A Knucklehead McSpazatron Story
Points if you know what this is about from that reference alone.
On May 1, 1999, SpongeBob SquarePants premiered on the children’s network Nickelodeon and made my, and countless others’ childhoods that much better.
When I was a kid, every morning I would wake up, eat breakfast and watch SpongeBob. I actually used to look forward to waking up early just to watch it, (only to get depressed again when I went to school, but that’s a different story for a different time). And when the movie came out back in 2004, for a fan it was like the Super Bowl, the moon landing, and Christmas morning all rolled into one.
Maybe it’s silly to talk about a kid’s show like this at 25, and yes, I am aware many of you may have zero interest in this piece already, but hear me out, because if you really stop and watch, you’ll realize this show is no less for adults than it is for children.
Many celebrities have admitted to also being huge fans including: former President Barack Obama, Ariana Grande, and Jim Carrey. It also has had famous voice actor guest stars: Ernest Borgnine, Tim Conway, Mark Hamill, Victoria Beckham, Steve Buscemi, John Goodman, and of course the late great Robin Williams. It also spawned three movies that each starred Scarlett Johansson, Alec Baldwin, Antonio Banderas and Keanu Reeves.
Before I go into anything else, let me take you through a dive (no pun intended) into the history of this show.
It was created by Stephen Hillenburg, whose two main loves were animation and the ocean. When he was a kid, he had a fascination with the ocean after watching The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.
After college he got a job at the Orange County Marine Institute, which is now known as the Ocean Institute in California. The director asked him to do a comic book about tide pool ecology. He created a comic book called The Intertidal Zone. It featured various different characters, and the host was named Bob the Sponge.
Later he attended California Institute of the Arts. There, he made a thesis film called Wormholes, where he met another up and coming animator named Joe Murray. Murray gave Hillenburg a job as a writer/director for his cartoon, Rocko’s Modern Life. In fact, several themes from Rocko would follow later into SpongeBob, including similar characters like SpongeBob’s pet snail Gary after that of Rocko’s pet dog Spunky.
During the last season, Hillenburg, wanting to make his own show, took the characters he created from The Intertidal Zone and pitched his own idea to Nickelodeon, wearing a hula shirt, playing the theme song out of a shell he brought in, along with an aquarium with water in it and a drawing of SpongeBob at the bottom. He pitched the whole pilot and according to the executives at Nick, had to walk out of the meeting because they were quote, “laughing so hard.” The idea was one of those “this might just be crazy enough to work”, and wouldn’t you know, it did.
Hillenburg initially wanted to end the series after the 2004 movie, but the success and appeal was so great that the network, Nickelodeon, decided to continue the show and it is still on the air today.
On November 26, 2018, Stephen Hillenburg died tragically, at the age of 57. Later that day, Butch Hartman, creator of another great cartoon for Nickelodeon The Fairly OddParents, made a 4 minute tribute video,
, and in it said that he and all the other animators/writers were always striving to hit that level of success.
Stephen Hillenburg will always be one of those little known geniuses whose work has changed the world of animation and whose legacy will live on. He was said to be someone that never wanted to be a celebrity or even rich. He just wanted to do the work he loved and entertain/educate people while doing it.
If that isn’t a person to admire, I don’t know who is.
Ok, now earlier I said this show is no less for adults than it is for children. What I meant was that I have never met a person, adults included, who didn’t enjoy watching it. The older I’ve gotten watching reruns, I caught so many more jokes and humor that I never understood as a child.
My dad, now 64, and also a SpongeBob fan, grew up watching old Looney Tunes cartoons and he introduced me too many of those classics. Both cartoons are so popular because of their ability to entertain both kids and adults, which isn’t something you could say for other Nick shows like Rugrats, Jimmy Neutron or Hey Arnold!
I have actual memories of my whole family sitting together watching SpongeBob and laughing. My late friend Jake and I were quoting it in High School, and still laughing at it. I also remember Jake would call me about scenes we had seen hundreds of times with jokes we didn’t understand as kids.
As I said earlier I love this show and there aren’t enough great things I could possibly say about it that could do it the justice. It was part of my childhood and it provided comfort, laughter, and a sense of security when I needed it. All I can do is continue to watch and hopefully one day share the legacy of this show with my kids.