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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Robert Zemeckis is a blockbuster director at heart. Action has never been an issue for the man behind Back to the Future. When he puts aside the high concept adventures for emotional human stories — think Forrest Gump or Cast Away — he still goes big. His latest Flight continues the trend revolving the story of one man's fight with alcoholism around a terrifying plane crash. Zemeckis expertly crafts his roaring centerpiece and while he finds an agile performer in Denzel Washington the hour-and-a-half of Flight after the shocking moment can't sustain the power. The "big" works. The intimate drowns.
Washington stars as Whip Whitaker a reckless airline pilot who balances his days flying jumbo jets with picking up women snorting lines of cocaine and drinking himself to sleep. Although drunk for the flight that will change his life forever that's not the reason the plane goes down — in fact it may be the reason he thinks up his savvy landing solution in the first place. Writer John Gatins follows Whitaker into the aftermath madness: an investigation of what really happened during the flight Whitaker's battle to cap his addictions and budding relationships that if nurtured could save his life.
Zemeckis tops his own plane crash in Cast Away with the heart-pounding tailspin sequence (if you've ever been scared of flying before Flight will push into phobia territory). In the few scenes after the literal destruction Washington is able to convey an equal amount of power in the moments of mental destruction. Whitaker is obviously crushed by the events the bottle silently calling for him in every down moment. Flight strives for that level of introspection throughout eventually pairing Washington with equally distraught junkie Nicole (Kelly Reilly). Their relationship is barely fleshed out with the script time and time again resorting to obvious over-the-top depictions of substance abuse (a la Nic Cage's Leaving Las Vegas) and the bickering that follows. Washington's Whitaker hits is lowest point early sitting there until the climax of the film.
Sharing screentime with the intimate tale is the surprisingly comical attempt by the pilot's airline union buddy (Bruce Greenwood) and the company lawyer (Don Cheadle) to get Whitaker into shape. Prepping him for inquisitions looking into evidence from the wreckage and calling upon Whitaker's dealer Harling (John Goodman) to jump start their "hero" when the time is right the two men do everything they can to keep any blame being placed upon Whitaker by the National Transportation Safety Board investigators. The thread doesn't feel relevant to Whitaker's plight and in turn feels like unnecessary baggage that pads the runtime.
Everything in Fight shoots for the skies — and on purpose. The music is constantly swelling the photography glossy and unnatural and rarely do we breach Washington's wild exterior for a sense of what Whitaker's really grappling with. For Zemeckis Flight is still a spectacle film with Washington's ability to emote as the magical special effect. Instead of using it sparingly he once again goes big. Too big.
Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
G.I. Joe is a top-secret multi-national special forces unit comprised of highly-trained physically attractive military personnel from around the world. Equipped with the latest in superawesome vehicles and weaponry and guided by the tough but fair General Hawk they take on the baddest of the bad guys the kind of terrorists that scoff at conventional organizations. As the General himself so aptly states “When all else fails we don’t.”
That credo is put to the test however when a shadowy terrorist group armed with even awesomer vehicles and weaponry like crazy-ass laser guns and computer-guided zombie troopers infiltrates the Joes’ compound and makes off with a cache of four WMDs each of which is capable of leveling an entire city. Do the men and women of G.I. Joe have what it takes to defeat these menacing new adversaries before they mount their next devastating attack?
WHO’S IN IT?
It takes an elite group of actors to play an elite group of soldiers and the cast of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is stocked with an abundance of Hollywood’s most talented performers all adorned in various types of leather fetish apparel. White Chicks star Marlon Wayans plays Ripcord a flight specialist who can pilot any type of airplane even enemy crafts that respond only to voice commands uttered in Celtic. Channing Tatum star of Step Up and Step Up 2: The Streets plays his best pal Duke a badass infantryman who knows no fear. Preeminent ginger chick Rachel Nichols showcases her fiery crimson locks as Scarlett a shrewd intel expert whose stoic exterior hides a growing attraction to Ripcord. Barking out the orders as General Hawk is Enemy Mine star Dennis Quaid.
On the side of the bad guys is the Baroness played by Factory Girl star Sienna Miller in a push-up bra dirty librarian glasses and a raven-colored dye job. She’s the point woman for McMullen a shady Scottish weapons magnate played by Christopher Eccleston. But McMullen is no ordinary shady Scottish weapons magnate; he’s covertly amassed a huge terrorist empire headquartered beneath the polar ice caps. It’s there that “The Doctor ” a horribly disfigured mad scientist played by (500) Days of Summer star Joseph Gordon-Levitt concocts all sorts of diabolical new weapons and gadgets to unleash on the innocent.
Oh and there are ninjas too. Good guy Snake Eyes played by Ray Park wears sleek black body armor while the evil Storm Shadow played by Byung-hun Lee runs around in a updated version of Elvis Presley’s classic all-white jumpsuit.
Loaded with scene after scene of high-tech action-movie eye candy G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra assaults the senses with such a relentless barrage of over-the-top stunts eye-popping visual effects and stylized fight sequences that only the most coldly cynical of viewers will be able to resist submitting to its visceral charms.
As with most sugary indulgences the sweet dizzying high is followed almost immediately by a painful crash. Feelings of guilt and shame start to simmer as you kick yourself for yielding to such soulless gluttony. The next morning you awake with a throbbing headache and a heart filled with regret. The following day a doctor informs you that you have adult-onset diabetes. So in a nutshell G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra is the cinematic equivalent of adult-onset diabetes.
The scene where they have the big fight with all the advanced weapons and a whole bunch of stuff blows up. Oh wait that’s EVERY scene.
For the bulk of his performance Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s face is obscured by a bulky breathing apparatus and his voice is altered to sound like the computerized movie trailer's narrator. Which makes one wonder why they bothered to hire a name actor for the role in the first place.