New ‘Spongebob’ film pays tribute to late director

Spongebob comes back to the limelight with a new feature film and spin-off show.

Rio Scarcelli | staff writer


Spongebob comes back to the limelight with a new feature film and spin-off show.

The Spongebob Movie: Sponge on the Run premiered on March 4 on Paramount+ after being postponed from its original release date of June 20. In place of original director Stephen Hillenburg, best friend and writer of the show Tim Hill fulfilled his duties in bringing the classic franchise’s characters to life in a whole new way.

Before his death from ALS in November 2018, Hillenburg’s intentions were set on a third Spongebob movie: one that was made entirely out of computer-generated (CG) animation. Something characteristic of the show’s charm and humor was its off-the-wall, zero-gravity 2D animation.

While the show’s artists and animators were not sure how this would translate to the CG realm, Hillenburg was adamant in transitioning his characters into a new form.

The direction for the film was inspired from the plot of a season four episode titled “Have You Seen this Snail?” in which Spongebob attempts to find his snail, Gary, after neglecting him for two weeks. Hillenburg felt that the idea of a mission to find Gary could span not just an episode, but a whole movie.

As a nod to the episode, an instrumental version of one of Spongebob’s most famous songs “Gary Come Home” was played as a snippet in the middle of the film.

With Hillenburg and writer of the show Paul Tibbit on board, production plans began in fall of 2018. It was at this point, however, that Hillenburg died, and the idea was put on the back-burner for some time.

Eventually, with some changes in direction, Hill agreed to be fully on-board as the director and screenplay writer for the entire film.

Given that this was one of Hillenburg’s last ideas before his passing, Hill, as one of his closest friends, intended to pay tribute to him and the legacy he had created within his show.

“I think it has a great theme and is built as an homage to Steve Hillenburg,” Hill said in an interview with Nickelodeon news update forum, NickALive. “Everyone comes together to help SpongeBob because of all the things he has done for them. We thought in a way it’s about what this character has meant to people over the years. It’s a celebration of creativity and humor, and by extension, it’s an homage to what Steve gave to all of us during his lifetime. That’s why I wanted to do the movie, because there was something deeply personal about it, which goes beyond just having a great story and memorable characters.”

Many tributes to the creator were shown as Easter eggs throughout the film; this included the first sketch of Spongebob with the caption below reading, “In Memory of Stephen Hillenburg.”

Staying true to the iconic characters without becoming too far-fetched was Hill’s No. 1 priority when writing the movie, as Hillenburg valued simple, powerful stories told by memorable characters. The movie utilized its adventure-style to hone in on the antics, personalities and interactions of Spongebob and his friends.

As a testament to the show’s notoriety, many celebrities were asked to collaborate on the movie and were met with enthusiastic responses. The on-screen talent and voices of Keanu Reeves, Snoop Dog, Awkwafina and Tiffany Haddish found their way into the film as well as musical stylings and performances from Kenny G and Hans Zimmer. To be able to meld the original cast and crew with big names from the spectrum of Hollywood was a thrill for Hill to do.

While the movie received praise from long-time fans, the same was not said for a spinoff show that was released in tandem: “Kamp Koral: Spongebob’s Under Years.” Within the movie, cameos from “Kamp Koral” made their way into the plot as a segway to the backstory of all the Spongebob characters.

Set in their childhood years, the main characters of the original show all find themselves at summer camp and make the friends that would last a lifetime. The show premiered on Paramount+ the same day as the movie with 13 episodes spanning its first season.

While this was an exciting announcement for the writers and producers of the show, the idea was met with harsh criticisms by fans as interviews surfaced of Hillenburg allegedly saying that he did not intend or want for any spin-off shows to be made from the original series. Director of the show and voice of Plankton Mr. Lawrence has attempted to diffuse these claims.

What has made fans even more angry is that the show is credited to Hillenburg at the bottom of the main title screen, saying “Executive Producer: Stephen Hillenburg.” Regardless, the idea has been put to rest by the fact that Kamp Koral was featured within the movie, which implied the idea that Hillenburg knew about the spin off and approved its creation.