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Viacom International Media Networks

14 Things You May Not Have Known About SpongeBob SquarePants

Viacom International Media Networks
Viacom International Media Networks

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.

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10 Fast Facts About Cars
Pixar
Pixar

Pixar’s Cars was released on this day 12 years ago. So put on your helmets, rev those engines, and let’s take a look at some behind-the-scenes facts about the Oscar-winning animation studio’s fastest-moving film.

1. IT WAS ORIGINALLY AN UGLY DUCKLING-TYPE STORY ABOUT AN ELECTRIC CAR.

Cars started off life as Little Yellow Car, about an electric car that faces prejudice from its gas-guzzling counterparts. Pixar animator/artist Jorgen Klubien, who developed the story during production on A Bug’s Life, was inspired by real-life automotive history from his home country of Denmark.

“In the 1980s some enthusiastic folks got the idea of making a three-wheeled one-person car that ran on electricity,” said Klubien. “They put it into production and it worked great in the city, but out on the highway it was too slow. People also thought the car was ugly. I thought the electric car was ahead of its time, and it struck me as odd that my fellow Danes didn’t agree. It reminded me of The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen. This famous Danish character wasn’t accepted at first, but in the end it proved to be right on the money.”

The story was deemed too slight to carry an entire movie, but the small-town setting remained an inspiration.

2. ITS CO-WRITER/DIRECTOR PASSED AWAY DURING PRODUCTION.

Cars is dedicated to Joe Ranft, the film's co-writer and co-director, who died in a car accident on August 16, 2005—while Cars was still in production. Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride (2005), which Ranft executive produced, is also dedicated to him.

3. MATER IS BASED ON A REAL-LIFE NASCAR ENTHUSIAST.

The country bumpkin tow truck Mater got his name from NASCAR superfan Douglas “Mater” Keever, whom the filmmakers met while on a research trip to North Carolina’s Lowe’s Motor Speedway (now called the Charlotte Motor Speedway). Keever has a voice cameo in the film, as the motor home who says “Well dip me in axle grease and call me slick” early in the film. (Keever improvised the line, which was originally “Well dip me in axle grease and call me lubrication.” Producer Darla Anderson opted to change it, Keever speculated, because “maybe she thought it sounded sexual, I don’t know.”)

4. MANY AUTO WORLD LUMINARIES LENT THEIR VOCAL TALENTS.

Reigning racing champ Strip “The King” Weathers is voiced by legendary racer Richard Petty, who has the same nickname as his animated counterpart. Weathers’s wife, credited as “Mrs. The King,” is voiced by Petty’s wife, Lynda Petty. Several other automotive notables contribute their vocal talents: announcer/former racer Darrell Waltrip plays “Darrell Cartrip”; Tom and Ray Magliozzi, hosts of NPR’s radio show Car Talk, voice Lightning McQueen’s sponsors, Rusty and Dusty Rust-eze; and racers Michael Schumacher, Mario Andretti, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. voice automotive versions of themselves. (Despite voicing announcer “Bob Cutlass,” sports analyst Bob Costas doesn’t actually cover racing.)

5. SEVERAL ACTORS CHANGED FOR INTERNATIONAL RELEASES.

For Cars’s UK release, Jeremy Piven was replaced as the voice of Lightning McQueen’s never-seen agent Harv by Top Gear co-host Jeremy Clarkson. “The King” was also voiced by different racers in some international releases, as Richard Petty isn’t as well known outside of the United States. In Germany, The King is voiced by Formula One champ Niki Lauda, while in Spain he is Formula One’s Fernando Alonso.

6. MOST CHARACTERS ARE BASED ON REAL CARS.

Lightning McQueen, Mater, and Chick Hicks are all original Pixar designs, but most of the other characters are based on existing cars. Among them are Doc Hudson (1951 Hudson Hornet), Ramone the body paint specialist (1959 Chevy Impala), tire salesman Luigi (1959 Fiat 500), hippie Fillmore (1960 Volkswagen Microbus), military surplus store owner Sarge (1942 Willys Jeep), and Mack, the truck that drives Lightning around (Mack Superliner). Sally, as a 2002 Porsche 911 Carrera, is the only Radiator Springs character modeled after a contemporary car.

7. IT BROUGHT A NEW STANDARD OF REALISM TO ANIMATED FILMS.

Cars was the first Pixar feature to utilize a technique known as “ray tracing,” which properly renders the way light passes through and collides with surfaces. More simply, it enables artists to accurately depict reflections without having to go through and “paint” them individually. Ray tracing takes up a massive amount of computer power; as a result, each frame (or about 1/24th of a second) of Cars took an average of 17 hours to render. Some frames took up to a week.

8. IT WAS PAUL NEWMAN’S FINAL FILM—AND HIS HIGHEST-GROSSING.

Cars marks the final film of Paul Newman, who in addition to being an actor/entrepreneur/philanthropist also became a racing enthusiast after starring in the 1969 racing drama Winning. Cars is also the highest-grossing film of Newman’s career (not adjusted for inflation).

9. ONE OF LIGHTNING MCQUEEN’S CHARACTER INSPIRATIONS WAS KID ROCK.

To help get a handle on the character of rookie racing sensation Lightning McQueen, directing animator James Ford Murphy “put together a series of little bios of great personalities that were really cocky but really likeable.” Among the people he pulled inspiration from were sportsmen Muhammad Ali, Charles Barkley, and Joe Namath, plus musician Kid Rock.

10. YOU CAN VISIT THE MOUNTAIN RANGE THAT SURROUNDS RADIATOR SPRINGS IN REAL LIFE (SORT OF).

The mountain range surrounding Radiator Springs is inspired by the real-life Cadillac Ranch, an outdoor art installation located outside Amarillo, Texas that consists of heavily spray-painted Cadillacs, half-buried facedown in the ground.

Additional Source: The Pixar Touch, by David A. Price

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15 Things You Might Not Know About Finding Nemo
Pixar/Disney
Pixar/Disney

Although we now recognize 2003's Finding Nemo as one of Pixar’s most critically and commercially successful films, the underwater masterpiece didn’t exactly kick off production as a guaranteed goldmine. Here are a few little-known facts about the rocky road leading up to the film’s status as a bona fide blockbuster, on the 15th anniversary of its release.

1. THE FILM WAS INSPIRED BY THE DIRECTOR’S OVERPROTECTIVE NATURE.

“Autobiographical” isn’t exactly the first adjective you’d expect to assign to a road comedy about marine life, but Finding Nemo co-writer/director Andrew Stanton’s story came from a very personal place. As a relatively new father during the film’s development, Stanton found himself at odds with his proclivity to veer into overprotective territory, much in the way viewers see Marlin combating his neuroses in raising his son Nemo. Stanton also had a love for all things aquatic that dated back to a childhood fascination with his dentist’s fish tank, so he used this lifelong interest as a funnel for a deeply emotional story about the challenges of being a good father.

2. ANDREW STANTON WROTE A SCRIPT LONG BEFORE HE WAS “SUPPOSED TO.”

Pixar’s multi-tiered film production process begins with a basic premise pitch to the creative higher-ups, followed by (for all greenlit projects) a written story treatment. Stanton already had a script completed before this second step took place, the only Pixar project to proceed in this manner. 

3. IT TOOK ONLY ONE WORD TO GET THE GREEN LIGHT FOR FINDING NEMO.

“You had me at ‘fish.’” That is precisely what Pixar’s chief creative officer told Stanton following his exhaustive pitch for his passion project.

4. THE MOVIE’S ART TEAM WENT THROUGH MARINE TRAINING PRIOR TO PRODUCTION.

A scene from 'Finding Nemo' (2003)
Disney Pixar

In order to get the look and the feel of Finding Nemo’s characters and world just right, Pixar’s in-house art team was required to take courses and audit lectures in marine biology, oceanography, and ichthyology while enrolling in scuba diving classes.

5. DOGS WERE USED AS MODELS FOR THE FISHY FACIAL EXPRESSIONS.

While the Pixar team’s extensive research on the denizens of the deep yielded a wide variety of spectacular shapes and colors perfectly suited to an animated feature, the underwater populace proved consistently lacking when it came to one anatomical component. The dull eyes of the average finned critter weren’t especially conducive to building expressive characters, so Pixar had to look elsewhere for its optical models. The crew chose one of the most openly expressive members of the animal kingdom on which to model the eyes of its fish characters: dogs.

6. THE ORIGINAL SCRIPT HAD A DIFFERENT TREATMENT FOR THE BARRACUDA INCIDENT.

At first, Stanton kept the inspiration for Marlin’s overprotective attitude—the loss of his wife and all but one of their unborn children in a barracuda attack—a secret to reveal gradually through intermittent flashback sequences. Ultimately, this technique made the revelation obvious and anticlimactic while making Marlin feel substantially less likable, so the script changed.

7. MEGAN MULLALLY WAS FIRED AFTER PRODUCERS HEARD HER REAL VOICE.

In the early 2000s, Megan Mullally was best known for playing the rude and eccentric Karen Walker on Will & Grace. Chief among the character’s recognizable characteristics was her high-pitched voice, which Pixar producers apparently thought would be perfect for an animated fish. Upon hiring Mullally to voice an undisclosed character in the movie, the crew discovered that the actress’s natural voice was of average pitch and that Mullally was unwilling to reproduce “the Karen voice” for the film. As such, Mullally was dismissed from the Finding Nemo cast.

8. GILL WAS A VILLAINOUS CHARACTER IN AN EARLIER VERSION OF THE STORY.

Willem Dafoe as Gill in 'Finding Nemo' (2003)
Pixar/Disney

While the combination of somber coloration, a scowling beak, and the menacing vocals of Willem Dafoe render Nemo’s fish tank pal Gill an intimidating presence, we learn soon enough that he is in fact a good guy who has the best interests of his fellow captives at heart. The original cut of Finding Nemo was more ambiguous about Gill’s integrity, however, making him the owner of a falsified identity that he swiped from a nautical-themed children’s book housed in the dentist’s waiting room.

9. ALBERT BROOKS REPLACED ANOTHER BIG STAR.

Although Albert Brooks’s background in films like Broadcast News and Mother seems like it would have made him an obvious candidate to play the high-strung Marlin, the first actor cast in the role was William H. Macy. The Fargo star recorded his dialogue for an early screening of Finding Nemo, but producers ultimately felt that he lacked the warmth required for the role of the father fish.

10. THE DIRECTOR RECORDED ALL OF ONE CHARACTER’S DIALOGUE WHILE LYING ON A COUCH.

Stanton never intended to commit his voice to the final cut of Finding Nemo, but only to sub in as a placeholder until the right actor could be cast to play Crush, the easygoing sea turtle with the California accent. Perhaps due to his understanding of his vocal contribution as merely temporary (or maybe, in fact, to get into the “slacker” mindset of his character), Stanton recorded all of Crush’s dialogue while lying on a couch in the office of his co-director, Lee Unkrich.

11. THE CEO OF DISNEY THOUGHT FINDING NEMO WOULD BE A FAILURE.

The combination of a poorly cast Marlin, an unsympathetic Gill, and the running flashbacks made the earliest versions of Finding Nemo feel pretty dismal. Still, nobody was quite as defeatist as Michael Eisner, the Walt Disney Company's then-chief executive officer. Eisner predicted the underwater adventure would be a “reality check” for the yet unchallenged Pixar. Eisner’s only positive spin was that a commercial struggle would be helpful during contract renegotiations with the Disney subsidiary. Of course, Eisner’s judgment (and fund-cutting aspirations) came up short when Finding Nemo became Pixar’s highest grossing film—a superlative it would maintain until the release of Toy Story 3 in 2010. It has since been surpassed twice more: first by 2015's Inside Out, then in 2016 by its own sequel, Finding Dory (which maintains the top position).

12. THE MOVIE’S POPULARITY LED TO POPULATION STRESS FOR CLOWNFISH.

Albert Brooks and Alexander Gould in 'Finding Nemo' (2003)
Pixar/Disney

Children were so taken with the adorable Nemo following the release of the film that demand for clownfish as pets instantly skyrocketed. Excessive capture and sale of the ocean dwellers led to a steep decline in the organic population of the species; some natural habitats, such as the waters surrounding Vanuatu, saw a 75 percent drop in clownfish numbers.

13. THE MOVIE ALSO LED TO SOME MISGUIDED FISH LIBERATION MOVEMENTS.

On the other hand, Finding Nemo’s anti-tank agenda did provoke a few ecologically-minded viewers to set their aquatic captives free. Unfortunately, not everyone took the necessary steps to ensure that their newly liberated pet fish were being transported to amenable waters. Certain marine communities suffered from the introduction of predatory and venomous species in unnatural locales, resulting in, once again, ecological imbalance. 

14. SEVERAL ORGANIZATIONS RELEASED “ANTI-FLUSHING” PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENTS FOLLOWING FINDING NEMO.

While tanked fish Gill’s proclamation that “all drains lead to the ocean” contains a grain of truth, the movie fails to acknowledge the fact that a flushed fish is unlikely to survive a trip down the typical drain. Water treatment company JWC Environmental and Australia’s Marine Aquarium Council were among the companies that offered public warnings that flushing would prove fatal to any pet fish. The former organization suggested that a movie that realistically portrayed a household sea creature’s voyage through the municipal sewage system would be more accurately titled Grinding Nemo.

15. A CHILDREN’S BOOK AUTHOR UNSUCCESSFULLY ACCUSED FINDING NEMO'S CREATORS OF PLAGIARISM.

Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, and Nicholas Bird in 'Finding Nemo' (2003)
Pixar/Disney

A year before the release of Finding Nemo, French author Franck Le Calvez self-published the children’s book Pierrot Le Poisson-Clown, featuring a young clownfish on a quest to reunite with his estranged mother. (In fact, Le Calvez first wrote the story as a screenplay in 1995, but was unable to generate interest in the concept.) After Pixar’s admittedly similar tale hit theaters, Le Calvez sued the studio for copyright infringement, but lost two lawsuits and was ordered to pay $80,000 in damages and court costs.

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