You may not know Tom Kenny, but you know Tom Kenny. As the voice of SpongeBob Squarepants since 1999 and nearly 300 other acting credits including cartoons, movies, and commercials, Kenny is one of the leading voice actors working in the business. He has an energy and passion for the job — as he tells Hollywood.com, it's not a job for everyone but it's the job for him.
This holiday season, one of Kenny's long-gestating projects is finally realized in the form of the It's A SpongeBob Christmas!, a fully stop-motion Christmas special (a la the classic Rankin and Bass era cartoons) that's airing now on Nickeleodoeon and available on DVD in time for the season. Kenny's enthusiasm for voice over work, music from the '60s and '70s, and general merriment collide in the special, which comes accompanied by a truly fantastic album of the same name, featuring songs written by the actor.
We sat down with Kenny to discuss life with Spongebob for over a decade and writing songs for the special:
How does every job differ from you compared to your consist work as SpongeBob?
Tom Kenny: I approach it like a session drummer would. Or a wrecking crew guy. I identify with those guys so much, those invisibly ubiquitous guys during the '60s and '70s. Everything from film soundtracks to TV theme songs to cartoon soundtracks to Frank SInatra records to Beach Boy records. It's all the same handful of people doing it all. I think that's how my job is.
It's amazing how something you think of as a one-off thing has this timed release. Like commercials, one of those things you did years ago, suddenly is brought up again and again and again. It has to do with kids who are watching things that was just an afternoon in your life. You don't realize that's some kid's main thing. There is some kid whose mind is being blown.
I'm sure you get that at Comic-Con.
Kenny: Everyone has something. And you think, 'Really, that?' For me it's video games. Early video games, like Spyro the Dragon, people who were kids when those games were out, they're older and ... it's a really huge deal.
They bow down to you Wayne's World-style.
Kenny: Yeah, they want inside dope on the recording [laughs]. If you do the math — I did that in 1995 or 1996 — if those people were eight years old, they're in their 20s now coming up to you at Comic-Con saying, 'Dude, I got to meet Spyro, man!'
SpongeBob must get that too.
Kenny: That you expect because it's a big global phenomenon. I go to a remote corner of the world and you'll see some kid with a Spongebob t-shirt on. We were in a mountain village in Italy, way off the beaten track, and the waitress had a Spongebob t-shirt on. Doesn't even speak English. And if she does watch SpongeBob, it's not me. It's some guy using me as a template!
There are a lot of Christmas specials, but unlike the SpongeBob special, I don't recall many with great voice actors in them.
Kenny: Even as a kid when I was growing up, they used celebrities that were too old for the audience. Burl Ives, who? There are snippets of dialogue that stand out — like when Rudolph has that nasal voice when he has the black ball covering up his nose, or the dentist who wanted to be an elf. To my brother and I he had the funniest line for no reason: 'A dentist? Good grief!' And we'd slam the door. We'd do it all the time. But no, not a lot of memorable voice actors.
What's amazing to me is that you can sing in the SpongeBob voice and do so to great lengths in the Christmas special. Is that the hard part of the job?
Kenny: I do a fair amount of singing on SpongeBob and the other shows too. In fact, I wrote a lot of the songs on Spongebob, cowrote with a guy named Andy Paley. We wrote, 'Don't Be a Jerk It's Christmas' and that became the springboard of the special.
We wrote that in 2009 and just kind of handed it out as a gift to people on the show. And I remember it was just at a time when there was just this outburst of a**hole behavior: Michael VIck and his dog fighting thing, Joe Wilson screaming, and it was really grew from all that. Talking about seeds you plant and the whole Spyro thing...
Wow, so this special took years of being angry at the world to come to fruition.
Kenny: [Laughs] Not angry, just ashamed of my species. So Andy and I came up with this story line where there's an element called 'Jerktonium' and if a meteorite of jerktonium lands in your town, it turns everyone into jerks. And Plankton gets ahold of some and bakes it into fruit cakes for everybody and disseminates into an outbreak of jerktonium. A pandemic of jerkiness.
And the album... we had been trying to pitch a Christmas album for some years. Why do the Alvin and the Chipmunks and The Muppets but not SpongeBob — that's crazy. Ironically, we're able to use all those very old school, chameleon studio musicians from the '60s and '70s that I've always idolized. Corky Hale, who is a female harpist who's played with Billie Holiday and Liberace. She's played with Bjork, so she spans generations. James Burton, who was Ricky Nelson's guitarist and later Elvis in Vegas movies. Tommy Morgan who was the harmonica player on Green Acres and every legendary tv theme.
So we got the real guys who made those records sound the way they did. It's pretty cool. It's a fun labor of love. We wrote real songs. Let's do something for kids, write songs that sound like it came from 1961. Sandy's from Texas, and I love Western swing, like a Bob Wills record from 1940.
Looking ahead, I know you're doing another Spongebob movie. Have you begun work on that?
Kenny: No, but I'm excited about it. Not even close though — I know very little about it, but I know the show is on a break form awhile. We just wrapped on some of the episodes before the movie, because the writers get repurposed on to the movie. So it's a break. But we've renegotiated so I don't think the show is ending.
Speaking of sequels, you worked with Michael Bay on the Transformers movies — do you know if you'll be back for the fourth one?
Kenny: [Laughs] I haven't heard but I'm sending him some nice muffins....
Does Bay come in and direct the voice actors?
Kenny: Think about it for a minute: of course. Who is the bigger control freak than Michael Bay? He wouldn't turn that over to anyone. I get the feeling he likes that aspect of it. He likes being in with the voiceover actors. Sometimes his relationships with the on-screen actors aren't... the greatest [laughs]. And I think he likes to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty. He likes voice actors. He hangs out with the crew. He goes to bat for his people. He also won't take diva attitudes from anyone. And since voice actors are one step on the ladder above people who set up the Tilt-a-Whirl at the carnival, there's no diva behavior.
Check local listings for It's a SpongeBob Christmas!, running through the holidays on Nickelodeon and pick up the album available now.
[Photo Credit: Nickelodeon]
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
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Invincible is Rudy and The Rookie all rolled into one. Set in the mid-‘70s Mark Wahlberg stars as the real-life Vince Papale a blue-collar Philadelphian down on his luck after his wife leaves him. His only solace is playing football with his cronies and rooting for his beloved Philadelphia Eagles who are in a real rut. Newly hired head coach the legendary Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear) decides to infuse some new blood into the team by holding open tryouts. All of Vince’s friends think he’d be perfect and urge him to go for it. He does makes it and is soon playing with some of his idols much to their chagrin. I mean who is this punk anyway? Sure he’s got some excellent instincts but can he really be a NFL player with no experience? Yes in fact he can proving to all those regular Joes out there you can live the dream. Yeah yeah. Unfortunately none of the actors really add anything either. Wahlberg is definitely a natural to play this kind of role having already done so in Rock Star. At least in Invincible he gets to show off some of his athletic abilities rather than just his bare chest in black leather pants. But the performance is run of the mill. As is Kinnear who as Vermeil takes on the headaches of turning a losing team into winners all while his supportive wife sweetly reassures him he’s doing the very best he can. Seen it. To their credit some of the supporting actors—including Kirk Acevedo (The New World) Michael Kelly (Dawn of the Dead) and Michael Rispoli (Mr. 3000)—paint a convincing picture of genuine camaraderie between local Philadelphians. And Elizabeth Banks (The 40 Year-Old Virgin) rounds things out as Vince’s cute love interest (and eventual real-life wife) who knows a few things about football by golly. You’d think Invincible would be a no-brainer feel-good kind of sports flick. It’s based on a real-life person has that whole underdog thing going for it and it’s football. What could go wrong with that? Nothing really besides the fact it’s been done about a hundred times over—and has now been left in the hands of newbies. First-time director Ericson Core a former cinematographer and writer Brad Gann are clearly green doing things by the play book line for line. It’s scary helming a feature film for a big studio like Disney who had such sport hits like The Rookie and Remember the Titans. Perhaps Core wanted to go more out on a limb but was reigned in. Who knows? The football scenes are definitely the highlight and Core handles the action well. I mean you do want Papale to prove himself the natural athlete he truly is and make all his homies proud. But the rest of it is just blah.
In the 1950s Senator Joe McCarthy began a witch hunt in Washington and Hollywood to cleanse the nation of "commie sympathizers." No one dared stand up to him for fear of being targeted themselves until journalist Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) did an expose of the senator on his television program See It Now. In doing so he risked himself the livelihoods of the reporters working for him and the reputation of CBS. The network stood behind him although very reluctantly and Morrow swayed public opinion--a landmark moment in broadcast journalism.
David Strathairn is wonderfully subtle as the legendary Murrow from small nervous facial tics as he prepares to go live on the night of his controversial broadcast to his barely concealed contempt for the puff pieces he has to do like an interview with Liberace. Patricia Clarkson and Robert Downey Jr. also do nice work as a married couple who hide their relationship since it's against company policy but their characters--and indeed all of the characters--are all very thinly sketched. The meatiest supporting role belongs to Ray Wise (Laura Palmer's crazy dad on Twin Peaks) as CBS news anchorman Don Hollenbeck who is barely hanging on after being labeled a "pinko" in the right-wing press. George Clooney as Murrow's producer Fred Friendly is low-key but still deftly funny. A number of supporting players like Tate Donovan don't have much of a chance to stand out. McCarthy himself is presented only in archival footage.
George Clooney in his second outing behind the camera is clearly going for a documentary type of feel resulting in out-of-focus shots and quick pans that often land on nothing at all. Dramatic scenes are interspersed with so much unedited archival footage that after a while it does feel like you're watching a documentary although a documentary would likely have provided more context. For some reason a jazz singer (Diane Reeves) is frequently seen performing in a studio at CBS or at a club that Murrow's staff all frequents. The musical interludes are lovely but ultimately rather pointless. You have to respect Clooney's wanting to tell this story and to tell it an unadorned non-Hollywoodized kind of way that Murrow himself would likely have approved since he didn't approve of mere "entertainment." But except in a few rare moments the film remains more of a dry history lesson than a movie in its own right.
David Callaway (Robert De Niro) is having a tough time dealing with the apparent suicide of his wife (Amy Irving). His young daughter Emily (Dakota Fanning) also has taken her mother's death very hard retreating into her own little world. As a psychologist David decides the only way to help Emily is to move from the big city to a house in the country. Sure that kind of thing usually works like a charm. Emily does perk up a bit when she finds a new "friend " Charlie who likes to have fun and play hide and seek with her. Of course we can't actually see this new friend but that's beside the point. The imaginary Charlie is still a powerful force in Emily's life instructing her not to talk about him much and hating pretty much everyone else in her life including her dad. In short order bad things start happening--yes the family pet gets whacked--which Emily blames on Charlie. This leaves David wondering how his little girl could have turned so psychotic. But wait. Maybe Charlie isn't imaginary after all but actually a flesh-and-blood malevolent presence. Oh god do you think so?
Why you may ask would an acting icon like Robert De Niro star of such classic movies as Raging Bull and Goodfellas choose such a cheesy film as Hide and Seek? Very good question. Maybe he was drawn into the project based on the premise like the rest of us without realizing how derivative the story would get as things progressed. Of course De Niro plays the confused father--dealing with what could possibly be a demonic child--with a fair amount of finesse. But he's a pro that's what he does. Fanning (I Am Sam) too does the best she can as the sunken-eyed pasty-faced Emily. She sulks around rarely smiles and draws scary pictures of people dying horrible deaths which has now become a prerequisite for any child in a scary movie. In the supporting roles Elisabeth Shue Famke Janssen and Dylan Baker are all pretty much wasted. Shue who hasn't acted in anything major since 2000's Hollow Man makes a brief appearance as a potential paramour for David. Janssen (X-Men) playing David's colleague and Emily's confidante thinks living in isolation is a bad idea (and she's right!). Veteran character actor Baker (Kinsey) takes on the predictable role of the hapless town sheriff who never quite gets he's about to be in a world of hurt.
It is always disappointing when the promise of something potentially creepy turns out to possess the same old tired plot points and scare tactics seen countless times before. Director John Polson--best known for helming Swimfan another predictable stalker-gone-mad thriller--and novice screenwriter Ari Schlossberg don't have the necessary skills to take Hide and Seek above and beyond its conventional trappings. To its small credit the film does build a bit of tension in the beginning as David and Emily skirt around each other trying to grasp onto some kind of normalcy. Then when Emily introduces Charlie you continue to hold out hope that somehow the filmmakers will channel some of M. Night Shyamalan's aura and start really scaring the bejesus out of you. But alas it isn't meant to be. Instead you're sitting there pretty much guessing every move the film is going to make before it happens. When the twist finally comes around--you knew there was a twist right?--it doesn't really surprise you whether you've guess it or not.
September 16, 2004 12:22pm EST
In 1930s New York Chronicle investigative reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) gets a lead on a story she's been covering about prominent scientists from around the world who are mysteriously disappearing. When Manhattan is attacked by giant robots Polly reluctantly seeks the help of an old flame ace aviator Captain Joseph Sullivan aka Sky Captain (Jude Law) to get the scoop and find out who's behind these strange events and discovers an Oppenheimer-type science man named Dr. Totenkopf has abducted the scientists in a mad bid to build a doomsday device to annihilate what he believes to be an already damned human race. Assisted by Captain Franky Cook (Angelina Jolie) who runs a secret mobile airstrip thousands of feet in the air Sky Captain and Polly head out to stop Totenkopf and save mankind. How could such a visually dazzling film where the fate of the world rests on the shoulders of three dashing Hollywood stars be so ... unexciting? Much stronger storylines could have evolved from supporting players Dex Sky's right-hand man (Giovanni Ribisi) and especially daredevil Franky and her amphibious squadron all of which are used too sparingly throughout the film.
Paltrow in the lead role of Polly completely captures the witty rapid-fire dialogue of the era immortalized by Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday. But while her performance is nearly flawless Polly's self-centeredness turns the would-be heroine into an antagonist; it's hard to like a character who can't put humanity's needs before her own career ambitions. Polly's rabble-rouser persona should bring some exciting tension between her character and Sky Captain's Boy Scout guise but it doesn't--in fact there's a complete lack of chemistry between the two leads. But Law's performance as Sky Captain brilliantly matches Paltrow's as the actor encompasses the new-yet-old type of movie hero one more suave than macho. Less platonic however is the on-screen relationship between Law's Sky and Jolie's Franky. The script's purposefully ambiguous take on the characters' history adds spice to the film's otherwise bland relationships. It's too bad Jolie's performance probably the highlight of the film isn't brought more to the forefront. Ribisi injects some light comedy to the heavy story and Omid Djalili impresses as Kaji a friend of Sky Captain's who helps them during a leg of their journey to find Totenkopf. To their tremendous credit all the cast members delivered seamless performances especially considering all their scenes were shot in one room using a blue screen.
The production behind Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is what this film is really all about. Based on a six-minute test reel created on his home Mac writer/director Kerry Conran was able to nab studio backing and secure major names--not shabby for one's feature debut. The final product delivers too--a retro sci-fi picture where nearly everything onscreen except for the actors was painstakingly computer generated in post-production. It's amazing how the actors blend flawlessly into the film's animatic backdrops. Every shot makes the most of its visual effects and the film has a dark and dramatic comic book feel a sort of Gotham meets War of the Worlds. Conrad pays homage to literary masters such as H.G. Wells New York's 1939 World's Fair and films including The Wizard of Oz: Sky Captain tracks down Totenkopf like Dorothy searched for her sorcerer and although they are not in Kansas and there is no yellow brick road there is a mysterious genius hiding behind the curtain. But unlike Wizard of Oz Sky Captain doesn't hold its momentum. There's a chase scene for example that goes on way longer than it should have and an overly weighted storyline about Polly and Sky Captain's defunct love affair. Did he cheat on her when they were together years ago? Did she sabotage his airplane? Who cares! Luckily the ending somewhat redeems the story thanks to a couple of surprising little twists.