From Bikini Bottom to A-list celebrity: why the world loves SpongeBob SquarePants is taking over ghghjg ghghg ghg He's yellow, he's square and he's over here: Meet the new cartoon sensation SpongeBob

WHAT IS square, yellow, and adored by under-10s, students and celebrities? The answer is SpongeBob SquarePants, the biggest custard- coloured cartoon sensation to sweep the nation since The Simpsons.

The annoyingly cheerful rectangular sponge who lives in a pineapple at the bottom of the ocean is about to achieve world domination when SpongeBob SquarePants - the Movie opens in cinemas on Friday.

The Oasis lead singer and renowned wildman, Liam Gallagher, along with the hard-edged rapper, Goldie, were among those who turned out to watch the film's premiere this week, showing just how street cred the children's cartoon character has become.

In the US, the tie and trouser-wearing sponge already has a huge celebrity fan base, including Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Mike Myers, Bruce Willis and Kelly Osbourne. There is even a church established in his name, with 700 followers who meet in New York, California and Texas.

Next week in the UK, the children's network Nickelodeon is showing back- to-back episodes of the cartoon on its animation channel Nicktoons over half term, in what it is calling a "SpongeBobathon".

SpongeBob, who first appeared on American television in 1999, is the creation of Stephen Hillenburg, a former marine scientist - but the cartoon is anything but scientific.

The aquatic character lives underwater in Bikini Bottom, where he works as a fry cook at the Krusty Krab diner and keeps a pet snail called Gary who miaows like a cat. His best friends are a pink starfish called Patrick and a female squirrel called Sandy Cheeks, who wears a helmet so she can breathe underwater.

In 2004, 9.7million viewers watched SpongeBob on Nickelodeon channels, including two fifths of all children in the UK and it is now the top-rating show on Nicktoons.

The cartoon is a major earner, having made a reported pounds 400m since 2002. A DVD of the show is Nickelodeon's fastest- selling title and there are even SpongeBob computer games on the Playstation's .

The happy-go-lucky character has been signed as the face of an advertising campaign for Volvic flavoured spring water, and sponsors of the television show have included the Scottish sweets brand Millions, and Bell's Cheese Dippers.

While it was originally targeted at seven-to-nine year olds, SpongeBob's appeal is growing among adults who appreciate the cartoon's surreal humour.

The Radio 1 breakfast DJ, Chris Moyles, as well as Capital Radio's Johnny Vaughan and Xfm's Christian O'Connell are all devotees. O'Connell described the show as: "A cartoon made by Tarantino and drawn by Rolf Harris after one too many beers."

Howard Litton, Nickelodeon's director of channels, said: "There seems to have been a groundswell over the past 12 months. In some ways it's like The Simpsons when it first launched. Although it's targeted at kids, it's become popular with adults and it's cool in student circles. It's got huge support because of its quirkiness and its silliness. People buy into the optimism of SpongeBob."

In the US, however, right-wing Christian groups have tried to uncover a darker side to Spongebob, accusing the cartoon's creators of promoting homosexuality to children.

A row broke out over Spongebob's involvement in a remake of the Sister Sledge song "We Are Family", which Christian activists claim is pro-gay propaganda.

The organisers of the music video, which also features Bob the Builder, Winnie the Pooh and Rugrats, deny that it contains a subliminal message and insist that it is intended to help teach children about co-operation and unity. But rumours persist that SpongeBob is a gay icon because he holds hands with his sidekick Patrick.

The controversy is similar to the whispering campaign in 1999 about Tinky- Winky, a character in the pre-school programme Teletubbies, who carried a handbag, but Mr Litton is sceptical.

"I think they were on to something with Tinky-Winky, but this is insane. You can find anything in anything if you look hard enough."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
health
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executive - Call Centre Jobs

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn