In 2004, SpongeBob SquarePants creator Stephen Hillenburg moved the beloved kids’ cartoon character over to the silver screen with the release of The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. Featuring the same cast, with guest stars Scarlett Johansson and David Hasselhoff, the film received commercial success, grossing over $141million at the box office. But its accompanying soundtrack was anything but commercial.
Featuring eclectic outfit Ween, psych-rockers The Flaming Lips, and the soothing indie of Wilco, the niche soundtrack reflected the tastes of the filmmakers rather than a wide audience. Perhaps the most commercial inclusion was punk-rock chick Avril Lavigne, who contributed a cover of the theme song.
SpongeBob’s connection with Ween began long before the release of the feature film. In fact, Hillenburg was inspired to create the cartoon by Ween’s 1997 album The Mollusk, a concept album that placed prog-rock into an ocean setting.
Dean Ween recalled the experience in a social media post after Hillenburg’s passing in 2018, explaining, “I got a call a long time ago from a marine biologist that said he wanted to start a cartoon inspired by Ween’s album The Mollusk. His name was Steve Hillenburg, and his idea was to create a Bugs Bunny-type cartoon on the bottom of the ocean floor.”
They went on to write ‘Loop de Loop’ for an early episode of the cartoon in 2000: “Ween had been on tour for a long year, and we ended up recording and writing the song in one night at Greg Frey’s studio. It was to teach kids how to tie their shoes, and we wrote it really fast and mailed it back on X-mas Eve, and for once, they said, ‘Don’t change anything about it, it’s perfect.’”
A few years later, in 2004, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie featured their most famous track, ‘Ocean Man’, in its end credits scene. Ween notes, “It remains one of our proudest legacies, and we went on to do a lot of work together with Spongebob, and the show went on to be the best cartoon of two generations.”
Alongside ‘Ocean Man’, the soundtrack features songs the filmmakers commissioned indie and alternative artists to write around scenes and characters in the film, from The Shins’ ‘They’ll Soon Discover’ to The Flaming Lips’ ‘SpongeBob & Patrick Confront the Psychic Wall of Energy’.
In an MTV interview, Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips recalls proposing a collaboration with Justin Timberlake for their track. But Hillenburg was adamant that he wanted to keep the soundtrack in the alternative realm, stating, “I don’t want any of those sort of commercial weirdos on there. I don’t like those commercial people. I like you guys and Wilco and Ween.”
Even heavy metal band Motörhead contributed to the soundtrack, changing the name of their track ‘You Better Run’ to ‘You Better Swim.’ The lyrics replace vocalist Lemmy’s threats of blades and bullets with “a smile like a tiger shark” before he proclaims, “Come on, Spongey!”
The collection of songs is a far cry from the cartoon film soundtracks today, featuring commercial hits from the likes of Pharrell Williams and Timberlake. Hillenburg committed to the sonic vision he had for The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, resulting in one of the most unexpectedly cool soundtracks of all time.
Listen to the full soundtrack below.