The boldness and brilliance of SpongeBob SquarePants ensures Stephen Hillenburg will never be forgotten



By Leah Martindale, Third Year, Film

The world of children’s entertainment was left shaken on November 26 by the news of the death of Stephen Hillenburg, creator of the beloved animated series SpongeBob SquarePants. Hillenburg gifted the world his marvellously bizarre and eternally wholesome creation, and the world was never the same.

Twitter / @Nickelodeon

I was especially changed: his absurd creation was a shining light to an equally absurd and ridiculous child, gifting me with laugh after laugh and the occasional moral tutelage. Following the adventures of a sea-sponge fry cook, his squid neighbour, crab boss, starfish best friend, squirrel pal, and plankton arch-nemesis, the show is as odd as you can imagine, and definitely shaped me into the weirdo I am today.

SpongeBob’s 20+ year run time has had its fair share of truly iconic moments. From SpongeBob and Patrick’s parching visit to Sandy’s dome, to the iconic Super Bowl 'Band Geeks' performance of ‘Sweet Victory’. From the absurdness of SpongeBob’s creepy pencil wielding doppelganger DoodleBob to the thought-provokingness of Mr Krab’s factory farm in 'Jellyfish Hunter', the show transcended the mind-numbingness of certain kids’ media and became an unwieldy law unto itself.

Twitter / @Nickolodeon

The show finally made the jump to the big screen with The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (2004), which starts with SpongeBob being rejected for a promotion to manager of the new ‘Krusty Krab 2’, opening right next door to the original Krusty Krab. After Mr Krabs is frozen by the angry King Neptune, SpongeBob and Patrick must embark on a noble quest to save Mr Krabs.

The film featured a veritable feast of celebrity voice actors, including Scarlett Johannson as Princess Mindy, Alec Baldwin as bubble-berating bad guy Dennis, and David Hasselhoff as a human motorboat which Spongebob and Patrick ride to safety.

With memorable musical numbers like the rip-roaring ‘Now That We’re Men’, the heartbreak of SpongeBob’s failure to win his dream promotion, and fourth-wall-shattering live-action pirates watching along with the audience, the film is equally feastful for the senses as a now 21-year-old as it was on its release when I was aged seven.


IMDb / Paramount Pictures / Viacom International

A piece of SpongeBob media canon that is, in my personal opinion, criminally overlooked is The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie PC game, released in the same year as the film. Following the same plot, it allowed you to live what must be every seven-year-old’s dream of living in Bikini Bottom and going on adventures with your dopey pink starfish friend.

In the day and age that we live in, no piece of media is truly immersed into the culture until it has made it to meme-dom. This is not a feat that SpongeBob has ever struggled with, most notably with the iconic Blurry Mr Krabs, perfectly applicable to any moment of stress or disorientation.

Other meme examples also recently featured Breathless SpongeBob, Evil Patrick, Squidward Looking Out the Window, just to name a few. The contexts have ranged from family-friendly fun to hilarious debauchery, but no matter the caption, it is undeniable that SpongeBob memes are fully integrated into the meme subconscious.

Twitter / @Phil_Lewis

While it is debatably the show’s bizarre humour, cultural relevance, or relatable ‘memeability’ that have kept it afloat so long, I’d argue another, more wholesome reason. The show has tricked an entire generation of viewers into learning some very basic, and very necessary life lessons.

When I asked my flatmate what she thought the main takeaway from SpongeBob SquarePants was, she said: 'perseverance and a positive attitude'. If we can take anything away from SpongeBob’s 1,258,058 failed driving tests, as calculated by, it is that you should never give up on your dreams.

Twitter / @DashawnJ

The constant rejection of SpongeBob’s friendship by his grumpy neighbour Squidward could be taken as a depressing indictment of the decline of the art of conversation, but instead it proves that positivity precedes any problems of personal pride. His determination and kindness in the face of total indifference is admirable.

It is easy to take SpongeBob’s stagnating role in a local fast-food joint as a sign of the decline of modern aspiration, but this provides the audience with a more life-affirming moral: do what makes you happy. You do not have to be like the rest of your reef - you can swim your own course, or spin in circles with your school, to your heart’s content.

Twitter / @SpongeBob

Thank you for inspiring us, Stephen, and for giving us the opportunity to be unashamedly weird, wild, and wonderful.

Featured Image Credit: Facebook / SpongeBob SquarePants

What's your fondest memory of the sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea?

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Leah Martindale

Full-time 3rd year Film & Television student, Instagram storier, and ABBA enthusiast, amateur film critic. Can always be found writing from bed.