As The Simpsons Movie finally hits cinemas, Paul Dale tracks its journey to fruition with creator Matt Groening
Occasionally procrastination can be the mother of invention. No one knows this better than 53-year-old Simpsons’ writer and creator Matt Groening: ‘We have been talking about doing a movie since about 1992, but we were always working on the show. We didn’t take vacations - we worked all year round. We wrote 24 episodes a year and it takes six-to-eight months to make single episode, you can add that up, it’s a lot of work. We just didn’t have time; and we didn’t have a team waiting in the wings ready to do a movie. But when we realised we were coming up on our 20th year of The Simpsons since 1987, and our 400th episode, we decided, whatever it takes, we should have a movie out.’
After 18 seasons, 23 Emmys and a designation from Time magazine as the ‘best television show of the 20th century’ Groening set about organising the huge challenge he had set for himself. ‘Director David Silverman, producer Al Jean, James L Brooks and me thought about what we wanted to put in the movie that we couldn’t show on television - like Bart naked. And also by the way, we argued over every single joke and scene in the movie because we didn’t have a strict deadline to begin with, it took a long time to write the script. For instance, the scene with Homer on the roof with Bart, it was my contention that if you put Homer on the roof, by the end of the scene he must fall off the roof. He just had to do that. And I think everybody expected but in the way it happened, him going through the roof was a surprise. That’s the kind of stupid, slight gag that we are very proud of.’
Groening and part of what he calls ‘The Simpsons all-star team of writers’ (including veteran screenwriter John Swartzwelder) then hot-housed and fine-tuned the film while others continued on the TV series. When the long toil was over Groening’s relief was almost overwhelming: ‘For me, that’s my favourite part of the entire process. The very end of the animation is done and we are just mixing sound effects and music and you can really make a joke hit if you can get the right sound effect. And yes, there is definitely a tribute to the great Warner Brothers cartoons in there and a good send up of Disney style animation. One of the great bits of fun we have in the show and in the movie is that there is no style of comedy we can’t tackle. We can do very sophisticated wordplay and smart dialogue and we can also do the hammer in the eye joke, that’s our homage to Un Chien Andalou.’
So after all these years and all this toil what does Groening put this badly-drawn, dysfunctional family’s continued popularity down to? He laughs: ‘To be honest I have found that stupidity and the love of stupidity is universal.’
The Simpsons Movie is on general release from Fri 27 Jul. See Also Released.