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Last Updated: Friday, 11 February 2005, 08:46 GMT
Meet the man behind SpongeBob
By Neil Smith
BBC News Entertainment

Millions of children have been captivated by SpongeBob SquarePants, the cult TV cartoon character whose first full-length feature film is out in cinemas on Friday.

Tom Kenny
Tom Kenny began his career as a stand-up comedian
But few fans could name the man who provides the voice for the bright yellow sponge in both the show and its big-screen spin-off.

Not that Tom Kenny is complaining.

"As a cartoon-obsessed child turned cartoon-obsessed grown-up, it's been a lifelong dream to do a voice in an animated feature," he says.

"It's a great job. Corny as it sounds, it's something that gets in your blood."

Having begun his career in the 1980s as a stand-up comedian, the 42-year-old father-of-two did his first voiceover in 1990 and has not looked back since.


"I started out more on camera as a stand-up comedian and had some success at it," he explains.

"But then the voiceovers came along, and that aspect kept growing until it phased out everything else."

SpongeBob SquarePants
SpongeBob SquarePants has built up a cult following among adults
Appearances on The Powerpuff Girls and Futurama followed, but it was SpongeBob SquarePants - a character he has voiced since the show's TV debut in 1999 - that really turned things around.

Those uninitiated in the cult of SpongeBob should know that its hero is a buck-toothed sea sponge who lives on the ocean floor.

His best friend is a pink starfish called Patrick, he works in a fast-food restaurant and he talks in a high-pitched gabble.

"The voice fell into place pretty quickly," recalls Kenny.

"It needed to be childlike but not a child's voice - a voice of indeterminate age, like Pee-wee Herman or Jerry Lewis.

"There's a helium-pitched flavour to it, like the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz."


Light-hearted and garrulous, Kenny responds to every question with good humour and easy-going charm.

But there is one subject that clearly rankles this native New Yorker - namely, the way Hollywood stars have invaded his territory.

Alec Baldwin
Alec Baldwin voices an evil character in the SpongeBob film
Eddie Murphy, Tom Hanks and Brad Pitt are just some of the high-profile actors who have lent their voices to characters in animated features.

And Kenny freely admits this issue has caused some resentment among the voiceover community.

"I look at voice acting as a fairly specialised skill," he says. "We're good at painting a picture and a personality using only our voices.

"So we don't appreciate highly-paid movie stars who do it over the phone, or do it on a whim because they want to do something their children can see.

"I would never assume I could waltz in and master the skill Tom Hanks has spent his whole life perfecting," he continues.

"Yet Hollywood stars don't have that same mindset when it comes to doing voiceover work."


Kenny accepts that big names bring box-office clout to the animated genre.

And the SpongeBob SquarePants movie is hardly blameless in this regard, having hired Alec Baldwin and Bafta winner Scarlett Johansson to make guest appearances.

A scene from the SpongeBob SquarePants movie
The Church of SpongeBob offers study courses on the cartoon
But he also believes such casting decisions point to a wider malaise.

"I think a lot of it is down to animation's inferiority complex," he says. "It's like it's saying: 'See, we're just like a real movie! We're using A-list actors!'

"It's counterproductive and aesthetically blah, but I guess one cannot argue with the box office."

Having performed strongly in the US, the SpongeBob movie certainly has no concerns on that front.

And Kenny admits to some pride in the fact that the character is so popular he has even had a church established in his name.

"I'm always amazed by the amount of time and effort people put into things like that," he chuckles.

"You know you've arrived when someone builds a fake religion around your show!"

The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie is released in the UK on 11 February. SpongeBob SquarePants can be seen every day on Nickelodeon and Nicktoons.

Watch clips from the SpongeBob SquarePants film

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