Movie Interview: The unbearable lightness of Spongebob

By Jaime Burnet

If we’ve learned anything from cartoon characters, it’s that you can’t be stubborn and you can’t be static if you want to succeed. Countless movies have an immature child take on mature traits to save the day, or a stuffy adult embracing their inner child so he or she understands how things must work out, as they always do in the end. This yin-yang balance of child and adult makes a person more whole, more versatile and it’s what has made a sponge into an absorbent, yellow, porous, giggling epidemic.

Spongebob Squarepants sightings are almost frighteningly frequent. From television to the big screen, your baby cousin’s sippy cup to your own underwear, it seems no one can resist the charms of a buck-toothed, fry-cooking, friend-of-starfish poriferan. Even those against the trend’s current admit the comic merit of Spongebob. The character’s versatility is an enigma, even to his creator Stephen Hillenburg, amazed at the popularity of his pineapple- dwelling brainchild.

“You write a show about a sponge and you think that maybe a few people will think it’s funny, you know, some college students, but it takes off. It is truly shocking, to the point where it’s bizarre,” Hillenburg says.

It’s not as if Hillenburg set out to create a universally appealing cartoon by combining specific amounts of silly and serious. The former childrens’ science educator just happens to share his sense of humour with over 60 million people, a sense of humour driven by something we all have in common: a childhood.

“Everyone was a kid, or they are a kid now. So you have a way to identify with that thinking… Are we tapping into our life experiences as kids, so that there’s some genuine feeling there? That’s how we retain his personality over the years.”

But Spongebob isn’t strictly for pre-adolescents, often dealing with mature concepts older viewers can relate to. Unlike the childhood experiences everyone had, kids don’t fully grasp these adult situations, but seem to find them hilarious nonetheless. It’s Hillenburg’s mysterious ability to create this humour and understanding that attracts such a diverse audience.

“We really don’t write for kids, we write for ourselves. Do we think it’s funny, and then, is it too adult? I mean, sometimes we push it, but we usually can tell when something feels inappropriate. We’re not necessarily trying to be ‘intelligent,’ but we do try to not write topical jokes and try to write things that are more about humourous situations and about characters and their flaws. I think, if it works, it’s the best form of humour in that it’s more everlasting.”

Hillenburg’s brand of humour has been successful in the Spongebob Squarepants TV show, so there’s a good chance of its ability to transfer over to the big screen. With his innocent optimism, child-in-a-man(sponge)’s-body mentality, and of course, his notorious square pants, Spongebob should continue to dominate the hearts and accessories of young and old alike.