A whole new theme park opening next summer, Universal Studios Beijing will feature seven themed lands. Some of these lands are ones we’ve seen before, like the Wizarding World, while others will be all-new, created just for this park, like the Kung-Fu Panda Land of Awesomeness. But, the plans for this park changed many times while in development.
Instead of a land based on Po the Kung-Fu Panda, it was going to be based on someone who lives in a pineapple under the sea. Here’s the unbuilt history of the SpongeBob SquarePants land we almost got. Be sure to check out the video version for additional visuals below.
Part 1 — To Nintendo, or Not to Nintendo
When Universal’s creative team first sat down to design the upcoming Universal Studios Beijing park, it was intended to be a “best of” park. Something across between a studios park and Islands of Adventure, this new park would stand apart from what had come before, and feature a collection of the best, as well as some of the newest, attractions that ALL of the Universal parks around the world had to offer.
Some of the best were originally going to include tried and true classics like Jurassic Park and Revenge of the Mummy. Some of the newest could possibly include Diagon Alley and the upcoming (at the time) Fast & Furious Supercharged. And knowing that they were about to finalize a deal with Nintendo, of course this brand new park would open with Super Nintendo World, right?
During the first year of development, what many call the “blue sky” phase of designing a new theme park, Super Nintendo World was included in the plans. However, the team soon learned that Nintendo just wasn’t that well known in China, (although, that is starting to change now, five years later). Here is how Tom Williams, Chairman and CEO of Universal Parks & Resorts, put it in an interview last year: “Any place we are not going to start round one is in Beijing. There is a tension between the Japanese products in China.”
Universal Creative suddenly had a hole in the plans, just as the rest of the new park was coming together. Jurassic Park had been swapped out for the fresher Jurassic World, and instead of a general “Sci-Fi” land like they have in Singapore, they decided to create an entire land just for Transformers. This was around the time when theme parks were starting to focus on single IP-based lands. That way guests could be fully immersed in a fully-fleshed out world, instead of a collection of different properties packed into one land. But what world could they add where Super Nintendo World once stood?
They knew they wanted something that would appeal to children, since it was replacing Nintendo, so an animated property would fit the bill. They lost the Jurassic Park River Adventure when they switched to Jurassic World, which was going to feature an indoor dark ride instead. So, they wondered, what would be an family-friendly animated world where a boat ride would make sense?
Part 2 — Enter Bikini Bottom
Designers set their sights on SpongeBob SquarePants to fill the void. To create an immersive land based on Bikini Bottom, where guests would feel like they were under the sea, it was decided that this new area would be placed entirely indoors. Special lighting on the walls and ceiling would create a water-like effect, while the show’s trademark flower-shaped clouds scroll by in the background.
Since this area would be catered to children, there would be an interactive play area with a splash pad, character meet and greets, and even two flat rides in the indoor land, including a carousel. Kids would of course be able to meet with SpongeBob in his pineapple-shaped home, along with other characters around the land.
Rumors had one of the kiddie rides themed as the Chum Buckets, operated by Plankton, and the other as a carousel where you get to ride on fun bubble-shaped creatures with Patrick. The play area and splash pad would be designed to look like Mussel Beach and Goo Lagoon, with the Flying Dutchman’s ship parked nearby for exploring.
Even more obvious than the area’s rides, would be what types of dining establishments to include in a land based on the popular cartoon show. The Krusty Krab would be faithfully recreated in real life, serving the iconic Krabby Patties. Other food locations were to be included as well, all based on their animated counterparts. Even the land’s gift shops would be taken straight out of the cartoon, with facades themed as Barg’N-Mart and the Toy Barrel.
All of this is would be in the main courtyard area of the enclosed land, but at the back of the land would be its main attraction.
Part 3 — Boating School
Themed as a location that first appeared in a popular season one episode, the land’s main attraction would be a “Mrs. Puff’s Boating School” indoor boat ride. The ride’s entrance and queue would be set within the Boating School, with us entering through the school and lighthouse. The queue would be set within parts of the driving course around the school within the fenced in area.
But the ride itself would have us leaving the road course behind, and heading out into Bikini Bottom. We would pass many of the show’s main characters in a few recognizable locations. At one point our boat would venture out into a section of the land itself, near one of the flat rides, adding a bit of kinetic energy to the area.
Next we would find ourselves passing through a carnival, with characters enjoying rides on physical attractions like a rotating Ferris wheel and spinning teacups. Near the end of the attraction, our boat would become lost in a tunnel, before splashing down a (family-friendly) drop, right into the dark and creepy Rock Bottom.
The ride would’ve incorporated real sets and animatronics, as well as screen projected backgrounds to include animated effects like bubbles, background set extensions, and the unusual deep-sea animals of Rock Bottom.
Part 4 — What Happened?
It’s not clear why, but shortly after the SpongeBob land was designed it was cancelled. It’s possible they weren’t able to secure the theme park rights from Nickelodeon in the region—or perhaps they tested the concept and found a lack of interest from the local market? Whatever the reason, this plot, which was originally reserved for Nintendo, and then designed for SpongeBob, was once again without a concept.
Less than a year later, something would happen that changed that. Comcast acquired the DreamWorks Animation company, including their back catalog of films, as well as any ongoing projects. One of the properties included in the deal was Kung-Fu Panda, a property that was very popular in the region. In fact, the third film in the series, which had just recently opened, earned more money in the Chinese market than it did domestically.
Even better, is that this child-friendly, animated franchise could easily be molded into the existing design for the previously developed Bikini Bottom layout. This is why we have an indoor “Kung-Fu Panda Land of Awesomeness” opening with Universal Studios Beijing. It is why the land will feature two flat rides—a carousel and balloon ride—and an indoor boat ride. Instead of Krabby Patties, guests will be able to order ramen from Mr. Ping’s Noodle Shop. The land’s layout and attraction lineup may be the same, but it became a completely different world.
New theme parks undergo all kinds of changes, especially in the early development phase. Ideas for new lands and attractions that never come to fruition are common. Unfortunately, one of them, was a new Universal land based on SpongeBob SquarePants… But who knows, maybe this will be one of those ideas that’ll be given a second life someday. There are plenty of other Universal parks where Bikini Bottom would fit perfectly. One area of Universal Studios Florida even has a store named after him already… Then again, that land may be cursed.
That’s all for now! Be sure to check out the video version of this article here. And you can see our previous articles about unbuilt attractions here. Subscribe to the news feed to never miss an update, or enter your email address below. Concept Art: Universal Beijing Resort | Screenshots: SpongeBob Fandom