From Bikini Bottom to pop icon; SpongeBob turns 10

Mon Jul 13, 2009 3:05pm EDT
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By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - He lives in a pineapple under the sea but has fans in more than 170 countries, a theme-park ride and is one of the best-connected celebrities in the world.

Now cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants is celebrating his 10th anniversary on television, a major milestone for any star. His creators are still mystified at his lofty status as an global pop culture icon who counts U.S. President Barack Obama, actor Johnny Depp and singer David Bowie among his friends.

It has been a surreal, goofy journey for the talking yellow sponge from Bikini Bottom, his pink starfish friend Patrick and greedy employer Mr. Krabs.

But SpongeBob's naive optimism, the show's humor and even a brief controversy over his sexuality have merited celebrations this week ranging from a 10th anniversary documentary to the unveiling of the first-ever wax figure of an animation character at Madame Tussauds in New York.

Few behind SpongeBob's July 1999 debut on children's TV network Nickelodeon expected him to win as many hearts as he has.

"The sarcasm or mean-spirited stuff that cartoons are usually about might not translate into other cultures," said Executive Producer Paul Tibbitt, who has been with the show since the start.

"But happiness and optimism -- the positive traits that SpongeBob has -- translate better. I think people were just hungry for something a little more positive. But I would never have thought it would go 10 years," Tibbitt said.

GLOBAL SPONGE   Continued...

<p>Sponge Bob Square Pants sits on display at Nickelodeon's licensing booth during the Licensing 2003 International exposition in the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York June 12, 2003. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton</p>