The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie was long planned. Nickelodeon and Paramount Pictures had approached series creator Stephen Hillenburg for a film based on the show, but he refused for more than a year. Hillenburg was concerned, after watching The Iron Giant and Toy Story with his sons, about the challenge of SpongeBob and Patrick doing something more cinematically-consequential and inspiring without losing what he calls the SpongeBob "cadence." He said, on a break from season-four post-production, "To do a 75-minute movie about SpongeBob wanting to make some jellyfish jelly would be a mistake, I think..." This had to be SpongeBob in a great adventure. That's where the comedy's coming from, having these two naïve characters, SpongeBob and Patrick, a doofus and an idiot, on this incredibly dangerous heroic odyssey with all the odds against them.
I never wanted to do a movie because I didn't think that what we wanted to say needed to be in a movie. I like the short form for animation. Then this story idea came up that lent itself to a longer format. You can't do a road trip adventure in a short form. - Stephen Hillenburg
In late 2002, Hillenburg and the show's staff stopped making episodes to work on the film after the show's third season. The film's plot originally had SpongeBob rescue Patrick from a fisherman in Florida. It was obviously a reference to the 2003 film, Finding Nemo. This was later said by Tom Kenny (the voice of SpongeBob) to be a "joke" plot to keep fans busy. Stephen Hillenburg wrote the film with five other writer-animators from the show (Paul Tibbitt, Derek Drymon, Aaron Springer, Kent Osborne and Tim Hill) over a three-month period in a room of a former Glendale, California bank. Osborne said, "It was hugely fun... although it did get kind of gamy in there." At the beginning of the series, Hillenburg screened a number of silent shorts (from Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton) and work by two modern comic actors: Jerry Lewis and Pee-wee Herman, both obvious inspirations for SpongeBob. For the film, the writers created a mythical hero's quest: the search for a stolen crown, which brings SpongeBob and Patrick to the surface. Bill Fagerbakke (the voice of Patrick) said about the plot, "It's just nuts. I'm continually dazzled and delighted with what these guys came up with."
When the film was completed Hillenburg wanted to end the series "so the show wouldn't jump the shark"; however, Nickelodeon wanted more episodes. He said, "Well, there was concern when we did the movie [in 2004] that the show had peaked. There were concerns among executives at Nickelodeon." Hillenburg resigned as the series' showrunner, appointing Paul Tibbitt (the show's supervising producer, writer, director and storyboard artist) to succeed him. Tibbitt was one of Hillenburg's favorite crew members: "[I] totally trusted him." Tibbitt was showrunner from 2005 to 2015 and was and an executive producer. Hillenburg no longer writes (or runs) the show on a day-to-day basis, but reviews each episode and submits suggestions: "I figure when I'm pretty old I can still paint [...] I don't know about running shows." Tom Kenny, Bill Fagerbakke and the crew confirmed that they had completed four episodes for broadcast on Nickelodeon in early 2005, and planned to finish a total of 20 episodes for the fourth season.
In September 2003 (during production), Jule Engel (Hillenburg's mentor when he studied experimental animation at the California Institute of the Arts) died. Hillenburg dedicated the film to him: "He truly was the most influential artistic person in my life. I consider him my 'Art Dad'."
There were a number of stages involved in the making of the film, beginning with a rough animation process of ideas drawn on Post-it notes. The writers drew, working from rough outlines rather than scripts (which made the humor more visual than verbal). Hillenburg said, "It's in the characters' extreme body language, in how they slither capriciously around the deadpan frames." The storyboard artists, including Sherm Cohen, then illustrated ideas conceived by the writers. In the series Tom Yasumi and Andrew Overtoom do the animatics, but director Hillenburg and writer Derek Drymon did the animatics for the film. Yasumi and Overtoom were the film's animation-timing directors, concentrating on the sheets. The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie was animated at Rough Draft Studios in South Korea. The animators worked semi-digitally; pencil-drawn poses would be composited into layouts in Photoshop.
Series writer and storyboard artist Erik Wiese left the show for a year to work on Samurai Jack and Danny Phantom, but returned to do storyboards and character layout for the film. He "always wanted to be a feature animator, and the movie felt like I was on the character animation end", describing the experience as "a blast—it felt like coming home."
Hillenburg enjoyed the process of making the film: "The TV schedule is tight, and you don't always have a lot of time to work on your drawings." He appreciated the film's hand-drawn animation: "I think the movie's drawings are much superior than the TV show", although CGI animation was flourishing at the time of the film's release. "There's a lot of talk about 2-D being dead, and I hope people don't think that. Even Brad Bird is a proponent of 2-D. He would agree with me that it's all about what you're trying to say. There are many ways to tell a story, and what's unique about animation is that there are many styles with which to tell a story." The clay animation scenes were shot by Mark Caballero, Seamus Walsh and Chris Finnegan at Screen Novelties in Los Angeles.
The film features live-action scenes directed by Mark Osborne in Santa Monica, California. The ship used during the 30-second opening featuring the pirates singing the theme was the Bounty, a 180-foot (55 m)-long, enlarged reconstruction of the 1787 Royal Navy sailing ship HMS Bounty built for 1962's Mutiny on the Bounty. The ship has appeared in a number of other films, including Treasure Island (1999), Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006) and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007). In film trailers, live-action scenes were taken from Das Boot (1981), The Hunt for Red October (1990) and U-571(2000).
Baywatch and Knight Rider actor David Hasselhoff made a cameo in the live-action scenes, offering SpongeBob and Patrick a ride to Bikini Bottom. The scene was originally written before consulting Hasselhoff. Lead storyboard artist Sherm Cohen said, "He had been wrestling with the ending for quite a while, and finally he was ready to pitch his ideas to some of the other board artists." Hillenburg was counting on casting Hasselhoff, and the first question asked him was "So, do we have Hasselhoff?" He replied "No", with a grin. Hasselhoff eventually agreed, before seeing the script. Hillenburg said about the actor, "He's a great guy... He was great at making fun of himself."
The crew built a 750-pound (340 kg), 12-foot (3.7 m) replica of Hasselhoff. The $100,000 replica was kept at Hasselhoff's home he said, "It freaked me out because it was so lifelike, with teeth,when you touch it feels like real skin. It's soft, like your skin." At the completion of filming, Hasselhoff said, "That's ridiculously awesome. What are you gonna do with it?" Asked by the crew members if he wanted to keep it, he answered, "Uh, yeah. Okay." Hasselhoff filmed in cold water, where he was pulled by a sled nine yards across the sea, he described the experience as "cold but lots of fun."
Gregor Narholz composed the score for the film, conducting the recording sessions (in 5.1 surround sound) with the London Metropolitan Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios in London. Narholz was signed when series music editor Nick Carr recommended him to Hillenburg after they worked together at the Associated Production Music library. Narholz was honored at the 2005 ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards for his work on the film, and received a nomination for Music in an Animated Feature Production at the 32nd Anni Awards.
American rock band The Flaming Lips recorded "SpongeBob and Patrick Confront the Psychic Wall of Energy". They shot the song's music video, directed by band member Wayne Coyne and filmmaker Bradley Beesley, in Austin, Texas. Coyne said, "Stephen [Hillenburg] seems to be a fan of the weirder music of the late '80s and early '90s [...] He wanted to evoke the music he got turned onto back then." Coyne suggested a duet with Justin Timberlake, but Hillenburg refused; according to Coyle, " ... but [Stephen Hillenburg] said, 'I don't want any of those sort of commercial weirdos on there. I don't like those commercial people. I like you guys, and Wilco and Ween.'" American band Wilco wrote and recorded "Just a Kid". One of the film's producers contacted frontman Jeff Tweedy after seeing a SpongeBob air freshener hanging from Tweedy's rearview mirror in I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco. Tweedy said, "I fell in love with SpongeBob when I heard him describe the darkness at the bottom of the sea as 'advanced darkness' [...] How could I not write a song for this film? It automatically makes me the coolest dad on the block." Avril Lavigne recorded the series' theme for the soundtrack. Other artists contributing to the soundtrack were Motörhead, singing "You Better Swim" (a derivative of their 1992 song "You'd Better Run"); Prince Paul ("Prince Paul's Bubble Party"); Ween ("Ocean Man"), and the Shins ("They'll Soon Discover", partially written in 2001).
"The Best Day Ever", written by Tom Kenny and Andy Paley, was featured in the film and on its soundtrack. Kenny and Paley were working on what would become the album The Best Day Ever, writing "The Best Day Ever" and "Under My Rock". The film's production team needed two more tracks for the soundtrack; Hillenburg heard the songs, and decided to include them. "The Best Day Ever" ended up being played during the film's closing credits.
|( ‣ ) Associated production music|
|( • ) Original music|
|( ◦ ) SpongeBob music|
‣ ? [Nickelodeon Movies logo]
• ? - Gregor F. Narholz [opening credits/treasure chest]
◦ SpongeBob SquarePants Theme Song - Derek Drymon, Stephen Hillenburg, Mark Harrison, Blaise Smith [pirates sing this]
‣ Maui Beach - Hans Haider ["Ah, the sea."]
‣ Bob Squad - Tom Rothrock [police outside the Krusty Krab]
‣ Love Elegy - Mike Sunderland [Phil whimpering]
‣ Bob Squad - Tom Rothrock [SpongeBob putting cheese on the Krabby Patty]
‣ Crime International - Graham De Wilde ["Three cheers for the manager!"]
‣ Marching to Honolulu - Kapono Beamer [SpongeBob wakes up]
‣ Hawaiian March - The Waikikis [SpongeBob getting dressed]
◦ Goofy Goober Song - Eban Schletter, Stephen Hillenburg, Derek Drymon, Tim Hill, Kent Osborne, Paul Tibbitt, Aaron Springer [SpongeBob and Patrick dance to this]
‣ Non Stop - John Malcolm [news report about Krusty Krab 2]
• ? - Gregor F. Narholz ["Curses! It's not fair!"]
• Vibe Sting - Nicolas Carr ["Z?!"]
‣ Sleazy Sax - Richard Myhill [Plankton looking at Plan Z]
• ? - Gregor F. Narholz ["It's evil... it's diabolical... it's lemon-scented!"]
• Steel Sting - Jeremy Wakefield ["Stupid kid."]
• ? - Gregor F. Narholz [grand opening ceremony]
‣ Pua Paoakalani B - Kapono Beamer, Queen Lili'uokalani [SpongeBob upset that he didn't get the job]
‣ SpongeBob Theme - Jeremy Wakefield, Sage Guyton ["Hooray for SpongeBob!"]
• Steel Licks - Jeremy Wakefield ["Hello? Where'd everybody go?"]
• ? - Gregor F. Narholz [later that evening...]
‣ Airs and Graces (a) - Paddy Kingsland [Neptune lectures Mindy about his crown]
• ? - Gregor F. Narholz [Plankton stole Neptune's crown]
‣ Camptown Races - Edwina Travis-Chin [at Goofy Goober's]
◦ Goofy Goober Song - Eban Schletter, Stephen Hillenburg, Derek Drymon, Tim Hill, Kent Osborne, Paul Tibbitt, Aaron Springer [kids sing along]
• ? - Gregor F. Narholz [SpongeBob crying]
‣ Piano Presto (a) - Ted Atking, Alian Feanch [SpongeBob and Patrick eating ice cream]
‣ Too Tired (a) - Hans Ehrlinger [SpongeBob drunk]
‣ The Tip Top Polka/The Cliff Polka - Chelmsford Folk Band ["Now pay attention, Squidward."]
• ? - Gregor F. Narholz [Neptune arrives]
‣ Too Tired (a) - Hans Ehrlinger [drunk SpongeBob arrives]
• ? - Gregor F. Narholz [Krabs on fire]
‣ So Tired - Sammy Burdson, John Charles Fiddy [Neptune laughs]
• ? - Gregor F. Narholz ["I have a crab to cook."]
‣ ? ["Come along, Mindy."]
• ? - Gregor F. Narholz [Mindy describing the road to Shell City]
‣ Happy Jose - Ulrich Hans Wenzel [elevator music]
• ? - Gregor F. Narholz [The Patty Wagon/Plankton steals the formula]
◦ Goofy Goober Song - Eban Schletter, Stephen Hillenburg, Derek Drymon, Tim Hill, Kent Osborne, Paul Tibbitt, Aaron Springer [SpongeBob and Patrick approach a gas station]
‣ Kentucky Banjo - Guy Fletcher, Rod Williams [hillbillies laugh]
• ? - Gregor F. Narholz ["Shell City?!"]
‣ Kentucky Banjo - Guy Fletcher, Rod Williams [hillbillies laugh again]
‣ Curtain-Raiser - Alan Braden [Krabby Patties at the Chum Bucket]
‣ Emotion 2 - John Fox, Otto Sieben ["He confided in me a secret wish."]
‣ ? [free bucket helmets]
• ? - Gregor F. Narholz [Dennis introduced]
‣ Drowsy Reef - Jeremy Wakefield, Sage Guyton [SpongeBob and Patrick getting tired]
• You Better Swim - Motorhead [The Thug Tug]
‣ Can Can - Jacques Offenbach, George Wilson [bubble party]
◦ Goofy Goober Song - Eban Schletter, Stephen Hillenburg, Derek Drymon, Tim Hill, Kent Osborne, Paul Tibbitt, Aaron Springer [baby hunt]
• ? - Gregor F. Narholz [SpongeBob and Patrick trying not to sing along]
‣ Song Dedicated to the Giant Squid of the World - The Snails [double-baby]
‣ ? [Squidward riding his bike]
‣ Killer Squad - Simon Benson, Eugenio Grandi ["Chum Bucket? Free? Krabby Patty?"]
‣ Party Time - Keith Mansfield [at the Chum Bucket]
• ? - Gregor F. Narholz [brain control devices/ice cream monster/Dennis blows a bubble]
‣ Can Can - Jacques Offenbach, George Wilson [SpongeBob and Patrick's faces appear in the bubble]
• ? - Gregor F. Narholz [SpongeBob and Patrick still being chased]
• Steel Licks - Jeremy Wakefield [SpongeBob and Patrick with dumbfounded looks]
• ? - Gregor F. Narholz [trench/SpongeBob says he's going home/Plankton taking over Bikini Bottom]
‣ Renaissance Dance - David Farnon [hair in a can]
• ? - Gregor F. Narholz ["It doesn't matter if you're kids."]
‣ Hawaiian Cocktail - Richard Myhill [SpongeBob and Patrick crying]
• ? - Gregor F. Narholz [meanwhile...]
‣ Lonely Heart's Club (a) - David Bell, Otto Sieben [SpongeBob and Patrick still crying]
• ? - Gregor F. Narholz [mermaid magic]
‣ Lonely Heart's Club (a) - David Bell, Otto Sieben ["Did you hear that, Patrick?"]
• ? - Gregor F. Narholz [Mindy puts seaweed on their faces]
‣ ? [SpongeBob and Patrick scream as they fall]
◦ Now That We're Men - Will Schaefer, Stephen Hillenburg, Derek Drymon, Tim Hill, Kent Osborne, Paul Tibbitt, Aaron Springer [SpongeBob and Patrick sing as they go through the trench]
‣ Fight! Fight! Fight! (a) - Will Schaefer [background music to "Now That We're Men"]
‣ ? ["Finally. I got you right where I want you."]
• ? - Gregor F. Narholz [scuba diver kidnaps SpongeBob and Patrick]
• The Two Friends End - Gregor F. Narholz [SpongeBob and Patrick dries up on the board with an active lamp turned on]
‣ Build Up (Long version) - Robert Sharples [SpongeBob and Patrick brought back to life]
• ? - Gregor F. Narholz [they try to take the crown]
‣ Jarabe Tapatio (a) - Gerhart Frei, Carlos Periguez [mariachi band]
• ? - Gregor F. Narholz [bag of winds]
‣ Stirred Not Shaken! A - Gregor F. Narholz [David Hasselhoff appears]
‣ ? [March 14]
‣ Stirred Not Shaken! A - Gregor F. Narholz ["Hooray for Hasselhoff!"]
‣ ? [Dennis returns]
‣ ? ["This is the best seat in the house."]
‣ Say it with a Smile (a) - Dick Stephen Walter [Mindy stalling]
• ? - Gregor F. Narholz [fight with Dennis]
‣ Say it with a Smile (a) - Dick Stephen Walter [Mindy still stalling]
‣ ? [Neptune orders her to wait outside]
• ? - Gregor F. Narholz [the Hasselhoff catapult]
‣ ? [king-size helmet]
‣ Here I Go Again - David Coverdale, Bernard Marsden [SpongeBob's speech]
◦ Goofy Goober Rock - Dee Snider, Derek Drymon, Tim Hill, Stephen Hillenburg, Kent Osborne, Aaron Springer, Paul Tibbitt [SpongeBob sings this]
‣ Just a Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody - David Lee Roth [SpongeBob scatting]
‣ I'll See You in Hawaii - The Diamond Head Beachcombers ["Well, Mindy, I have to admit you were right."]
‣ ? ["I think I know what it is."]
• Ocean Man - Ween [first credits song]
• SpongeBob and Patrick Confront the Psychic Wall of Energy - The Flaming Lips [second credits song]
• Just a Kid - Wilco [third credits song]
◦ The Best Day Ever - Andy Paley, Tom Kenny [fourth credits song]
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