Ten years ago today, SpongeBob SquarePants and his Bikini Bottom cohorts became movie stars. The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie made $140 million worldwide and is the fifth-highest grossing animated TV adaptation ever. How did an anthropomorphic sponge who lives in a pineapple become a children's icon? Some of these tidbits may explain its success and longevity.
1. THE IDEA FOR THE SERIES WAS FROM AN ACTUAL MARINE BIOLOGIST.
Stephen Hillenburg has a degree in natural resource planning with a marine resources emphasis, and he used to teach Marine Biology at the Orange County Marine Institute. Hillenburg also liked to draw, and created a comic book called Intertidial Zone for the Institute, which starred an early version of SpongeBob. When he worked as creative director for the Nickelodeon animated series Rocko's Modern Life, fellow animators saw the potential appeal of SpongeBob.
2. SPONGEBOB'S ORIGINAL NAME WAS SPONGEBOY.
And the show's title was initially SpongeBoy Ahoy!. SpongeBoy was a copyrighted name for a mop, however, but Hillenburg made sure to keep the "sponge" in the name of his protagonist as he was worried that children might mistake him for a block of cheese.
3. SPONGEBOB'S PERSONALITY WAS INFLUENCED BY JERRY LEWIS, PEE-WEE HERMAN, AND STAN LAUREL.
SpongeBob creative director Derek Drymon remembered Hillenburg wanting to create a character with a "young, boyish" attitude, with Lewis, Herman, and Laurel specifically in mind. Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob, said that Hillenburg initially described the talking sponge as a "half child half adult, kind of like a munchkin," before also mentioning the same three comedy legends. The creator also told Kenny to try to do a similar voice that the Mr. Show alum once did for a background character in a long-forgotten scene in Rocko's Modern Life. Kenny described the nameless character he did not even recall as a "squeaky, helium-voiced elf guy. Just a total throwaway voice."
4. PATRICK WAS INITIALLY CONCEIVED AS AN ANGRY BAR OWNER.
A starfish character first entered the picture while Hillenburg and Drymon were storyboarding the pilot. But before there was the lovable dummy Patrick Star, the starfish in the first story had a "huge chip on his shoulder because he was pink." He owned a roadside bar and was a "bully." Bill Fagerbakke, known mostly as Dauber from Coach and/or Marshall's dad on How I Met Your Mother, voices Patrick by slowing his speech and pretending that his mouth is in his chest.
5. SQUIDWARD IS TECHNICALLY NOT A SQUID.
Squidward Q. Tentacles has been referred to as both a squid and an octopus throughout the series run, but he only has six tentacles. The animators decided to not give the pessimistic cephalopod the proper number because any more than six legs would "weigh him down too much visually."
6. THE "MY LEG!" FISH HAS A NAME. IT IS FRED.
Fred's name was revealed in the episode "Patty Hype." He is known in various episodes, spanning seasons and years, for crying "My leg!" while under duress.
7. THERE IS A VERY POPULAR POT PARODY OF THE SHOW.
Animation studio Camp Chaos produced a two-season series on VH1 and MTV2 called ILL-ustrated in 2003 and 2004. One of the animated shorts created for the show, SpongeBong HempPants, was a not-too-subtle re-imagining of SpongeBob SquarePants if the characters were shaped like marijuana or the paraphernalia necessary to enjoy the drug. The shorts were never run on television "due to concerns about sister network Nickelodeon." The episodes however did end up on YouTube, where they have been viewed over 6.3 million times.
The real show's stoner-friendly reputation remains intact today, helped by the parody and the oft-repeated fact that the episode title of season four's 20th episode is titled "Best Day Ever."
8. WILL FERRELL, TINA FEY, ROBIN WILLIAMS, AND OTHER BIG CELEBRITIES HAVE APPEARED ON THE SHOW (AGAINST THE CREATOR'S INITIAL WISHES).
Hillenburg was against celebrities providing guest voices for his creation, out of fear of a comparison to The Simpsons. Two exceptions to the rule during the first three seasons of the show were Tim Conway and Ernest Borgnine, who played SpongeBob's favorite superheroes, Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy. After Hillenburg resigned as showrunner, Bikini Bottom welcomed the likes of Ferrell, Fey, Williams, Amy Poehler, Johnny Depp, Victoria Beckham, LeBron James, Pink, Patton Oswalt, and other established stars to get adults to watch.
9. JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE WAS NOT WELCOME TO SING ABOUT SPONGEBOB.
For the movie's soundtrack, Avril Lavigne sang a Canadian punk-pop version of the theme song, while Jeff Tweedy wrote the original Wilco song "Just a Kid." The Flaming Lips came up with the song "SpongeBob and Patrick Confront the Psychic Wall of Energy," which frontman Wayne Coyne initially envisioned as a duet with Justin Timberlake, but Stephen Hillenburg was against the idea. "I don't want any of those sort of commercial weirdos on there," Hillenburg allegedly told Coyne." I don't like those commercial people. I like you guys, and Wilco, and Ween."
Ween provided their song "Ocean Man" for the soundtrack, initially from their 1997 album The Mollusk. Musical cameos by Brian Wilson, Tommy Ramone, and Elvis Presley guitarist James Burton highlight the 2006 compilation album SpongeBob SquarePants: The Best Day Ever, and the vocal talents of The Monkees' Davy Jones and David Bowie have appeared on the TV series.
10. A NEWLY DISCOVERED FUNGI WAS NAMED AFTER SPONGEBOB.
Researchers at San Francisco State University christened a new species of mushroom Spongiforma squarepantsii in 2011, on account of its resemblance to the sea sponge. When the researchers also noted that the spore-producing area of the fungus found in the forests of Borneo resembled a seafloor "carpeted in tube sponges," it sealed the deal. It has a "fruity or musty" odor.
11. THE WRITERS WERE INFLUENCED BY RAY BRADBURY.
Needing fresh stories for season two, newly hired story editor Merriwether Williams was tasked with helping the writing staff come up with ideas. She gave them copies of Ray Bradbury's essay collection Zen and the Art of Writing. A particular writing exercise that generated many plots for the SpongeBob staff was called "The Noun Game." Williams had everyone write three to six nouns on small pieces of paper and place them in a hat. They'd draw one, then spend a minute writing an unfiltered story based on that noun.
12. A CONSERVATIVE GROUP LABELED THE SHOW 'HOMOSEXUAL PROPAGANDA.'
A 2005 video meant to promote tolerance and diversity to young students featuring SpongeBob and Patrick was notoriously considered by Focus on the Family and other conservative groups as an instrument of gay propaganda. That incident, and interpretations by viewers that SpongeBob is gay, has led to denials from the show's staff that SpongeBob has any sexual orientation at all. In a 2002 Wall Street Journal interview, Hillenburg said that even though he considers all of his characters "asexual," he believes the attitude of SpongeBob SquarePants "is about tolerance."
13. DAVID HASSELHOFF KEPT THE 12-FOOT REPLICA OF HIMSELF THAT WAS MADE FOR THE MOVIE.
Eating $100,000 of the film's budget, the 750 pound version of The Hoff was given to its inspiration by the crew. Hasselhoff appears as himself at the end of the movie in live-action, a scene that was written before the former Baywatch star had even agreed to play the part. The giant mannequin was sold at auction earlier this year.
14. IT IS THE LONGEST RUNNING NICKELODEON SERIES EVER.
Surpassing Rugrats' previous record of 172 episodes, SpongeBob SquarePants will broadcast its 200th episode during the current season (the show's ninth). The show hasn't aired an original episode since March though—it is on hiatus in order to complete production on their second movie, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, set for release next February. The 3-D sequel was initially supposed to come out one week later on February 13th, but Paramount Pictures moved the release date forward to avoid competition with Fifty Shades of Grey.