53ºF

Tom Kenny soaks up opportunity to play computer-animated 'Sponge Out of Water'

SpongeBob SquarePants appears in both traditional, CG form in

Forget about that "Pineapple Under the Sea" ? the lovable yellow and porous resident of Bikini Bottom is out of water in his new movie, and the actor who gives him voice couldn't be more thrilled about it.

For the second time since he started voicing SpongeBob SquarePants 16 years ago, Tom Kenny's distinct vocals are being heard in a film featuring the beloved character. New on Blu-ray and DVD Tuesday "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water" (Paramount Home Media Distribution) features the character in traditional animated form, and in the out of water scenes, in computer-generated form.

In the film, SpongeBob, Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) and company pursue the pirate Burger Beard (Antonio Banderas), who has managed to steal the famous Krabby Patty burger formula to enrich himself on dry land. And while SpongeBob has appeared in computer-generated form before, Kenny said he's glad that Nickelodeon Studios and Paramount Pictures took the risk of presenting CGI versions of the show's characters in a much larger realm with a feature film.

"Anytime you're asking people to experience characters they can identify with in a different way, you're rolling the dice a little bit," Kenny said in a recent interview. "But he's also one of those characters who can work in any medium, whether it's classic 2-D -- which is where his roots are -- or when he's appeared in CGI form before, like in theme park rides and 4-D attractions. SpongeBob is generally one of the characters that, if the personality is there, the medium he's presented in is less important."

Besides, having the character appear in both animated forms for "Sponge Out of Water" essentially presented Kenny with the best of both worlds.

"On a personal level, I'm a 2-D animation guy, but as novelty I think it was nice to see him come up to our world and become a 3-D CGI character," Kenny said. "It was very clever how the filmmakers had the waterline be the line of demarcation where he turns from his 2-D self into his 3-D self."

While SpongeBob is a wee bit too tiny a character to do motion capture work for, Kenny said he enjoyed "working" opposite Banderas, if only in the movie magic sense through filmmakers, as the characters help bring the story to life. On top of that, Banderas got a chance to show off his wild, comedic side.

"I love that he's a big, cool, hunky, movie star kind of guy, but that it isn't high on his priority list," Kenny said, laughing. "I love that he's not afraid to dive into a movie like this and be, as SpongeBob would say, a 'Goofy Goober.'"

Without question, Kenny is one of the busiest voice actors working today. In addition to voicing SpongeBob, Kenny's endless list of credits include "Dexter's Laboratory," "Star Wars: The Clone Wars," "Samurai Jack," "Johnny Bravo," "The Powerpuff Girls," "The Batman," "Transformers: Animated" and "Mini Adventures of Winnie the Pooh." More recently, Kenny can be heard on "Ultimate Spider-Man," "Clarence" and "Adventure Time," where he voices Ice King, Gunter and Starchie.

"'Adventure Time' is like the closest thing right now to 'SpongeBob,' in that appeals to a really wide variety of age groups, and really diverse range of folks," Kenny said. "People get really deep into it, but 'SpongeBob' is still the one that people still take the deepest dive into, no pun intended."

And deep shall remain Kenny's roots in SpongeBob SquarePants, since the role has provided him and his collaborators stability ? something an actor doesn't get every day.

"For a job to last this long, for the soil on this particular crop to remain fertile for so long, is really a statistical anomaly. So we're all grateful for that," Kenny, 52, said. "If it was something that you didn't like doing or didn't feel good about, it would be a lot harder. Luckily I've never crossed that Rubicon with SpongeBob because I love the character. I love the work situation because of the other actors.  I feel almost charmed because of how enjoyable everybody is. It's once-in-a-lifetime kind of deal."

Tim Lammers is a nationally syndicated movie reporter and is author of the ebook "Direct Conversations: The Animated Films of Tim Burton (Foreword by Tim Burton)."