'Simpsons' makers at odds on Homer's stupidity
EmptySo this is what Hollywood has come to -- two producers of one of the summer's most keenly anticipated films are at odds over how dumb their star is. D'oh! It must be "The Simpsons Movie."
The star, Homer Simpson, has been the father of one of the most beloved animated families on television for 18 years.
This Friday he and his wife, Marge, and their kids -- Bart, Lisa and Maggie -- all make their big-screen debut, aiming for major box-office bucks by putting their reputation for generating laughs on the line.
Part of the plot has Homer falling head-over-heels for a slop-eating pig while ignoring his family.
In Hollywood, summer movies are not known for being brainy, but it's rare for filmmakers to publicly impugn the intelligence of their leading man. Then again, this is Homer.
James Brooks, the "Simpsons" writer/producer who has been with the Fox television series since its start, had a one-word answer when asked if Homer's pig obsession is the dumbest stunt Homer's ever pulled.
"Absolutely," he told Reuters.
But "Simpsons" creator Matt Groening is not so sure.
Groening noted that Homer once forgot how to dial the emergency phone number 911. Another time, he sought help from a higher power with the plea: "I'm not normally a praying man, but if you're up there, save me, Superman."
Groening laughs. "The writers and animators compete to see who can come up with the dumbest Homer joke of all," he said.
To top the TV program that first aired in 1989 and now plays in more than 70 countries, "Simpsons Movie" makers tried to raise the stakes for Homer and his family and friends.
Bart goes skateboarding naked through their hometown, Springfield, and then faced with Homer's affection for a pig, Bart looks for fatherly advice from his hated neighbor, the sanctimonious Ned Flanders.
Bart's over-achieving sister Lisa falls for an Irish environmental activist who swears U2's Bono is not his dad. Her plans to clean up a polluted lake are dashed when Homer dumps pig "leavings" in the water, prompting U.S. officials to cap Springfield with a dome.
When Homer's antics threaten his family, Marge steps in to show him the error of his ways.
Along the way, "Simpsons" creators take jabs at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "green" activists, "President" Arnold Schwarzenegger and all the rest of us who ever did a really stupid thing, then later learned to laugh at ourselves.
"There is a great deal of joy in watching someone who's got it worse than you," Groening said.
Since 1987, when the yellow-skinned family first appeared in animated shorts on "The Tracey Ullman Show," the Simpsons have made millions of fans chuckle.
With more than 400 episodes in circulation, the show has garnered many awards while introducing catch-phrases like Bart's "Eat my shorts" and Homer's anguished half-utterance, "D'oh" to the pop culture lexicon.
Groening and Brooks -- a writer/director/producer whose credits also include such hits as the TV classic "Taxi" and acclaimed film "As Good as It Gets" -- risked the Simpsons' success by making a movie that, if it fails to please fans and flops at box offices, will be a huge disappointment for all.
"This is so much more (pressure) than anything, and we care so much about the 'Simpsons,'" Brooks said.
He noted "The Simpsons Movie" was not even finished until about one week ago as writers and animators continued tinkering with the jokes and gags until the last minute.
Critical reviews await Friday's debut, but early screenings in Los Angeles have left audiences laughing at a movie that, at the very least, should make Homer Simpson proud.