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SpongeBob SquarePants becomes human in his big birthday special. Almost.

Voice actor Tom Kenny almost turns SpongeBob into a real boy with his live-action impression.

SpongeBob SquarePants premiered on May 1, 1999, and Nickelodeon is celebrating the series’ 20th birthday with a unique TV movie that will take SpongeBob out from under the sea ... and introduce us to his human counterpart.

Nickelodeon has released a two-minute teaser for the special, called “SpongeBob’s Big Birthday Blowout,” which offers our first look at how the character is spending his birthday. Because it’s not just Spongebob Squarepants the TV show that turns 20 this year, but its title character too: Spongebob’s birthday, canonically, is July 14. (Not that the show has any real sense of time, however.) SpongeBob is stoked about celebrating his birthday, which his friends and family try to help him do by planning a gigantic surprise party for him.

To keep SpongeBob in the dark before the party, his best friend Patrick Star arranges one heckuva trip for the pair to visit the live-action world of the dry land above. Yes, the dry land where no one is a cartoon, and where people breathe oxygen, eat fish, and hang out with David Hasselhoff — the former Baywatch actor and beloved-in-Germany pop star makes a guest appearance as himself.

Hasselhoff previously appeared in 2004’s The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, which also took SpongeBob and Patrick out of the ocean. Consider this guest spot a callback to that movie, a nice nod for fans. But Hasselhoff isn’t the only human to stop by for the special. Tom Kenny, SpongeBob’s voice actor, notably shows up during SpongeBob’s trip too — and Kenny is joined by several other longtime SpongeBob voice cast members throughout.

Kenny plays a SpongeBob-like fry cook named “JimBob” who works at a place called “The Trusty Slab”; wink wink, nudge nudge. The idea here is that the world above the water has some bizarre analogues to life below it; every fish has a doppelgänger. A disturbing notion, but also an audacious gesture, so points to the SpongeBob team for taking the plunge into these semi-uncharted waters — even if it’s admittedly jarring to see a human being over the age of 50 emit SpongeBob’s high-pitched squeals.

Touchingly, the actors participating in the special have likened their onscreen appearances to something of an homage to Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of SpongeBob SquarePants who died in November 2018. “SpongeBob’s Big Birthday Blowout” will be the first episode of the series to air since Hillenburg’s passing. The actors are well aware of the significance.

“Steve Hillenburg gave me the gift of a lifetime when he asked me to voice his porous alter ego, SpongeBob SquarePants,” Kenny said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. “He changed my life and all of our lives.”

“SpongeBob’s Big Birthday Blowout” airs Friday, July 12, at 7 pm Eastern on Nickelodeon.

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