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Just because you've been ruling the Seven Seas since before humanity first walked onto dry land doesn't mean you need to maintain the same look over the eons. That's right, we're talking about King Neptune — or Poseidon if you subscribe to the Greek side of mythology — the maritime deity who has appeared in three separate forms in Nickelodeon's SpongeBob SquarePants universe.
The character (voiced by Seinfeld's John O'Hurley) first showed up in Season 1 as a haughty god who ends up losing a high-stakes cooking competition to SpongeBob (Tom Kenny). He popped up again four years later in the first SpongeBob movie as a single father (voiced by Arrested Development's Jeffrey Tambor) who was self-conscious about his balding head. And now, the monarch of all that resides below the waves is back with yet another fresh design in The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run. This aquatic autocrat (voiced by What We Do in the Shadows' Matt Berry) goes by the name of Poseidon. In the film, he's introduced as the incredibly vain ruler of Atlantic City, and he selfishly uses snail slime to rejuvenate his perfect skin.
"There was no real focused plan to make him any different," writer/director Tim Hill explained to SYFY WIRE during a Zoom interview. "It was just that [series creator] Steve Hillenburg had an episode where Gary went missing and he wanted to springboard off of that idea for the movie. And so, he had discovered that snails are used for skincare and I guess they crush them up or something. [Laughs.] So, Gary is the last snail that King [Poseidon needs]."
The film's plot kicks into maximum overdrive when Plankton (Mr. Lawrence), in a last-ditch effort to steal the Krabby Patty formula, "snail-naps" SpongeBob's pet snail, Gary (also voiced by Kenny), and sends the meowing mollusk to Poseidon's Vegas-inspired domain. As a result, SpongeBob and Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) set off on another Patty Wagon-based road trip to rescue Gary before Poseidon causes sea snails to go extinct.
"His character had to be a little more into himself and his looks," Hill continues. "We adjusted the character for the story. He’s had several iterations... he’s basically the same, as far as mythology goes. One’s Greek and one’s Roman, I guess. [Laughs.] It really was just finding the character vis-à-vis the story and [we decided on] a guy who’s really vain and also doesn’t realize that he’s killing off snails."
"Knowing that Matt Berry was [involved], I'm a huge Matt Berry fan, so I wanted to make it extra good for everybody," Reggie Watts, who voices the king's chancellor, says.
During an interview for the first movie in 2004, Tambor also characterized his version of Neptune as being obsessed with his looks. "He's kind of a lousy ruler," the actor said. "My character's very vain because he's bald... unlike me. He's a bully."
Meanwhile, back on the TV show that started it all, O'Hurley reprised his version of the Neptune role for three more episodes of the main series. "It's fun to have that body of work, especially King Neptune on SpongeBob and Phineas and Ferb [where he plays Roger Doofenshmirtz] on Disney, and about 15 other cartoons that I do and enjoy so much," he said last spring, adding that his voiceover roles helped him get closer to his son. "It's fun to have a body of work that he could watch and that meant the world to me. Just to be able to have something he and his friends could put their arms around and I could be a part of it."
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run is now available to stream on Paramount+ (formerly known as CBS All Access). Subscribers can also watch Nickelodeon's new prequel series, Kamp Koral: SpongeBob's Under Years, which ties directly into the feature film. A second spinoff, The Patrick Star Show, is slated to debut this summer.