During the year-long celebration of SpongeBob SquarePants’ milestone 20th anniversary, the voice cast has paid tribute to the series’ late creator, Stephen Hillenburg. In our feature on the anniversary, the cast spoke eloquently about Hillenburg as the heart and soul of SpongeBob, even though he stepped away from daily work as showrunner on the series in 2004. When we caught up with the voice of SpongeBob, Tom Kenny, and co-executive producer Marc Ceccarelli at San Diego Comic-Con, they further detailed Hillenburg’s involvement with the show and upcoming feature film; Hillenburg continued to provide feedback up until he passed away at the age of 57 in November 2018 after a long battle with ALS.
“Well we were just constantly trying to honor his vision, and it was just great getting to work so closely with him the last few years of his life,” says Ceccarelli. “It was just amazing every time we were working on something to hear him laughing at the stuff we were, it was like he was the ultimate audience because its his creation.”
Hillenburg was a former marine biology teacher who created SpongeBob in 1989 for a comic titled The Intertidal Zone. The character was created to help teach children about the diversity of the intertidal pools. Hillenburg went on to work his way into the television world, cutting his teeth on the ’90s Nickelodeon classic, Rocko’s Modern Life. After Rocko’s ended, Hillenburg pitched SpongeBob and the rest is history.
“We miss him every day,” adds Tom Kenny. “He’s everything SpongeBob is. A lot of the show’s DNA came directly from him. It’s who he was, and what he liked, and what he laughed at, and what he thought was funny, and the way he drew it sprang full blown from him.”
According to Kenny, the SpongeBob creative team is following the breadcrumbs Hillenburg left behind: “He left a bit of a road map since he was ill for a couple years before he passed away.”
The outpour of affection for Hillenburg and his life’s work will continue well beyond a special year for our favorite porous sea creature. The upcoming third SpongeBob film, The SpongeBob Movie: It’s a Wonderful Sponge, is described by the cast as a “loving, feature-length tribute” to Hillenburg. The film hits theaters on May 22, 2020.
Chris Longo is the deputy editor and print editor of Den of Geek. You can find him on Twitter @east_coastbias.