If SpongeBob SquarePants was to end right this second, there would still be no denying the character’s inclusion among the all-time great cartoon characters right up there with the Looney Tunes and so many other classics. Not that any hypothetical scenarios are necessary since the show displays absolutely no sign of slowing down anytime soon. Coming this October is a new Halloween stop-motion special produced by Los Angeles based production company, Screen Novelties. I had a chance to sit down with cast members Tom Kenny (SpongeBob), Rodger Bumpass (Squidward), Mr. Lawrence (Plankton), and Clancy Brown (Mr. Krabs) to discuss not only the Halloween special but also the impact and legacy of the SpongeBob franchise.
On what has changed after nearly 20 years and over 200 episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants:
Lawrence: I think our voices were higher back then.
Kenny: We were too.
Brown: Some of us had children.
Kenny: Yeah, reproduction happened. It’s weird when you look 20 years ago the world was such a different place like when we did the first SpongeBob movie [in 2004]. And then we did a second SpongeBob movie in 2015, just the way the movie was marketed and how much more global SpongeBob was in 2015 than he was in 2004. It was a marked contrast between those two products. It seemed like another epoch.
Lawrence: Because the second movie was even bigger than the first one. The first [movie] was almost like the show had just become a hit and there was a movie. This was like it had been on and everyone knows so everyone was ready for it.
Brown: Media consolidation hadn’t happened yet. There were newspapers back then [laughter]!
Kenny: And people watched cable! I see these animators breaking their backs, slaving for hours a day so people can watch it on a screen this big (hands imitate a small screen). Wow this looks awesome! “What are you watching?” “Lawrence of Arabia, it’s great! And 2001 [by] Kubrick is awesome!” The world is so different but SpongeBob and the comedy of SpongeBob and the characters are really the same. They’re archetypal characters that are ancient comedy tropes. The naive guy, the bad guy, the greedy guy, the dumb guy, and the curmudgeon. Commedia dell’arte as Clancy said earlier.
Bumpass: One of the nice things about a long-running show, though, is that our characters can be fleshed out further and further. We all started a bit monotone. The singular in our character.
The appeal of SpongeBob to children particularly those with autism:
Brown: SpongeBob connects at every level of the spectrum.
Kenny: I think they like that character. He doesn’t have a filter, he does whatever he wants. The autistic thing comes up a lot like at comic cons. I’ve had people say, “I didn’t know my kid understood words until I heard him laughing at a SpongeBob episode.” It’s really heavy mind-blowing stuff.
Brown: But there’s also no guile. That’s part of it too.
Kenny: Yeah, but it’s funny that this thing that’s just trying to be funny and make people laugh, it makes us laugh, but it’s got this whole other stuff it can do. Obviously you’re not thinking about it when you’re making it but once you put it out into the world it has different uses. The autistic thing comes up so that I wish someone would write a term paper on it or a treatise on it.
There’s something about SpongeBob and it’s not that SpongeBob is bigger than other shows.
Bumpass: There’s a simplicity to it not only in the gags and the words but also the colors and drawings too that I think might appeal to an autistic kid.
Kenny: We’re probably all autistic to a degree but I think being autistic is helpful to your skill set to some degree.
We live and work in a world where you have to watch yourself all the time. You can’t do certain things, you have to be polite. Kids are always getting shutdown, “Shhh! Don’t do that.” SpongeBob doesn’t think about any of that, he just goes for it. They [kids] identify with that and maybe find it empowering to see a kid on TV who does that and yet everybody likes him. In the show, SpongeBob has friends and a life.
On the Halloween Special:
Brown: How much animation time of an episode do you think a studio like Screen Novelties can do in only a day?
Me: Less than a minute
Brown: Like 5, on a good day 7, seconds. How many different kinds of cereal boxes do you think were used to build Bikini Bottom?
Brown: Close! 12! 12 kinds of cereal.
7,000 popsicle sticks
8 pounds of glitter
Lawrence: We’re always looking for excuses to work with Screen Novelties. They’re our good friends and they care about the artistry of the show as hard as we do, so we have a kinship with them.
Kenny: We still have some holidays left.
Lawrence: There’s Arbor Day!
Kenny: “Celebrate Secretary’s Day with SpongeBob Stop-Motion!”
Nickelodeon will take viewers on a spooky Halloween adventure throughout Bikini Bottom with the brand-new, stop-motion special, SpongeBob SquarePants: The Legend of Boo-Kini Bottom. In the visual style of classic stop-motion animation TV specials, The Legend of Boo-Kini Bottom tells the story of the Flying Dutchman (Brian Doyle Murray) who wants to make sure everyone in town is scared, especially SpongeBob, who thinks scary things are funny. The special will premiere in October 2017 on Nickelodeon.
Bikini Bottom is decked out for Halloween and features Sandy’s treedome as a mad scientist’s lab, including a giant remotely operated Acorn Monster; Mr. Krabs’ restaurant as “The Horrors of the Chum Bucket,” displaying scenes of Plankton torturing food; and Plankton’s restaurant as “The Horrors of the Krusty Krab,” telling the story of Mr. Krabs turning customers into Krabby Patties and more.
The characters don Halloween costumes, with SpongeBob as a flower, Patrick as a knight, Sandy as a mad scientist, Mr. Krabs as a dollar bill, Plankton as a devil, Squidward as himself, and Karen as a cat. SpongeBob SquarePants: The Legend of Boo-Kini Bottom features an original song, “The Scare Song,” written by Mr. Lawrence, music by Eban Schletter and performed by the Flying Dutchman’s crew of pirate ghosts.
The Legend of Boo-Kini Bottom is being produced at Screen Novelties, a Los Angeles-based stop-motion animation production company, where miniature puppets and sets bring Bikini Bottom to life in three dimensions. The production features 27 unique sets, across five stages, where 15 boxes of breakfast cereal were used to create texture on Bikini Bottom’s coral reefs; eight pounds of glitter were used to decorate SpongeBob’s Halloween pineapple house; hundreds of popsicle sticks created the planks of the rollercoaster track that Patrick and SpongeBob ride; and “black lights” were used to create a fluorescent glow across the puppets and sets.
Marc Ceccarelli and Vincent Waller are the supervising producers on SpongeBob SquarePants. The special was written by Mr. Lawrence, with Brian Morante serving as the storyboard director. The special is being directed by Mark Caballero and Seamus Walsh, and produced by Chris Finnegan of Screen Novelties.
This is the second time Nickelodeon has partnered with Screen Novelties on a SpongeBob SquarePants stop-motion episode. SpongeBob SquarePants: It’s a SpongeBob Christmas! debuted December 2012 and featured Plankton turning everybody in Bikini Bottom from nice to naughty.