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main characters (from left to right): Plankton, Mr. Krabs, Sandy, SpongeBob, Squidward, Patrick and Gary.
The characters in SpongeBob SquarePants were created by artist, animator and former marine biologist Stephen Hillenburg. In addition to the series’ main cast, various celebrities have voiced roles in SpongeBob SquarePants. Notably, Ernest Borgnine and Tim Conway voice the roles of recurring characters Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy respectively, while others have taken a one off part.
Creation and conception
Creator Stephen Hillenburg initially conceived the characters for SpongeBob SquarePants in 1984, while he was teaching and studying marine biology at what is now the Orange County Ocean Institute. During his period, Hillenburg became fascinated in animation, and wrote a comic book entitled The Intertidal Zone starring various anthropomorphic forms of sea life, many of which would evolve into SpongeBob SquarePants characters, including "Bob the Sponge", who was the co-host of the comic and resembled an actual sea sponge as opposed to SpongeBob. In 1987, Hillenburg left the institute to pursue his dream of becoming an animator.
SpongeBob SquarePants (Tom Kenny) is the main protagonist of the series. He is a friendly and optimistic sea sponge who physically resembles a kitchen sponge, and lives in a pineapple. He is often shown in the series working at The Krusty Krab as a fry cook. SpongeBob's hobbies in the show include practicing karate and catching jellyfish. He attends Mrs. Puff's Boating School, but has never passed; his lack of a driver's license is a running joke in the series.
SpongeBob was originally named "SpongeBoy" by the series creators, but it was later changed due to trademark issues. Green and purple were early color choices for the character before his classic yellow was chosen.
Patrick Star (Bill Fagerbakke) is a pink starfish who lives under a rock and is SpongeBob's best friend. Patrick's most prominent character trait is his lack of intelligence, which differs from one episode to another. Often depicted as a negative influence on SpongeBob, he has encouraged dangerous and foolish activities that get the two into trouble. Patrick is a career journeyman who is usually unemployed throughout the course of the series, but holds various short-term jobs as the storyline of each episode requires.
Squidward Tentacles (Rodger Bumpass) is SpongeBob and Patrick's effete cephalopod neighbor. His species is ambiguous, and has been referred to as both a squid and an octopus by the series' creators. Squidward lives in a house shaped like an Easter Island Moai statue. He works as a cashier at the Krusty Krab, a job he despises. SpongeBob and Patrick consider Squidward their friend, but the feeling is not mutual. Depicted as a narcissist and displaying an unjustified air of superiority, Squidward has a large collection of self portraits and is delusional about his talents, such as playing the clarinet, though nobody around him considers him to be very good at these talents.
The series' animators illustrated Squidward with six tentacles, believing that giving him the eight tentacles an octopus has made him look too burdened.
Sandy Cheeks (Carolyn Lawrence) is a squirrel who is another of SpongeBob's friends. She is the series' only terrestrial character, living in the "Treedome", which is an underwater dome that contains a large oak tree. She is a scientific genius who practices karate with SpongeBob and enjoys extreme sports. She is from the U.S. state of Texas, therefore she is depicted in the series with a Southern American drawl.
Despite claims that SpongeBob is "somewhat asexual" by the show's creators, several annuals state that SpongeBob holds romantic feelings for Sandy, but none of this is ever mentioned in the show. On November 6, 2009, a one-hour special entitled "Truth or Square" aired to commemorate the series' tenth anniversary, playing this relationship off as a hoax.
Eugene H. Krabs (Clancy Brown) is a cheap and selfish red crab. He is the owner of the Krusty Krab, as well as the employer of both SpongeBob and Squidward. Mr. Krabs is often respected by SpongeBob, while Squidward tends to loathe him. Mr. Krabs' greed in the series is exaggerated with him often anthropomorphizing money. He will do almost anything to obtain money or not lose it, usually with no regard to the safety or well-being of others or even himself. Mr. Krabs has a daughter, who is a sperm whale, named Pearl.
Sheldon J. Plankton (Doug Lawrence) is a small green copepod. He is Mr. Krabs' nemesis and the main antagonist of the series. He operates a struggling restaurant called the Chum Bucket, located directly across the street from the Krusty Krab. His primary goal in the series is to steal the Krabby Patty recipe and put Mr. Krabs out of business. Plankton succeeds at stealing the recipe in the movie, but his goal of world domination is thwarted by SpongeBob. In the episode "Friend or Foe", it is revealed that Mr. Krabs and Plankton were once best friends, but a dispute over the Krabby Patty recipe ended their friendship.
Plankton is often seen with his robot, Karen.
Gary (Tom Kenny) is SpongeBob's pet sea snail. In the series, as worms are analogous to dogs and snails to cats, Gary vocalizes similar to a feline. He does various chores for SpongeBob, such as making his breakfast and paying the electricity bills. He is portrayed having high intelligence, offering advice to SpongeBob at times (SpongeBob can understand his meowing) and sometimes solving problems his owner cannot.
- Mrs. Puff (Mary Jo Catlett) - A puffer with blonde hair, who is the owner and teacher of a boating school (analogous to driving school, as the "boats" are underwater equivalents to cars). In the Season 2 episode "Krusty Love", it is revealed that she was married at one time, but has presumably since been widowed (her husband is now a lamp). She has post-traumatic stress disorder due to countless wrecks while teaching SpongeBob, and often dreads teaching SpongeBob due to his reckless boating.
- Mermaid Man (Adult: Ernest Borgnine, Youth: Adam West) and Barnacle Boy (Adult: Tim Conway, Youth: Burt Ward) - Two elderly and partially senile superheroes who live in a retirement home, whom SpongeBob and Patrick watch on television. Mermaid Man is the older of the two and is the leader, while Barnacle Boy is his sidekick. They can been seen as either parodies of Aquaman and Aqualad, or Batman and Robin.
- Pearl Krabs (Lori Alan) - Mr. Krabs' seventeen-year-old sperm whale daughter. She is fairly popular but is sometimes teased about her father's cheapness. She is frequently embarrassed and disapproving of her father's cheap attitude, and is sometimes shown to force him into doing things. It his never confirmed whether or not she is adopted, as she is a whale who is nothing like her father. However in the Spongebob trivia book, Mr. Krabs said that she takes after her mother, who has presumably died before the beginning of the series, as Pearl and her father live alone together, her mother is never seen or mentioned, and her father appears to be notably single.
- Larry the Lobster (Doug Lawrence) - A lobster lifeguard of Goo Lagoon, Larry is a bodybuilder and workout fanatic. Despite his large and muscular physique, he is sometimes shown to be somewhat of a coward. In one episode, it is discovered that Larry is the predator of baby worms, and SpongeBob keeps them away from his harm.
- The Flying Dutchman (Brian Doyle-Murray) - A pirate ghost named after the famous ghost ship, The Flying Dutchman. He lives underwater in a giant ship, and collects souls. It is revealed that he haunts the sea because his body was never laid to rest and was put on display as a mannequin at a department store. It was never clear how he died. He is the crush of Mr. Krabs' dead Aunt Sally. It is known that he doesn't accept any form of disrespect over his person, seeing that in his first apparence, he attempted to steal all the soul's in Krusty Krab because he believes that SpongeBob's disguise was the "Flying Dutchman" is a form of mock over his reputation.
- Karen (Jill Talley) - Plankton's computer WIFE (Wired Integrated Female Electroencephalograph) who often expresses human emotions. Karen alternatively helps Plankton in his schemes to steal the Krabby Patty formula and bickers with him. Karen often tries to suggest effective plans for Plankton to use, but he either doesn't heed them, or suggests them again to take credit for them. In the older episodes (prior to the movie) she is a giant computer on the wall, but in more recent episodes she occasionally appears to be a mobile T.V. with robot arms.
- French Narrator (Tom Kenny) - He speaks at the start of some episodes, and speaks with a French accent. He is seen as a scuba diver with a TV camera, and was once hit by SpongeBob when driving a boat with Mrs. Puff. On the November 16, 2004 episode of the NPR program Fresh Air with Terry Gross, Kenny admitted that Jacques Cousteau was the inspiration for the French narrator, as series creator Stephen Hillenburg considered him an idol.
- Patchy the Pirate (Tom Kenny) – A live-action character who is a pirate and the president of the SpongeBob fan club. He lives in Encino. The character hosts SpongeBob specials and related major events. His parrot, Potty, plays harmful pranks on him.
- Harold SquarePants (Tom Kenny) and Claire SquarePants (Sirena Irwin) - SpongeBob's parents, who more resemble sea sponges rather than SpongeBob's shape as a kitchen sponge.
- Squilliam Fancyson (Dee Bradley Baker) - Squidward's successful and haughty rival from high school who is constantly showing off his riches and his unibrow.
- Mrs. Krabs (Paul Tibbitt; Sirena Irwin) - Mr. Krabs's mother who tends to tell off Mr Krabs. In one of the episodes she fell in love with Plankton, but was actually cheating on him with a giant robot.
- Man Ray (John Rhys-Davies/Bob Joles) and the Dirty Bubble (Charles Nelson Reilly/Tom Kenny) - Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy's main enemies. Man Ray has a humanoid body with a special mask and helmet, while the Dirty Bubble portrayed as a literal giant bubble with a face. Charles Nelson Reilly was the primary actor for the Dirty Bubble, but Tom Kenny has portrayed the character in one episode after Reilly's death in 2007.
- Redbeard Krabs (Dennis Quaid) - Mr. Krabs' grandfather, a pirate who wears similar clothes to Mr. Krabs's.
- Bubble Bass (Dee Bradley Baker) - An obese bass who is SpongeBob's arch-nemesis. He made his first appearance in "Pickles".
- Stanley S. SquarePants (Christopher Guest) - SpongeBob's cousin who has a similar appearance to SpongeBob, but is much taller. Stanley is accident prone and causes destruction wherever he goes.
- Flatts (Thomas F. Wilson) - A mean flounder who went to community college with Patrick and bullies SpongeBob at Mrs. Puff's boating school in the episode The Bully.
- Grandma SquarePants (Marion Ross) and Grandpa SquarePants (Tom Kenny) - SpongeBob's grandparents. Grandpa SquarePants is mentioned in past tense and Grandma SquarePants lives alone, he is deceased.
- Old Man Jenkins (Doug Lawrence and Tom Kenny) - A elderly fish who used to live in the Rusty Krab care home before it became the Krusty Krab restaurant, and currently resides at Shady Shoals Retirement along with Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy. His appearance changes through some episodes. He is voiced by Doug Lawrence and Tom Kenny in separate episodes.
- Painty the Pirate (Patrick Pinney) - A painting of a pirate head who sings the SpongeBob SquarePants theme. Painty also makes minor appearances in Your Shoe's Untied and Wet Painters.
- Scooter (Carlos Alazraqui/Clancy Brown) - A lavender-colored fish who enjoys surfing. He died in the second-season episode "Bubble Buddy", but returned in future episodes. Scooter talks like a stereotypical surfer dude, but in future episodes he had different voices each episode he appeared in. He is mainly seen at Goo lagoon.
- King Neptune (Paul Tibbitt/John O'Hurley (series) and Jeffrey Tambor (movie)) - The king of the ocean and Atlantis, King Neptune is a massive magical green merman with red glowing hair, although he looks slightly different from one appearance to another. Neptune also appears as one of the movie's characters, although with a very different appearance, including a blindingly bald head; in the movie, he is also shown to have a daughter named Mindy. His name is also used frequently as a substitute for the word "God" in colloquial phrases (e.g. "Sweet mother of Neptune!" and "What in Neptune's name is that?").
- Jack Kahuna Laguna (Johnny Depp) - A surfer who refers to be called JKL, who helps SpongeBob, Patrick and Squidward get home by teaching them how to surf. He only appears in the special episode "SpongeBob vs. The Big One".
- Fred the Fish (Doug Lawrence) A random fish in which may be best known for the accidents in the show, usually screaming 'My Leg!' Freddy once tried a jelly Krabby Patty in Season 2 and he enjoyed it so much he danced around singing You gotta try this sandwich, it's no ordinary sandwich, it's the best tasting sandwich in the sea! A skiddlebob-a-doobadob-baw-dee-da-doo-da, yeah! He even danced on the tables!
- Jim the Original Frycook (Patton Oswalt) A rich fry cook who used to work at the Krusty Krab and later quit because Mr. Krabs didn't give him enough money. He now works at the finest restaurants of Bikini Bottom and visits the Krusty Krab sometimes. He is much wealthier than Mr. Krabs.
- Craig Mammalton (Dee Bradley Baker) Referred to as "the tannest man on TV". He only appears on "Sun Bleached".
- Inky (Gabor Csupo) and Dinky (Arlene Klasky) are baby fish. They appeared in "Nah Man".
The characters of SpongeBob SquarePants have been well-received overall. The titular character SpongeBob has become very popular with both children and adults. The character's popularity has spread from Nickelodeon's original demographic of two to eleven year olds, to teenagers and adults, including college campuses and celebrities such as Sigourney Weaver and Bruce Willis. The popularity of SpongeBob translated well into sales figures. In 2002, SpongeBob SquarePants dolls sold at a rate of 75,000 per week, which was faster than Tickle Me Elmo dolls were selling at the time. SpongeBob has gained popularity in Japan, specifically with Japanese women. Nickelodeon's parent company Viacom purposefully targeted marketing at women in the country as a method of building the SpongeBob SquarePants brand. Sceptics initially doubted that SpongeBob could be popular in Japan as the character's design is very different to already popular designs for Hello Kitty and Pikachu. However, the characters have also attracted negative reception, including SpongeBob himself, who was listed as number four on [[AskMen's Top 10: Irritating '90s Cartoon Characters]].
Arthur Brown, author of Everything I Need to Know, I Learned from Cartoons!, has compared Squidward's voice to that of Jack Benny's.
Appearances in other media
The characters of SpongeBob SquarePants have been parodied various times in popular culture. In 2007, the Amsterdam-based company Boom Chicago created a SpongeBob parody called "Back to Work!" in which a Chinese Patrick refuses to go to work and advocates freedom of speech and rights of leisure and income. During the same year, production company Camp Chaos created a SpongeBob parody entitled SpongeBong HempPants which features a multitude of the series' characters parodied in the form of various drugs. The series has received mixed reviews from television critics; Adam Finley of TV Squad believed the series sounded "hilarious on paper", but ultimately did not demonstrate its full potential.
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