like SpongeBob. I’m just happy to have a job. SpongeBob and I have that in common. We can’t believe we’re actually employed doing something that we enjoy, which seems to be a rare situation these days for people.”
Kenny said SpongeBob’s success likely stems from the fact there’s something in each character everyone can identify with. As well, there’s SpongeBob’s unbridled sunny disposition.
“He just has this incredible, deep beatific energy,” Kenny said. “He’s just raring to go all the time and life is great and he loves whatever the day throws at him for the most part.
“He wakes up every morning convinced that it’s going to be the best morning ever and works hard despite the fact that he’s underappreciated and underpaid, which I think is a situation most people can identify with.”
Kenny, who like all the people on the show gets a certain amount of inspiration for plots from their own kids, said the show and movie were not crafted with any sort of particular message in mind, saying they’ll leave that to PBS.
“I guess if SpongeBob has anything at all to offer children I think (it’s) the message that it’s OK to be a square peg, it’s OK to not really fit the mould.
“SpongeBob is a complete oddball in his world but pretty much everyone likes him, he likes himself, he embraces his inner Goofy Goober.
“That’s even underscored more in the movie, that ‘OK, I’m a dork, so what? I like being a dork and being a dork is sort of fun and a lot of dorks wind up doing pretty well in life’.”
‘SpongeBob’ an absorbing role for Kenny