After almost 15 years in development, The Simpsons Movie hit cinemas in 2007 – but here’s a look at the silver-screen Springfield adventures that we could have had.
By all accounts, The Simpsons Movie was inevitable just as soon as the animated sitcom became a huge global hit on TV, but the producers always expected it would happen after the show ended. The show started in 1989 and when it kept being successful, they kept having to make more episodes, and more than 30 years’ later, it’s the longest-running prime-time comedy series of all time.
Another obstacle was adapting the show’s breakneck pace for a full-length feature. As early as 1991, creator and executive producer Matt Groening told Entertainment Weekly ”I’m sure it will happen but there’s no story yet. We plan so much story into one half hour that it’s hard to figure out how to take advantage of the (movie) medium.”
While the show’s classic high-energy gag rate may not have been as relentless as it was at that point, (that was Season 3, and this month sees the start of Season 33 on US TV) distinguishing a movie from the series was important for the producers. Sure, the finished film offers a widescreen look and an upgraded animation style where the characters have shadows for the first time, but in the process of finding a feature-worthy story, there were various ideas and concepts that didn’t make the cut.
Development wouldn’t begin in earnest until a decade later, when producer James L Brooks got incoming 20th Century Fox Pictures chairman Tom Rothman to agree that the creative team had script approval, and if they didn’t feel they had a movie, they wouldn’t make a movie. And so, at a series of creative retreats starting in 2003, a dream team of the series’ past showrunners and writers wrote and rewrote the script over the following four years, pretty much up until the film was released.
Released in 2007, The Simpsons Movie sees Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie go on the run as the town of Springfield falls under the shadow of a huge, impenetrable dome. But before and during the process of writing the film, there were various ideas and concepts for Simpsons movies that didn’t make it into the Springfieldians’ first-ever (and thus far only) feature-length outing to date.
From the ideas that became episodes instead to the wild parodies of other films, here are some of the stories that haven’t reached cinemas…
The famous example of a Simpsons episode that was “almost” a movie is the Season 4 opener Kamp Krusty. Held over from the third season’s production run, the episode sees Bart and Lisa’s dream trip to the titular summer camp turn into a junior uprising against the masters of a Krusty-branded dystopian nightmare. It was producer James L Brooks who saw the completed episode and suggested that the story might be expanded into a Simpsons movie instead.
However, as writer Al Jean recalls on the episode’s DVD commentary, the episode already under-ran (they had to add a couple of verses to the Kamp Krusty anthem to make it a full-length episode) and asked Brooks “If we can’t make 18 minutes out of this episode, how are we supposed to make 80?” It shows that the episode was designed to close Season 3 rather than open Season 4, but with its riotous first act, hilarious escalation, and dizzying gag rate, it’s a belter of an opener all the same.
In Season 6’s Itchy & Scratchy Land, there’s a short spoof of 1940’s Fantasia, specifically The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which overlaps with another long-mooted idea for The Simpsons Movie. As a lifelong fan of musicals, Groening was enthusiastic about mounting a parody of Disney’s musical anthology film, known by the not-so-catchy working title Simpstasia.
According to former showrunner Mike Reiss, Groening wanted to make this dialogue-lite episode, but having found that scripts heavy on stage directions were hard to gauge at a readthrough, the idea was held over for a potential big-screen outing. The idea of a musical persisted throughout pre-production on the 2007 movie, but as the musical numbers were continually shortened and abridged in successive script drafts, the all-singing, all-dancing version was eventually scrapped. As it stands, The Simpsons Movie’s main allusion to classic Disney films comes when a gaggle of helpful woodland creatures prepare Homer and Marge for a snuggling sesh.
The Troy McClure movie
You may remember Troy McClure from such films as Gladys The Groovy Mule and They Came To Burgle Carnegie Hall. Voiced by the late, great Phil Hartman, Springfield’s resident journeyman actor and walking IMDb page is one of the most memorable supporting characters on The Simpsons’ enviable roster. According to the writers, Hartman was eager to make a live-action film spinning off McClure.
Showrunners Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein had previously decided to produce Season 7’s A Fish Called Selma in order to give McClure more of a showcase, and this episode, in which McClure marries Marge’s sister Selma in a bid to gain publicity and resurrect his career, was reportedly going to be the basis for the spin-off. However, it’s easy to imagine a live-action Troy McClure skewing a little more towards I’m Alan Partridge than The Simpsons.
Tragically, Hartman died in 1998 and his recurring characters, McClure and useless lawyer Lionel Hutz, were duly retired from the show thereafter. Much missed though he is, he does take the starring role in A Fish Called Selma, and what is maybe The Simpsons’ greatest ever movie parody, the Broadway stage musical Stop The Planet Of The Apes, I Want To Get Off!
The Bonfire Of The Manatees
One of the key stumbling blocks in getting the film made was that the show was still ongoing, with 20 or more episodes a year being produced at the same time as several of the writers were working on the movie. Accordingly, some of the writers’ unused pitches for the movie made their way into episodes of the series instead.
For instance, Jean’s pitch about the family rescuing manatees was ultimately adopted for the Season 17 episode The Bonfire Of The Manatees, in which Marge falls out with Homer (probably not for the first time that season) and leaves to do conservation work with marine scientist Caleb (guest star Alec Baldwin). Marge does leave Homer at the end of the second act of the movie, but it’s played for much more emotional effect than this adventure with sea-cows.
A Truman Show spoof
Another pitch from a 2003 writers’ retreat session involved the Simpsons becoming aware their lives were being filmed for a reality show, in a spoof likened to 1998’s The Truman Show (which happens to star Simpsons voice actor Harry Shearer as a talk show). This idea wouldn’t have been a million miles from previous outings, most notably Season 11’s Behind The Laughter, a meta-mockumentary in which the family reflect on their own rise to fame.
Still, although meta episodes like this had previously riffed on the Simpsons as stars of their own show, Groening vetoed this more self-aware approach for the film. Brooks and Groening were both pushing for a more emotional storyline to justify the expanded story, and a non-canon escapade wouldn’t have cut it. However, elements of this plot made it into The Simpsons Game, released on various console platforms to coincide with the movie’s release.
The return of Hank Scorpio
As the film took shape, the writers considered bringing back one of the show’s all-time great one-off characters. Usually credited as simply “A. Brooks”, Albert Brooks has voiced many characters throughout the series’ lifetime, but in Season 8’s You Only Move Twice, he gives us his greatest ever guest-turn, as ultimate nice-guy-boss and part-time Bond villain Hank Scorpio, who successfully seizes the east coast of the USA by the episode’s end.
Brooks was in for the movie and at one time, Scorpio could have been the film’s main antagonist, but over time, the idea was dropped. Instead, Brooks voiced another memorable maniac in the shape of evil EPA head Russ Cargill, a cinematic descendant of Ghostbusters’ Walter Peck, who quarantines Springfield under the dome (to all Stephen King fans reading – Simpsons did it!) after an environmental disaster. Scorpio is a lot of fun, but hey, we’ll always have France. Nobody ever says Italy…
Maggie Simpson’s second word ever in the post-credits sting of The Simpsons Movie, and her question of a follow-up has dangled ever since, both behind the scenes and in throwaway gags from newer episodes of the remarkably long-lived series. It’s said that the writers and animators ultimately created two movies’ worth of content, but as yet, there’s been no follow-up to the 86-minute feature.
The movie was a huge hit at the box office, eventually becoming the second highest-grossing traditionally animated movie of all time, so it’s unsurprising that Fox asked Brooks et al for a sequel, but it seems to be getting made on the same terms as the first film, and the writers remain preoccupied on making the TV series. Jean reported in 2014 that the episode The Man Who Came To Be Dinner, a rare non-Treehouse Of Horror sci-fi outing featuring aliens Kang and Kodos, was held back two years because Brooks considered it to be potential sequel material, but nothing came of this and the episode went out during Season 26.
We have seen the characters on the big screen since, through Maggie-centric short films such as the Oscar-nominated The Longest Daycare in 2012 and the more fanciful Playdate With Destiny, which played before Pixar’s Onward in cinemas earlier this year. The latter is the sort of cutesy fare that will have Comic Book Guys and more concerned fans alike crying “Disneyfication”, but the show is still ongoing, and these shorts are unlikely to represent a long-term future version of The Simpsons proper.
Since Disney completed its acquisition of 20th Century Fox in 2019, a sequel has looked a little more likely, even if development remains in the “earliest stages”, according to those in the know. Not to give anyone déjà vu, but Groening is still sure there’ll be a movie, (another one) as he remarked at last year’s San Diego Comic Con panel for the series: “No doubt there will be another Simpsons movie one of these days. I think Disney wants something for its money.”
The parent show is still going almost three and a half decades on, but mathematically speaking, we must now be much closer to the eventual end of The Simpsons than we are to the beginning. And even with 32 seasons and a movie under their belt, the message from the creative team seems to be the same – there’ll probably be a movie (another one) once the show has ended.
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