The man who provides the voice to Patrick in SpongeBob SquarePants – and thus, in the recent The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water feature – is Mr Bill Fagerbakke. As Sponge Out Of Water arrives on DVD, he spared us some time for a chat. But we started with something not so fishy…
Before we get onto SpongeBob, it’d be remiss of me not to bring up the Starship Troopers animated TV show that you leant your voice to. That was the only proper companion they ever really did to the film.
Yeah. That was a cool ride. It was another time I worked with Clancy Brown too. The session director was Sue Blue, and it was so much fun. It was one of the very rare times in my voiceover career where I’ve portrayed a ‘regular person’ [Laughs]
That’s the nature of a lot of animation voiceover work though isn’t it? That the characters have space to be a little more offbeat? Looking down the credits of what you’ve done, these roles must be quite freeing?
Oh yeah. That is definitely something I never lose sight of. The joys of that quality. That’s the inherent appeal of animation, not just to children, but to everyone. But kids, there’s some kind of visceral appreciation of animation. It’s not bounded by these realities that their young, creative and insane minds are trying to grapple with. Their imaginations are just so fertile.
I should bring up Studio Ghibli’s Porco Rosso, then. You were involved in the English dub for that?
You look at their films, and what I love about animation is it brings so many people’s barriers down. They’ll try things that they ordinarily wouldn’t.
Yes. I am essentially a child at heart, and that’s something that’s never lost on me. It starts with the liberation of the writer’s imagination. When you have that kind of really inspired material in your hands, if you can’t enjoy it… there are some curmudgeonly people I guess who don’t care for this stuff, but it’s such a gas. It’s so much fun.
I wonder then if I could transport you to the point where I took my kids to see Sponge Out Of Water earlier in the year. None of us had seen SpongeBob before, and what I like to do with them is wait half an hour, and then ask them to tell me the story of what they’ve seen. To see if the story has got across to them.
I had no idea where to start with Sponge Out Of Water!
I’d be amazed if you could do it, but can you sum up the plot of the movie in 50 words? That’d be some achievement!
[Laughs] Oh dear, the pressure’s on! Oh man! It’s an exploration… an interdimensional exploration of various animation styles, parlayed with a rollicking, free-wheeling interplantery adventure… [laughs]…. I don’t know!
It’s part of the appeal of our cartoon. It works so well in 11 minute segments, so to take it to 85 minutes of whatever, the cuffs are off! To really get to go with every goofy impulse… That’s what you get from the movie. The writers are so good. It was really a treat for us to have Stephen Hillenburg, the creator, back in the fold. He came back to work on the movie, and now he’s back again working on the series, and he’s really enjoying himself.
We did really love the film, and we’ve been catching up with SpongeBob ever since. But it’s a really long time since I’ve seen a film of that stature, animated or otherwise, that felt like it’d never seen a focus group. We’re so used to such controlled family entertainment.
That’s right. That’s the beauty of a Pixar screenplay. They spend years before they start animating, just crafting these stories, these beautifully crafted highly developed sophisticated pieces of family entertainment. The appeal of SpongeBob, in a way for me it’s a return to the boundless goofyness of animation, and the appeal of that. That’s something that a lot of fans like.
As technology has got more powerful and animation styles have refined, there does seem to be a snobbishness towards good, zany, 2D animation. In a strange way, it doesn’t feel as safe, but in a good way.
Right. It’s less shaped, and curved, and less controlled. Well put!
How does the mechanic change then when it comes to a movie? When you do the TV series, you record together and it’s easier to do that with shorter episodes and more contracted production times. But when it comes to a feature, did it pan out the same way? Could you all still come together to do your recording?
It wasn’t as enjoyable as the series, where we all are together and it’s like doing a radio play. We have so much fun. We did very often work together on the film, but so much of creating an animated film is bits and pieces. It seemed endless, because we’re used to the television pace. We’d stopped doing the TV series so they could do the film. We were down for almost two and a half years, so it was kind of agony. We were more accustomed to the different pace.
A Tweet went out earlier in the year that SpongeBob 3 is already being considered. Are you keener that the balance between the TV show and future films is kept in tandem?
I think we’re just going to have to figure that out as we go along. This is such an unusual template for a cable outfit. Nickelodeon is just this little cable mechanism that cranks out stuff. We’ll see how it goes. I’m a little nervous!
How did you feel when the box office numbers started coming in?
That opening weekend was so great. So great. There’s such a strong fanbase, and there’s a lot of young parents now who watched it when they were kids. That’s an unusual circumstance.
One last question: one of Britain’s finest exports is clearly Jason Statham. Do you have a favourite of one of his films?
Oooh. I really enjoyed that one that was out last year, that was shot in the States. The guy with the very intrigue-filled past, trying to live a normal life? I think it was based on a thriller novel. He’s brought back into a world of crime and action…
Yeah, yeah, yeah! That was just him being a badass, it was so much fun. He’s just got that quality that on the on hand he brings a sense of danger, and on the other, there’s something really endearing about him. I enjoyed him a lot in Spy too!
Bill Fagerbakke, thank you very much!
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water is out now on DVD, Blu-ray and streaming services.
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