He was 57 and had been diagnosed with ALS last year.The creator of SpongeBob SquarePants, Stephen Hillenburg, has passed away.
With SpongeBob's home of Bikini Bottom, Hillenburg created one of the most captivating settings for an enduring franchise in recent entertainment history. SpongeBob SquarePants debuted in 1999 on Nickelodeon and remains on the air to this day, making it one of television's most enduring franchises.
Part of the reason for SpongeBob's success was the captivating setting that Hillenburg created for the show — the underwater world of Bikini Bottom. Inspired by his experience as a marine biology teacher and longtime advocate for Southern California's coastal health, Bikini Bottom found that elusive balance between authenticity and imaginative absurdity that makes for a great theme park land... which makes the themed entertainment industry's failure to develop a fully realized Bikini Bottom land one of its more frustrating misses of the century to date.
While SpongeBob enjoyed great success on Nickelodeon, as a potential theme park franchise, it got lost in parent company Viacom's decision to get out of the theme park business. SpongeBob featured in several kiddie attractions at the former Paramount Parks, before Viacom sold those parks to Cedar Fair and they lost their Nick licenses.
Universal now has the domestic theme park rights to the character, but has limited its use to a retail store, parade appearances, and meet and greets. With its own DreamWorks Animations and Illumination Entertainment franchises to develop, Universal probably isn't going to build Bikini Bottom... unless that fourth gate at Universal Orlando turns out to be way bigger (or more sharply focused on animation) than we've thought.
SpongeBob SquarePants is defined by his unbridled joy, enthusiasm, and optimism. His uncynical view of the world challenges us to set aside ours for a moment and just enjoy the pure bliss of imagination at work. Can there be any better result for a theme park attraction than that? SpongeBob and theme park fans don't just want to spend time in Bikini Bottom. We need to.
Hillenburg and his amazing world deserved better than what the industry has given them. And SpongeBob's fans do, too.Tweet
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