Avatar The Last Airbender

86773246_2719126091650011_5197450679211261952_n

Water. Earth. Fire. Air. Long ago, well, 15 years ago, Nickelodeon premiered a TV show that is still considered to be one of the best animated shows of all time: Avatar the Last Airbender. In the era of Spongebob, Fairly Odd Parents, and Drake and Josh, this show stood out for its animation style, intense storyline, and unique characters. 

Although it aired on a children’s network and is widely considered to be a children’s show, Avatar appeals to many different audiences and age groups. It’s a series of breathtaking animation and detail, funny quips, and heart-felt moments. 

 

How it came to be

  • In the early 2000s, Nickelodeon was shifting its focus to include shows that explored more mythical and legendary storylines. Eric Coleman, the Vice President of Animation Development approached Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko and asked them for a show pitch. The men returned one month later with the early concepts that would become Avatar: The Last Airbender. 
  • The original Aang was a bald kid with no arrow, though he was drawn with a robot cyclops and and polar bear that both had arrows. The robot monkey was the first inspiration for Momo, while the polar bear became Appa. 
  • Inspired by documentaries about antarctic exploration, the team developed a show concept about nations of people, based on the four elements. One of the key pieces of the puzzle was how to create an action show without too much violence. So, they created the idea of bending elements instead of weaponry. They pitched the story to Eric Coleman two weeks later, and the team started working on a pilot. Bryan went to Korea for a few months to work with artists there on the initial eleven minute episode. 
  • The characters were complex, and animators would sometimes spend as much as 15 hours in the studio, trying to complete the pilot in time. Once the pilot tested well, the show was greenlit for 13 episodes!
  • The tricky part about the show being picked up meant that they now had more work to do with pretty much the same deadline. Bryan and Mike put together a large team of writers, animators, and musicians to get the job done. 

 

The Making of Avatar

  • The martial arts
    • The team was dedicated to learning traditional Chinese martial arts styles, so they sought out Sifu Kisu, a martial arts teacher who helped them develop the individual fighting styles of the four nations.
    • Another martial arts teacher, Sifu Manny, came in to help develop a different style for Toph. Because Toph is a blind character, her fighting style would be different than other characters in the show. Sifu Manny’s method was rumored to have been created by blind warriors on a remote island. 
      • The style worked for Toph because it could be achieved without having to look at an opponent. 
    • Brian and the director would take the script for each episode and choreograph the fight scenes with live actors as reference for the animators.
  • The Animation
    • The creators wanted an expansive view of the universe, with wide shots of beautiful landscapes.
    • The variety of imagery made the show much more dynamic than many other animated children’s shows at the time; with wide, medium, tight, and detail compositions that gave the viewer a strong sense of the universe
      • They wanted it to be cinematic.
  • The Music
    • Jeremy Zuckerman and Ben Wynn were the track team that created the music for the show.
  • The story
    • In a world of elemental magic, there are four elemental nations: The Northern and Southern Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, and the Air Nomads. The Avatar, the one person who can control all elements, upholds the balance of the nations. The Avatar is reincarnated into a young boy named Aang, who is reawakened after being frozen in ice for 100 years, to embark on a dangerous journey to fulfill his destiny. With the help of friends he meets along the way, he will have to fight to bring peace to the world.
    • The success of the show came from how well it was made, but what truly connected with fans was the story and characters.
    • The story was meant from the beginning to have a finite ending, with three seasons and 61 episodes.
      • No matter how upset it made creators and fans, Bryan and Mike were consistently clear that the show would end, and building toward that ending was what made the story so solid.
    • Aang
      • Played by Zach Tyler, Aang is a young monk from 100 years in the past.
        • Michael and Bryan initially imagined Aang to be from 1000 years before the events of the show, from a more advanced civilization. In early drawings, he had a futuristic staff and robot sidekick.
        • The air nation, which Aang is from, was inspired by Buddhist and Tibetan societies. 
        • Aang is a cute, fun-loving 12-year-old kid that was thrust into an impossible situation with immense responsibility. He is a skilled martial artist, and as the Avatar he is the most powerful bender in the world. But, because of his nature and upbringing, he is hesitant to use that power to hurt others.
        • Aang goes through a lot of change in the series, though he never abandons his beliefs, even when everyone tells him he should.
    • Appa
      • Voiced by Dee Bradley Baker, Appa is Aang’s best friend and flying bison. The artists were inspired by manatees and bison to draw Appa. His six legs were a direct reference to the Catbus in My Neighbor Totoro from Hayao Miyazaki.
      • Originally there were going to be 20 bison, which was broken down to just a small family of two adult bison and their calves. Eventually they settled on only one.
    • Momo
      • As we said before, Momo was originally a robot! But, his name was Momo-3. The show slowly became less sci-fi and the creators transformed a talking robot to a cross between a ring-tailed lemur and spotted bat.
      • Momo was almost dropped from the story, but instead Aang finds him at the deserted air temple as a symbol of hope for the future.
      • Momo was also voiced by Dee Bradley Baker.
    • Katara
      • Voiced by Mae Whitman, the creators considered Katara to be the heart of the show. In a parody episode called “The Ember Island Players,” the show jokes about Katara’s infatuation with hope. But, this was a big part of her character.
      • To the creators, it was important that there would be a strong female lead to appeal to young girls watching the show. The show itself was targeted to boys, but Bryan and Mike always knew that young girls would also be interested in an action-adventure epic as well.
      • Katara’s original name was Kya, but there was a video game character named Kya and it had to be changed. Her second name was Kanna before they settled on Katara. Kya is Katara’s mother’s name and Kanna is her Gran Gran.
    • Sokka
      • Played by Jack De Sena from the All That reboot, Sokka was very clearly the comic relief of the show. He was created with Katara to have a sibling rivalry, and was meant to appeal to the audience as an everyman.
      • Sokka has one of the best character arcs in the show, as he transforms from a brash kid that hides his insecurities with humor, to a confident leader of Team Avatar.
    • Toph
      • Voiced by Jessie Flower, Toph is the toughest character and one of the most powerful benders on the show. Toph comes from a rich, pampered background where she was forced to be someone she wasn’t. Although she was born blind, she learned earthbending from blind badger moles. 
      • Toph was originally a male character, until one of the head writers, Aaron Ehaz of Dragon Prince fame, suggested they make her female. Aaron argued for a long time until finally he won over the creators. The idea of taking such a huge, brash personality and placing it in a cute young girl really worked with the character.
      • Jessie Flower originally voiced a character in one episode of season one, and the creators liked her so much that they asked her back to play Toph.
      • Even though they thought including another female lead would connect to girls, the most comments about Toph came from young men who cited her as their favorite character.
        • Seugn Hyun Oh, a supervising director was quoted in saying, “She is blind, but I don’t know how to express in English, she just won.
    • Zuko
      • Voiced by Dante Bosco (Hook) Zuko is a fan favorite. He undergoes possibly the most change of any character in the show, and introduces the audience to the concept of a villain you can root for. Zuko has a complicated past that the show reveals over time, and acts with a sense of purpose. The show begins with him knowing exactly who he is, and we watch him become more and more unsure over time.
      • Originally, the show only had one villain: the Firelord. Zuko came about when Eric Coleman asked about a character that actively pursued the avatar and Zuko was born.
    • Uncle Iroh
      • Another fan favorite, Uncle Iroh was voiced by Mako and later Greg Baldwin. 
      • The creators initially thought Iroh would just be a teacher, but then they decided it would be more interesting if he were related. Aaron Ehaz described him as a man trying to enjoy his retirement but was forced to watch his nephew instead. It was Mako though, the original voice actor, who gave uncle the level of wisdom and personality that made fans fall in love with Iroh. 

 Also Starring

  • Jennie Kwan as Suki
  • Grey Griffin as Azula
    • Azula is one of the most complicated and layered characters in the show. She is a villain audiences loved to hate, and she shoots blue fire to stand out against Zuko’s orange fire. 
  • James Garrett as Avatar Roku
  • Mark Hamill as Fire Lord Ozai

The finale is a rare accomplishment, ennobling the characters and bringing a satisfying conclusion to both its world and Aang’s spiritual struggle between his beliefs and the violence the world wants from him as the Avatar.

Awards

  • Primetime-Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Animation in 2007
  • Kids’ Choice Award for Favorite Cartoon in 2008
  • Peabody Award in 2009

Drink of the week:  The Jasmine Dragon

Here’s a link to the documentary:

Sources:

Hey Arnold Christmas

Hey Cassettes and welcome back to The Christmas Case Diaries 😉 Today is an extra exciting  episode because not only are we continuing with our theme or Christmas TV specials, we are also joined by a VERY special guest: Brett Wilson!

80057449_822937458127252_7271548029205741568_n

(The beautiful art done by none other than Brett Wilson for this episode!)

Brett is an incredibly talented artist, and somewhat of an expert on classic Nickelodeon. So, we called him in to help us this week as we discuss the 1996 Hey Arnold holiday special: Arnold’s Christmas!

Tune in as we talk the brief history of Hey Arnold and why this special still brings tears to our eyes every Christmas. 

Hey Arnold History

  • The character Arnold was created by Craig Bartlett in the late 1980’s, first as a stop-motion character made from Plasticine (a clay-like material)
  • He and his wife Lisa Groening came up with the name together, and Lisa helped with other concepts of the show as well.
    • If the name Groening sounds familiar, Lisa’s brother is Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons.
  • Bartlett created three shorts in this medium, one was called, “Arnold Rides a Chair” which aired on Sesame Street! 
  • After these shorts and a run of comics in Simpson’s Illustrated magazine, Bartlett was able to sell the idea of an animated TV show about Arnold and his friends to Nickelodeon.
  • In October of 1996, Hey Arnold premiered on Nickelodeon.
    • The original pilot was a short that aired in theaters before the movie, “Harriet the Spy” and was later reworked into an episode called “24 Hours to Live” 
    • The show focused on Arnold, a 9-year-old boy growing up in the city of Hillwood, a nondescript urban setting that was a conglomerate of Seattle, Portland, and Brooklyn.
    • Arnold lives in a boarding house filled with unique and hilarious tenants, including his two loving grandparents Phil and Gertie. Arnold is a loving soul who sees the best in everyone, even his constant bully Helga Pataki. He navigates problems of everyday life with his best friend Gerald at his side, along with a cast of wonderfully strange characters. 
    • The show was a perfect blend of the relatable and the surreal; with realistic issues and settings mixed with cartoonish action and characters.
  • Later that year, the first half hour episode of the show came in the form of a holiday special called, “Arnold’s Christmas.”
    • Before the special aired, the show tended to be more light-hearted. This episode covered serious concepts that brought a new level of emotion for the show. 

Starring: 

  • Lane Toran (credited as Toran Caudell) as Arnold
    • He is an actor and musician who also voiced King Bob in the TV show “Recess” 
    • He returned for the Hey Arnold Jungle movie as Che, a handsome young man that falls for Olga (Helga’s older sister). 
    • He is also directing and starring in an upcoming film called “Getaway Girls” 
  • Francesca Marie Smith as Helga
    • She also voiced characters in “Recess” including Ashley B, and did various voices for the VeggieTales TV series.
    • Francesca voiced Helga all the way through Hey Arnold’s initial run and even reprises her role in 2017 for The Jungle Movie.
  • Jamil Walker Smith as Gerald
    • After playing Gerald for the run of the show, he went on to have a recurring role in Stargate Universe. He has found steady work as an actor and will also be in the movie “Getaway Girls”
  • Tress MacNeille as Grandma Gertie
    • An incredibly talented voice actor, Tress MacNeille is known for playing Dot in the animaniacs, and has provided voices for The Simpsons and Futurama. She has a recurring role as Daisy Duck in many Disney projects.
  • Dan Castellaneta as Grandpa Phil 
    • Hey Arnold has a lot of ties to the Simpsons, and Dan Castellaneta is one of them. He has been voicing Homer Simpson since 1989
  • Baoan Coleman as Mr. Hyunh
    • He played Mr. Hyunh for 28 episodes of the show
    • He also had a supporting role in Rambo: First Blood Part II, but Hey Arnold was his last acting credit
    • According to IMDB, Baoan Coleman was at the actual fall of Saigon, which is depicted in the episode when Mr. Hyunh hands Mai to a soldier on a helicopter. I can’t find other sources to back this up, but I thought it was interesting to mention
  • Hiep Thi Le as Mai
    • She acted in a few things since Hey Arnold, including the TV movie “Cruel Intentions”
    • She was born in Vietnam and was separated from her family during the war, similar to her character Mai in the show.
  • Vincent Schiavelli as Mr. Bailey
    • A well-known and respected character actor, he also voiced Pigeon Man in another popular episode of Hey Arnold.
    • He played Lazarus in “Bride of Boogedy” which we talked about earlier this year, he was a teacher in the John Cusack movie, “Better of Dead” 

Arnold’s Christmas: The Story

  • The story for Arnold’s Christmas was created by Craig Bartlett, Steve Viksten, and Joe Ansolabehere. Steve Viksten wrote the episode.
  • After names have been drawn for the boarding house Secret Santa, Arnold is distraught to find that he has been given Mr. Hyunh, a member of the boarding house that he knows very little about
    • In this scene, Grandma wishes everyone a happy Thanksgiving. This started the gag in the show that Grandma always mixes up the holidays. Watching this with Marci, it confused her about the timeline and made her think that the episode jumped ahead to Christmas shortly after.
  • Desperate to figure out the right gift, Arnold visits Mr. Hyunh and asks him about his life. Mr. Hyunh tells Arnold a harrowing tale about his life in another country, and a war that separated him and his infant daughter. Mr. Hyunh came to the US in search of her, but has yet to find her. 
    • This episode was the first of the show to feature a real life event: the Vietnam. They never explicitly say which war or Mr Hyunh is referring to, but images and key phrases would indicate Vietnam. For example, Mr Hyunh says, “there was a war in the north,” and we see images of him running past a ripped American flag. The war was between North and South Vietnam, and involved the US as we were a principal ally of south Vietnam. 
    • When Saigon fell, helicopters did in fact take refugees out of the city, just like in the show. The government wasn’t liberated until 1995, about 20 years later and Mr Hyunh says it took him 20 years to get out of the country. 
    • This episode is often lauded for “giving kids credit” and focusing on serious subject matter in a children’s TV show, and later on the show mentions Vietnam again when we find out that Gerald’s dad fought in the war as well.
  • Arnold is now inspired to make Mr. Hyunh’s dream of seeing his daughter a reality, and springs into action. Arnold heads to the federal office of information, and he and Gerald beg a man named Mr. Bailey to locate Mr Hyunh’s daughter. Mr. Bailey tells the boys that he would do so, if they finish his Christmas Eve shopping. So, the boys set out to get everything on the list.
    • Mr. Bailey is very likely a reference to George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the famous character played by Jimmy Stewart  
  • Somewhere else in Hillwood, we see Helga trying to find a gift for her secret crush: Arnold. She eavesdrops on the boys and discovers what they are trying to do. The last item on their list is a pair of incredibly rare Nancy Spumoni snow boots that Helga also wants for Christmas. 
    • In the Hey Arnold universe, there’s a character named Dino Spumoni who is their version of Frank Sinatra. In real life, Frank Sinatra had a daughter named Nancy who sang the song, “These Boots are Made for Walking.” The snow boots are an obvious reference to Nancy Sinatra. 
  • After Arnold and Gerald return to Mr. Bailey with all the items except the snow boots, Mr. Bailey refuses to help them (what a terrible person). The boys walk away, feeling dejected.
  • Helga heads home to her own family’s Christmas, and her mother gives her a Christmas gift. They are the Nancy Spumoni snow boots! Helga thanks her mom and runs out into the snow with joy and excitement. She dances around in happiness until she remembers that Arnold needs the snow boots as well. 
    • Up until this point in the episode, Helga has repeatedly said that Christmas is all about presents and that she hopes her parents “didn’t screw up” her gift. When her mom hands her the boots, she tells her that she stood in line for hours to get them. This is especially poignant because Helga has a troubled home life, with parents that are somewhat neglectful and much more caring toward her sister.
  • Helga brings Mr. Bailey the boots and begs him to stay and find Mai. She gives a speech about the true meaning of Christmas, and points out that not only would Mr Hyunh and his daughter not be reunited, but his actions would destroy Arnold’s faith in miracles.
  • On Christmas morning, Arnold is about to apologize to Mr Hyunh for not having a gift, when the doorbell rings and Grandpa lets in Mai. Arnold is blown away, confused as to how this happened and Gerald tells him it must’ve been a Christmas angel.
  • The episode ends with Helga, standing alone in the snow after leading Mai to the boarding house. The image drives home the concept of giving for the sake of giving, and the audience could never question how much Helga cares for Arnold. Never once in the show does she ever mention what she did for Arnold, Mr. Hyunh, and Mai. She thought Arnold was naive to believe in miracles, until she became the miracle herself. 

Questions/Opinions

  • Even though the subject matter is intense, the episode still makes room for laughs. What’s your favorite part of the special? 
  • This special deals with very serious subject matter for a children’s TV show. Do we think that a show today would cover something so intense? 
  • What do we think was the benefit of talking about these issues? 
  • This is an emotional episode for a lot of people! What part hits you in the feels the most?

Thank you Brett Wilson for joining us!  You can see some of his work here; https://www.instagram.com/brettwilsonart/?hl=en

https://www.redbubble.com/people/BrettWilsonArt

Sources

IMDB

Salute Your Case

Hey Cassettes! Here are the show notes that we wrote while researching our episode on Salute Your Shorts.

If you’re unfamiliar, Salute Your Shorts was a live-action Nickelodeon show in the early 1990s. It followed a group of young kids and their shenanigans at summer camp.

A brief history 

  • Salute Your Shorts was a Nickelodeon TV show that aired from 1991-1992
    • It was based on a book called “Salute Your Shorts: Life at Summer Camp,” written by Steve Slavkin and Thomas Hill
      • Slavkin went on to write the show as well, after he pitched the idea to Nickelodeon; They were looking for kid-centric show ideas for the network
      • The book and the show don’t have a lot of overlap; essentially the only similarity is the title and the theme of going to summer camp
    • Here’s a quote from The A/V Club “it was a show built on characters, ostensible stereotypes that, through clever writing and earnest performances, were able to (mostly) transcend their quirks to offer an identifiable portrait of adolescence”
    • According to The Los Angeles Times, it originally aired on July 4th, 1991
    • The show lasted for two seasons, each with 13 episodes, and its final air date was June 30th, 1992
    • After Nickelodeon green-lit a pilot episode, they sat on the pilot for over a year. By the time the show was picked up, the kids were too old to play the parts and had to be re-cast. All of the actors had to re-audition with a couple of them getting cast in the regular show
    • The theme song
      • The theme song was written by Ed Alton who also composed theme songs for Head of the Class, The Single Guy, Suddenly Susan, Nikki, My Boys, and Whitney
      • It’s the only theme song in history with the word “fart”
        • Robin’s brother got in trouble in school for singing it
      • A lot of the acting in the theme song was improved by the kids
    • The show was cancelled mostly for logistical reasons, the studio wanted to relocate the kids after two seasons and most of them were already settled in Los Angeles where the show was being filmed on location
    • Actors & Guest Stars
      • When Slavkin was tasked with casting the show, he wanted kids that seemed as natural as possible. There wasn’t much hair or make-up on the set, and when one of the actresses had to get braces, Slavkin wrote it into the show
        • A lot of the kids had no previous acting experience
      • The show starred:
        • Kirk Bailey as camp counselor “Ug” Lee
          • Kevin “Ug” Lee is the main counselor and the only recurring adult on the show. In the first episode, Donkleylips starts the chante “UG-LEE” with the other campers which is where his nickname comes from
          • Kirk Bailey has done a lot of voice work since the show, such as additional voices for Bumblebee, Frozen, and Big Hero 6
        • Danny Cooksey as Bobby Budnick
          • Budnick starts out as the camp bully, picking on the new kid in the first episodes of the show, though he matures a little more over time
          • Danny Cooksey was in other Nickelodeon titles throughout the 90s. He did an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark, but his crowning achievement as an actor was when he played “Stoop Kid” in Hey Arnold
        • Michael Bower as Eddie “Donkeylips” Gelfin
          • Donkeylips is best friends with Budnick, but he’s more like his lackey; He’s known as being one of the bullies, and for being a smelly camper
          • Michael Bower was one of the original actors in the first version of the pilot episode, and had to re-audition for the role
          • Before Salute Your Shorts, he had roles in The Wonder Years and Doogie Houser
        • Venus DeMilo as Telly Radford
          • Telly is the “tomboy” of the girls’ bunk. She’s less shallow than Dina, often clashing with her about the importance of fashion and good looks
          • Venus DeMilo went on to have roles in Family Matters, Sister Sister, Smart Guy, and The Bold and the Beautiful
        • Megan Berwick as Z Z Ziff
          • Z Z is the resident sweet girl, always kind to the other campers despite what they do to her
          • Berwick didn’t do much acting after the show, though she was in a TV movie called, “The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom”
        • Tim (or Trevor) Eyster as Eugene “Sponge” Harris
          • Sponge was the camper known for absorbing information (you know, like a sponge)
            • He’s bullied by the Budnick and Donkeylips, though he becomes friends with them as the series progresses
          • Tim Eyster changed his name to Trevor and has acted before and after the show; his last credit was a short in 2015
        • Heidi Lucas as Dina Alexander
          • Dina is the “girly” girl in the camp, preferring to do nails than play sports; she’s also known for being rich
          • Heidi Lucas has acted in a few things since the show, though her last IMDB credit is from 1996. She was on a science fiction show called Hypernauts
        • Erik MacArthur as Michael Stein
          • Michael is a character that only appears in the first season of the show. He is the main focus of many of the episodes in the first season like “Michael Comes to Camp,” “Brownies for Thud Mackie”
          • Michael Stein’s last acting credit was in 2007; he’s done bit parts since the show
        • Blake Soper as Ronnie Foster Pinsky
          • At the beginning of season 2, Michael has contracted chicken pox and will not be returning to camp. In his place, a scheming ans street-smart character named Pinsky is intro
          • He also was Joey the Rat on Boy Meets World
        • Steve Slavkin as Dr. Kahn
          • The creator of the show lent his voice to play the unseen Dr. Kahn, to fill up space on the show. Slavkin says he made up most of his lines on the spot and was just meant to fill space between shots
        • Christine Kavanaugh
          • The late actress that voiced Chuckie and Oblina played Ug’s girlfriend Mona
  • Favorite Episodes
    • The Ghost Story
      • Zeke the Plumber is arguably the most famous episode of the show
    • The Radio Call-in Contest
      • In this episode, Sponge gets help from other campers so he can answer the 1000$ question on a radio call-in contest
    • Mail Carrier Mona
      • When Ug’s girlfriend dumps him, the kids in camp set him up with Mona the mail carrier
    • Park Ranger Mona
      • Mona returns in this episode and is now a park ranger. Ug has to improve the camp to make sure they pass inspection
    • Budnick Loves Dina
      • In this two-part episode, Budnick falls for Dina and they begin to date

Fun Facts

    • No one really knows for sure what an awful waffle is–they never actually do it in the show. It involves maple syrup and a tennis racket, but that’s all we know!
    • They’re making a documentary about Salute Your Shorts, it’s in pre-production! We’ll be sure to let everyone know about it once it comes out!
    • The way the show was shot was groundbreaking
      • In “Slimed, an oral history of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age,” producer Courtney Conte was quoted in saying that Slavkin had directors push the show in terms of directorial style. It was a one-camera show that was shot on location, versus many other kids shows of the time which were shot on sound stages with laugh tracks
      • It was also groundbreaking that the show was scored; generally the music in the show was classical and was added to scenes to increase suspense or excitement
        • The guitar rifs in some episodes were performed by Danny Cooksey’s band
      • The Show was shot at Franklin Canyon Park, and Franklin lake which is the same place that some scenes of the Andy Griffith show was shot!
        • AND, it was shot at a real camp
    • Danny Cooksey had Michael Bower and Kirk Bailey as groomsmen in their wedding
    • Donkeylips was originally the bully for the show, but after the year between the pilot and the show started filming, Danny Cooksey had gone through a growth spurt and was changed to be the camp bully
    • Even though the show stopped airing new episodes in 1992, it continued to be one of the most popular on the network. It was among the top 15 highest-rated, regularly scheduled basic-cable series in 1996 (four years after it ended)

The Spongebob Square-Case

On May 1st, 1999 an sea sponge applied to work at The Krusty Krab as a fry cook. Showing off his unrelenting optimism and cooking skills, he won the hearts of Mr. Krabs (his future boss) and children everywhere. Now 20 years later, Spongebob Squarepants is a cultural icon.

Spongebob Squarepants changed Nickelodeon and cartoons forever. He was a beacon of humor in times of struggle, giving Americans reasons to laugh. The world was in need of his talents, and Spongebob was READY.

  • Spongebob’s History
    • Spongebob was created by Marine Biologist Steve Hillenburg
    • Originally the show was to be called Spongeboy Ahoy!
    • Because Spongeboy was trademarked by a cleaning supplies company, they were forced to change the name
    • Hillenburg wanted the word “sponge” in the title because he thought children might confuse him with cheese
      • “Oh great, now the talking cheese is gonna preach to us”
    • Steve Hillenburg first developed the idea from an unpublished comic called “The Inter-Tidal Zone that developed in the late 1980s
    • He worked on Rocko’s Modern Life after studying animation
      • After the cancellation of the show, he began developing Spongebob and asked Tom Kenny who voiced Heffer on Rocko’s Modern Life to do voicework
    • The big pitch
      • Derek Drymon was the creative director of Spongebob and was the voice acting coach for the pilot
      • Together Drymon and Hillenburg made the pitch for the show
        • Hillenburg and Derek Drymon wore Hawaiian shirts and blared beach music while pitching
        • They created a tiny model of Bikini Bottom with all the characters and gave a description of what they wanted the characters to be
        • They pitched the pilot “Help Wanted” to Nickelodeon Executives and had to excuse themselves because they needed to compose themselves
        • The executives decided immediately that they wanted to do the show
  • The Voices
    • Tom Kenny
      • Spongebob
      • Gary The Snail
      • The French Narrator
      • Also known for:
        • Adventure Time
        • The PowerPuff Girls
        • Rocko’s Modern Life
  • Bill Fagebakke
    • Patrick
    • Also known for:
      •  Coach (1989-1997)
      • How I Met Your Mother (2005-2014)
  • Roger Bumpas
    • Squidward
    • Also known for:
      • Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
        • Doc Oc
      • Bit parts in Disney films and TV shows
  • Clancy Brown
    • Mr. Krabs
    • Also known for:
      • CTR
        • Dr. Neo Kortex
      • Schooled
        • Mr. Crosby
      • Highlander
      • The Shawshank Redemption
        • Byron Hadley
  • Douglas Lawrence Osowski “Mr. Lawrence”
    • Plankton
    • Larry the Lobster
    • The Artist at Sea
    • Fred (My Leg Guy) Although Fred has been played by many different actors
    • Also known for:
      • Rocko’s Modern Life
        • Fillbert
  • Carolyn Lawrence
    • Sandy Cheeks
    • Also known for:
      • Jimmy Neutron
        • Cindy Vortex
  • The Flying Dutchman
    • Bryan Doyle Murray
    • Also known for:
      • National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
      • Caddyshack
  • Jill Talley
    • Karen
    • Also known for:
      • Mr. Show with Bob and David
      • The Loud House
    • *Karen is played by Tom Kenny’s wife, and Karen is the name of Steve Hillenburg’s wife

Source Material

  • “Zen and the Art of Writing” essay collection by Ray Bradbury and used the noun game
    • Everyone wrote 3-6 nouns on a paper and placed them in a hat; when they pulled one out, they did a story based on that noun
  • Literary References
    • “Squeaky Boots” is based off the story “The Tell-tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe
    • “Club Spongebob” references “Lord of the Flies”
      • The Magic Conch Shell is similar to the Magic 8 Ball used by the characters in the novel
    • “Frankendoodle” references “Frankenstein” when Spongebob creates DoodleBob
  • Other References
    • Some references mentioned in this episode:
      • Toulouse-Lautrec reference:
      • In “Something Smells” Spongebob hides in his house with a mask on, referencing Phantom of the Opera. We wanted to find you a clip, but we couldn’t find a good one
  • Spongebob’s personality came from Jerry Lewis, PeeWee Herman, and Stan Laurel
  • Awards
    • Won Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Special Class Animated Program
    • British Academy Children’s International Award in 2007
    • Nominated 34 Kid’s Choice Awards and won 27
    • Best animated television production Annie Award 2005

 

Thank you, Steve Hillenburg!

A Case Submitted for your Approval

Premiering in Canada on October 31st 1990, “Are You Afraid of the Dark” was a horror anthology series for children. It aired on Nickelodeon until 1996 and followed a group of kids that gathered once a week to tell stories. They referred to themselves as “The Midnight Society.”

With stories that ranged from terrifying to downright silly, this show was a fan favorite on the SNICK line-up. This week we discuss this 90s classic and our hopes for the upcoming film set to release this October.

BDC-AYAD_2

*We mention the screenwriter for “Are You Afraid of the Dark” (2019) as the screenwriter for “It” (2017). His name is Gary Dauberman and he is credited as one of three screenwriters for “It” (2017).

Main Characters of the original series 1990-1996:

  • Gary- Played by Ross Hull, Gary was the lovable leader of the Midnight Society. A magic fan (his dad owned a magic shop,) Gary incorporated magic into his stories. For example, he created the character Sardó, a magic shop owner who sells questionable merchandise to unsuspecting kids. Gary showed romantic interest in Sam, who seemed to reciprocate those feelings.
  • Frank- Jason Alisharan played this resident 90s bad boy. Frank told great stories and gave us the incredible Dr. Vink! He also had a thing for Sam but those feelings were never returned
  • Kiki- All the women of the Midnight Society were bada**, but none more than KiKi. Portrayed by Jodie Resther, her tough attitude and spooky stories made her a lovable member of the group.
  • Betty Ann- The quiet, mysterious Betty Ann always told the strangest stories. Her stories weren’t scary in the conventional way, but they had a way of giving you an unsettling feeling. She was played by Raine Pare-Coull
  • Kristin- One of the original cast members, Kristin was played by Rachel Blanchard. She would often dress up for her stories. One story she told, “Locker 22” is one Marci listed as a favorite.
  • David- Played by Nathaniel Moreau, David was an early member that left the same time as Kristin. This lead us as kids to believe that they were siblings, but in the show they just happen to move away at the same time.
  • Eric- Played by Jacob Tierney, Eric is a character only in the first season of the show. He disappeared in Season 2 without an explanation. He only told two stories, one of them is considered by many to be one of the scariest in the show’s history: The Tale of the Dark Music.
  • Sam- Played by JoAnna Swisher, Sam became a quick favorite. She told some of our favorite stories (The Long-ago Locket.) Originally introduced as a friend of Betty Ann’s, Sam surprised the group by being a girl (girls can also wear flannel and be named Sam.)
  • Tucker- Gary’s little brother, played by Daniel DeSanto. Tucker replaced David from the earlier seasons and later took over as the leader of the Midnight Society when the show returned for seasons 6 & 7. In “The Tale of the Silver Sight,” we learn that Tucker and Gary’s grandfather started the Midnight Society.
  • Stig- Played by Codie Wilbee, Stig was a friend of Tucker’s and a replacement for Frank (though he could never replace Frank in our hearts). He clashed with the rest of the group, and had to tell two stories before getting accepted.

*We only covered episodes from the original 5 seasons. Nickelodeon created a revival show that lasted two seasons under the same name in 1999. We do not consider this the same show because it had different writers, actors, and directors. It was more like a soft reboot.

  • Scariest episodes
    • Midnight Madness (Season 2, Episode 2)
      • Dr. Vink offers a struggling theatre a chance for salvation by letting them show his mysterious vampire film. The film, a version of Nosferatu, draws in big crowds.
    • Dead Man’s Float (Season 5, Episode 1)
      • A young nerdy boy discovers a hidden pool at his school and attempts to use it in order to impress a girl. After the girl convinces the school to reopen the pool, the kids soon discover its dark past. 
      • This episode is notable for its effects. The antagonist has incredible make-up and costume design.
    • Dark Music (Season 1, Episode 11)
      • After moving into a house left to his mother by an uncle they never knew, a young boy discovers a dark presence in his basement. The evil force responds to music and will give him whatever he wants. The catch? He needs to feed it. 
    • The Lonely Ghost (Season 1, Episode 3)
      • A young girl named Amanda spends summer with her snotty cousin. In order for her to be accepted into her cousin’s friend group, she must spend the night in the creepy house next door. After just a few minutes, Amanda discovers there’s more in the house than just dust. 
    • Ghastly Grinner (Season 4, Episode 9)
      • An aspiring artist accidentally brings to life a creepy comic book antagonist known as “The Ghastly Grinner.” 
    • The Doll Maker (Season 3, Episode 5)
      • Melissa finds out that her best friend has gone missing (as if that isn’t traumatizing enough.) After spending time in her house, she discovers that her friend is not missing but instead has been turned into a doll.
    • The Night Shift (Season 5, Episode 13)
      • A shape-shifting green-skinned vampire (more like a wraith but still has a coffin?) has been sucking the life force out of a hospital staff. It’s up to Amanda and Colin, two teenagers, to save the lives of everyone working the night shift.
      • This was the final episode of the original series. The story was told by Sam and ended the show on a spooky note. The story also had romantic themes because Gary revealed in the show’s beginning that he and Sam do have feelings for each other but she’s not interested in dating him.
    • Quicksilver (Season 3, Episode 11)
      • Aaron and Doug just moved into a new house. They quickly discover it is haunted by two ghosts. One is an evil poltergeist. The other is a spirit of a young girl who died trying to trap the poltergeist. After Doug falls ill and gets captured by the evil spirit, it’s up to Aaron to save his little brother.
  • Favorite Episodes
    • The Dangerous Soup (Season 3, Episode 13)
      • Dr. Vink appears again but this time with a SOUP-er delicious soup.  Two young workers discover the dark secret to how this soup is made.
    • Dream Girl (Season 3, Episode 10)
      • A teenage boy working at a bowling alley begins to be haunted by a female spirit after unknowingly putting on her school ring.
    • Bookish Babysitter (Season 3, Episode 6)
      • Books come to life to show a young boy that they can be just as exciting as television.  As he begins each book and tosses it aside the villains come to life and he must imagine his own ending in order to put things right again.
    • The Long-ago Locket (Season 4, Episode 2)
      • On his way home from school, Jimmy gets transported back into 1775. He meets a doomed minuteman named William and Jimmy soon discovers that he must help him escape the red coats so William can stop the woman he loves from marrying another man.
    • Laughing in the Dark (Season 1, Episode 2)
      • A fun house burns down and after being rebuilt is said to be haunted by the clown Zeebo who perished in the fire.  A teenager named Josh is dared to steal Zeebo’s red clown nose to prove that it is not haunted.  He soon finds out that the stories may be true as strange things begin to happen.
    • Midnight Ride (Season 3, Episode 1)
      • The classic tale of the headless horseman from Sleepy Hollow is told through
    • Whispering Walls (Season 2, Episode 8)
      • It’s a full moon on leap year when a babysitter named Louise gets lost on the way home from the park with the two children named Andrew and Claire. She enters a mysterious mansion to get help, but doesn’t return. It’s up to Claire and Andrew to save their babysitter from the terrors inside.
    • Locker 22 (Season 2, Episode 3)
      • An immigrant who attends a new school finds that her locker transports her to a past time where she discovers that the former occupant of the locker had passed away due to a science lab gone wrong.  She and a friend must then figure out what went awry.

Links referenced in this Case:

This is the JonTron video referenced in the episode. He covers the first two episodes (shown on the DVD) and the Tale of the Dark Music.

This is the Are You Afraid of the Dark intro for the pilot episode which aired in Canada on October 31st, 1990.

This the classic intro that Adam refers to as the reason he never watched the show as a kid.

And of course, I feel the Fear! This iconic music video aired on Nickelodeon after a special “Midnight to Midnight” marathon. We don’t know when it first aired on Nickelodeon, but Robin still has the VHS recording of the marathon with this video.

Sources: IMDB