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Matt Groening Answers Questions on The Simpsons Movie

Published July 24, 2007 in Movie Interviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of 20th Century Fox.
The Simpsons Movie The Simpsons Movie

Matt, why has it taken eighteen years to get this movie made and how have you, as well as the Simpsons, evolved in that time?
MG: It’s taken eighteen years because we’re lazy. We’ve been asked that question quite a bit and we don’t have a good answer. Why has it taken eighteen years?

And how have you evolved and how has the Simpsons evolved in that eighteen years?
MG: Well you know what’s great about this movie is, on the TV show we were working very quickly, on a tight schedule, a tight budget. And on the movie we were able to work on the script until we got it right. And we took a long time writing the script. And then we went into production and we tried animation that is far more ambitious than anything we’ve ever done in the past and I think it’s inspiring to the entire Simpsons enterprise.

How surprised are you that this has lasted 18 years?
MG: Well, as a cartoonist, this is beyond most cartoonists' dreams. People go into cartooning because they're shy and they're angry. I'm talking about that's when you're sitting in the back of a classroom drawing the teacher. I was just talking the other day with these guys. I went through a phase where people would introduce my at parties as a cartoonist and everybody felt sorry for me. "Oh, Matt's a cartoonist." Then people further feeling sorry for me would ask me to draw Garfield. Because I'm a cartoonist, draw Snoopy or Garfield or something. And now, the feeling of success, being asked to draw Bart and Homer is unbelievable after all these years. [Something about acting] Look at the design of Homer. Very few lines in that face. There's no human iris. It's just a dot and a circle. All you have to do is change the shape of the circle slightly and he's the greatest actor of the 21st century.

And voiced brilliantly.
MG: Dan Castellanetta, yeah, let's talk about the voices. The voices of our cast are absolutely perfect. Dan Castellanett as Homer and Krusty the Clown and Grandpa and all the rest is actually unbelievable. In fact, I think one of our favorite scenes in the movie is Homer trudging through the snow talking to himself, cajoling himself to keep going and as he often does, disagreeing with himself. It was an improvisation by Dan and it's absolutely ???



Who approves the jokes?
MG: The fact is this has been a collaborative effort from the very beginning of the series. It’s an amazing thing. That’s the nature of animation - that’s how animation works, is great writers, great actors and great musicians working together to create something even better. On the Simpsons I will say that we definitely like to comment on what’s going on in the world and as Jim said, we try to be funny. You know, if we can figure out a way of being funny about it then we’ve gone part of the way of accomplishing our task.

MG: It’s very, very hard to describe the process of working with other people, writing jokes, in the same room for hours a day, late into the night for months and in this case years, on end. I think it’s sort of like trying to be amorous with a three headed dog. You’re going to get licked a lot, but someone’s going to get bitten by the end of it.

What sort of lifespan did you envisage for it at the very beginning?
James L Brooks: Well I tend to be pessimistic. If you’re going to ask, ask Matt.
MG: No, I always thought that the series would be successful. I thought if we could get it on the air, I thought kids would tune in for sure. I didn’t know if adults would give an animated prime time TV series a chance, but I thought kids would. And the fact is adults did too. I would say that one of the interesting things about this whole process has been as famous and big the Simpsons have been around the world for the last eighteen years, we were basically working in the dark. We worked very hard on the show and then we’d go home and watch it with our families. And with the making of the movie and the attention that it’s got and the promotions around the movie, specifically Kwik-e-Mart - to see the lines outside of Kwik-e-Mart and the enthusiasm of people were staggering. And yesterday we were in Springfield Vermont for the Springfield premiere of the Simpsons movie and it was – for all of use – it was an amazing experience. We were given the keys to the city and it opens up every door.

So there’s allusions for hard core fans in this film? I’m thinking of the ambulance at the end.
JB: Oh great, great.

I know that’s one of your favourite scenes when Homer falls down.
MG: Yes, definitely Homer going over the Springfield gorge back in one of the very, very early episodes is probably - I think at that moment – what was that? 1990? That was one of my favourite scenes and we pay tribute to that in the movie.

MG: Marge’s big speech in the middle of the movie we did more than 100 takes and kept rewriting and different kinds of performances and going through that and going in different ways.

Do you think that will happen and The Simpsons Movie will reenergize the 2-D form?
MG: I don’t know. That’s so great. They’re very eloquent about that. There is something about the hand drawn gesture. I think it’s why comic books are successful. Comic books are not drawn with computers. They’re people. Fans have their favorite artists. In The Simpsons I can see specific personalities of animators and directors. I can see David Silverman in basically everything that the Simpsons are today because of the rules that David and his cohorts established back in 1989. Back in the very early days we were basically making it up from scene to scene and realized that the characters had to look the same if it were going to be professional and these days we still try to obey the rule of no unnecessary motion and no unnecessary lines. [He goes over to The Simpson Movie poster on display to demonstrate his point.] Here’s Homer, very simple. In a regular animated character, in a conventional non-Simpson cartoon, if you’re going to indicate some kind of emotion of anger, it would probably be the lines would frown and there’d be lines up here and there’d be all sorts of extraneous lines. In The Simpsons, we try to do every single emotion without adding extra lines, maybe a line here. Even in this poster where Homer has his mouth full of donut, we debated this line [indicates line near Homer’s mouth]. What if he didn’t have that? What if it’s just like that?
David Silverman: That was two years by the way. [laughs]

MG: And so I love it – that deer in the headlights look that we have from this poster is something that you don’t see in other movies.

The Simpsons Movie opens to theatres on July 27th.

For the trailers, posters, synopsis and more movie info, go to The Simpsons Movie Movie Page.

Stay tuned for updates.

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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of 20th Century Fox.
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