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Nickelodeon celebrated 20 years of SpongeBob SquarePants at San Diego Comic Con today with a "Big Birthday Blowout!" panel for the happy-go-lucky fry cook who lives in a pineapple under the sea. In attendance were co-executive producers, Vincent Waller and Marc Ceccarelli, as well as the principal voice cast: Tom Kenny (SpongeBob), Bill Fagerbakke (Patrick), Rodger Bumpass (Squidward), Carolyn Lawrence (Sandy), Mr. Lawrence (Plankton), and Clancy Brown (Mr. Krabs).
“It was about time for the characters to meet themselves ... We had to keep them wet," said Waller of the animated/live-action star-studded special that aired on television July 12. In it, SpongeBob and Patrick travel onto the surface in an aquarium-like coach bus, and meet their real-world counterparts at the Trusty Slab restaurant.
"The live-action stuff was a little more bizarre," said Kenny, while noting he was much more aware of his body movements, as opposed to just recording in a booth somewhere. Bumpass — who jokingly voiced his support for a live-action SpongeBob series to much applause from the audience — seconded those sentiments by singing the Twilight Zone theme song.
Combining animation with live-action elements was more in line with the two feature films based on the show. Longtime fans probably remember a time when the characters were represented by really low-budget puppets on sticks whenever they came up on dry land.
"It was so ghetto," offered Kenny, also describing the current trend of SpongeBob memes as "pop culture recycling."
The panel was even more poignant given the death of series creator, Stephen Hillenburg, in November of last year. The marine-biologist-turned-animator was 57 years old when he succumbed to the effects of ALS, a neurodegenerative disease.
“SpongeBob, to me, represents Steph in a really profound way … It’s built on his spirit," said Fagerbakke, who didn't believe the pilot episode (for which he was paid $600) would go anywhere. Years later, however, he admitted his love for the Tiny Tim scene, where SpongeBob feeds the anchovies Krabby Patties. "It embodies, to me, everything perfect about SpongeBob, that sequence."
“It just reminds me of a time when SpongeBob only existed in Steph Hillenburg’s desk drawer," Kenny continued. "I just remember when he had me come over [and talked about pitching it to Nickelodeon and showed me the initial artwork] ... It turned into this thing that conquered the world. Talk about the power of ideas ... About four seasons in, I was resigned to the fact that Tom Kenny was just SpongeBob’s host body.”
Ernest Borgnine and Tim Conway were also fondly remembered by the cast. The McHale's Navy alums voiced Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy for many years, and died within a few years of one another. Conway just passed away in May.
And, of course, Mr. Lawrence couldn't let the panel finish without the iconic exclamation from Fred the Fish, "MY LEG!!!"
Things wrapped up with a "Sweet Victory" sing-along, complete with dancing costumed characters attempting to make up for the fact that the iconic "Band Geeks" track was not sung at the 2019 Super Bowl.
Click here for SYFY WIRE's full coverage of SDCC 2019, including up-to-the-minute news, exclusive interviews, and videos.