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Is it the Right Time for a Franchise? – TheFantasyTimes

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By Jitin Gambhir

Is it the Right Time for a Franchise?



Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? The answer to that question is none other than SpongeBob SquarePants. For over two decades, this yellow sponge has been the star of the titular Nickelodeon series that takes place in the odd city of Bikini Bottom. Despite having video games and comic books, Nickelodeon was hesitant to oversaturate the market with spin-offs and additional media. That is, until recently.

SpongeBob SquarePants is one of American television’s most iconic and longest-running shows, receiving numerous award wins and nominations in its nearly 25-year history. The first three seasons are regarded by fans as the show’s best era and among the greatest seasons of any animated series. Everyone knows the cultural juggernaut status of the Krusty Krab fry cook, so it should come as no surprise that the universe is expanding through spin-off series and movies.

The original series premiered in 1999, and if creator Stephen Hillenburg’s original plan was followed, those three seasons might have been all we got. Hillenburg planned to end the series in 2004 after the third season and film. That’s why the first movie feels so much like the show’s swan song. However, Nickelodeon didn’t want to let their square yellow cash cow go and opted to continue the show. That would have seemed like a good time to launch a spin-off, right? Nope, it was still just the original show.

The next franchise expansion didn’t come until 2015, with the release of The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water. That film saw the franchise’s first utilization of CG animation in addition to the traditional 2D style, which may have given the executives some ideas. In November 2018, Hillenburg passed away after a battle with ALS. Shortly after that, in February 2019, it was confirmed that the first spin-offs of SpongeBob SquarePants were in development. This timeline upset some fans, as it was believed that Hillenburg never wanted the show to have any spin-off or crossover media.

2020’s The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run was the launching ground for the first spin-off series. The movie introduced Kamp Koral, a summer camp attended by all the main characters as children and the center focus of the Paramount+ prequel series Kamp Koral: SpongeBob’s Under Years. In a significant stylistic shift, both Sponge on the Run and Battle Coral are animated entirely in CGI. With one spin-off down, Nickelodeon wasted no time in launching another. In July 2021, just four months after Battle Coral, the network debuted The Patrick Star Show.

As of 2020, the SpongeBob Cinematic Universe (SCU, if you will) has released three conventional films. By conventional, we mean they focus on the lead character as he takes a hero’s journey outside the confines of Bikini Bottom. 2025 will see the talking sponge’s fourth foray onto the big screen with The SpongeBob Movie: Search for SquarePants. Before that, however, we should remind you that the spin-off craze has also made its way to the movies. In 2024, Netflix will release Saving Bikini Bottom: The Sandy Cheeks Movie. This one (also in CG animation) may have a chance at a warmer reception from fans, as Sandy is a character historically underutilized in relation to the rest of the main cast. Sandy’s adventure won’t be the only one, as at least three different spin-off movies are confirmed to be in development.

No one can deny the power of SpongeBob SquarePants as a cultural institution. He’s Nickelodeon’s mascot. However, we also can’t deny that the show’s days of total domination are long behind it. Launching these spin-offs 10, 15 years ago would have been unstoppable. So why now? Maybe Nickelodeon parent Viacom wanted recognizable titles for its then-new streaming service Paramount+, and expanding SpongeBob was the best option. Perhaps there is some truth to the waiting-for-Hillenburg-to… theory.

On the flip side, what if the spin-offs were launched because of the show’s slipping relevancy? How do you keep audiences invested in an iconic but aging property? Revitalize it with new twists. That would explain the shift in animation style and focus on secondary characters. Viewers will likely tune in to a new take on a beloved franchise. Even if the glory days are behind it, everyone knows SpongeBob and the franchise has a long way to go before it runs out of steam.

Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? SpongeBob SquarePants. For over 20 years, there was only one place to see our square yellow resident of the odd city Bikini Bottom, his titular Nickelodeon series. Aside from video games and comic books, Nickelodeon resisted oversaturating the sponge with spin-offs and additional media. That is, until relatively recently.


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SpongeBob SquarePants is one of American television’s most iconic and longest-running shows. The highest-rated flagship show of Nickelodeon, it’s received numerous award wins and nominations in its nearly 25-year history. In particular, the first three seasons are regarded by fans as the show’s best era and among the greatest seasons of any animated series. Everyone knows the cultural juggernaut status of the Krusty Krab fry cook, so expanding the universe through spin-off series and movies should come as no surprise. What’s a little harder to understand is why it took so long for the universe to materialize.

Though the original series premiered in 1999, the first spin-offs didn’t start until 2021. Some fans would argue that the last time SpongeBob was truly dominant was 2004 when the acclaimed third season ended and the first film debuted. Others might say it was still relevant through the late 2000s and 2010s, even as it was hit with a perceived dip in quality. In any case, by 2021, the show was far from being “must-watch” TV for audiences. So why launch a franchise now? Let’s take a look.


The Early Years

Spongebob Time Machine
Paramount Global

SpongeBob SquarePants debuted on Nickelodeon on May 1, 1999. Its relatable humor and quirky cast of characters made it an enduring hit that’s held up for a quarter of a century. The first three seasons stand up there with the best of any animated series; we’re still quoting them all these years later. By the way, is mayonnaise an instrument?

If creator Stephen Hillenburg’s original plan was followed, those three seasons might have been all we got. Hillenburg planned to end the series in 2004 after the third season and film. That’s why the first movie feels so much like the show’s swan song (Plankton arrested, SpongeBob’s promotion, the second Krusty Krab). However, Nickelodeon didn’t want to let their square yellow cash cow go and opted to continue the show. That would have seemed like a good time to launch a spin-off, right? Nope, it was still just the original show.

Related: 3 Reasons Why SpongeBob SquarePants is One Giant Message About Environmentalism

The next franchise expansion didn’t come until 2015, with the release of The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water. That film saw the franchise’s first utilization of CG animation in addition to the traditional 2D style, which may have given the executives some ideas.

The Modern Era and Movies

Spongebob Spin-Off Kamp Koral Is Coming to CBS All Access in 2021
Paramount Global

In November 2018, Hillenburg passed away after a battle with ALS. Shortly after that, in February 2019, it was confirmed that the first spin-offs of SpongeBob SquarePants were in development. This timeline upset some fans, as it was believed that Hillenburg never wanted the show to have any spin-off or crossover media. It’s easy to see how fans interpreted this as the network waiting for Hillenburg to pass before starting spin-offs. Whether or not that was the case, the optics weren’t great. Nevertheless, the spin-offs went ahead.

2020’s The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Runthe franchise’s third film, was the launching ground for the first spin-off series. The movie introduced Kamp Koral, a summer camp attended by all the main characters as children and the center focus of the Paramount+ prequel series Kamp Koral: SpongeBob’s Under Years.

In a significant stylistic shift, both Sponge on the Run and Battle Coral are animated entirely in CGI. With one spin-off down, Nickelodeon wasted no time in launching another. In July 2021, just four months after Battle Coralthe network debuted The Patrick Star Show. Featuring the familiar 2D animation style, this show centers on Patrick hosting a television show with the help of his family.

Since the SpongeBob Cinematic Universe’s continuity has never been a strong suit, this starfish family is entirely different from the one introduced on the parent show.

Related: SpongeBob SquarePants: The 10 Best Characters from the TV Show, Ranked

As of 2020, the SpongeBob Cinematic Universe (SCU, if you will) has released three fairly conventional films. By conventional, we mean they focus on the lead character as he takes a hero’s journey outside the confines of Bikini Bottom. 2025 will see the talking sponge’s fourth foray onto the big screen with The SpongeBob Movie: Search for SquarePants.

Before that, however, we should remind you that the spin-off craze has also made its way to the movies. In 2024, Netflix will release Saving Bikini Bottom: The Sandy Cheeks Movie. This one (also in CG animation) may have a chance at a warmer reception from fans, as Sandy is a character historically underutilized in relation to the rest of the main cast. Sandy’s adventure won’t be the only one, as at least three different spin-off movies are confirmed to be in development.

Is It Too Late for a Franchise?

SpongeBob SquarePants from the series of the same name
Nickelodeon

No one can deny the power of SpongeBob SquarePants as a cultural institution. He’s Nickelodeon’s mascot. However, we also can’t deny that the show’s days of total domination are long behind it. Launch these spin-offs 10, 15 years ago, and they may have been unstoppable. So why now? Maybe Nickelodeon parent Viacom wanted recognizable titles for its then-new streaming service Paramount+, and expanding SpongeBob was the best option. Perhaps there is some truth to the waiting-for-Hillenburg-to… theory.

On the flip side, what if the spin-offs were launched because of the show’s slipping relevancy? How do you keep audiences invested in an iconic but aging property? Revitalize it with new twists. That would explain the shift in animation style and focus on secondary characters. We’ve followed SpongeBob for 25 years, but what about the other characters? Good or bad, viewers will likely tune in to a new take on a beloved franchise.

Even if the glory days are behind it, everyone knows SpongeBoband the franchise has a long way to go before it runs out of steam.

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