Homer's Big-Screen Odyssey; 'The Simpsons' Is a Sitcom Legend. Now It's Coming to a Theater near You
Smith, Sean, Newsweek
Byline: Sean Smith
To make it on the big screen, you have to give people something spectacular. Something extraordinary. Something like Bart Simpson--full frontal. It happens early in "The Simpsons Movie," when the animated 10-year-old takes a dare from his goofball father, Homer, to skateboard naked through the streets of Springfield. Hidden by plants and picket fences, he whizzes along, past kids, down hills, through traffic lights, until, in one shocking moment, little Bart flashes his little part to the entire world. Which may make this the first Hollywood film to show that kind of skin and to escape an R rating.
In a summer bursting with comedies--including major animated fare "Shrek the Third" and the new Pixar film, "Ratatouille"--"The Simpsons Movie," which opens July 27, is both the least hyped and the most anticipated. Since "The Simpsons" debuted in 1989, it has built a fanatical fan base, earned 23 Emmys and generated more than $2.5 billion in revenue, if you include the never-ending selection of T shirts. Now in its 18th season, "The Simpsons" is the longest-running sitcom in history, and it's broadcast in more than 70 countries. An online poll conducted in 2003 by the BBC declared Homer Simpson "The Greatest American." No. 2: Abraham Lincoln. "Homer is what other countries think America is like," says writer-producer Al Jean, who has been with the show since the beginning. "Voting for Homer was like saying, 'Screw you, America.' It's probably part of our success."
Entire books--and a few doctoral dissertations--have analyzed the significance of "The Simpsons": how the family became blue-collar antidotes to idealized "Ozzie & Harriet" Americana, how the show's swirling of stinging social satire and base physical humor helped it to cross all comedy boundaries. All that's true. But the reason people love these dysfunctional yellow characters--and Homer in particular--may be less academic. "Every time someone creates a Ralph Kramden or an Archie Bunker or a Homer Simpson, it's considered one of the greatest characters on TV," Jean says. "Because that's who people really are. We're a show about a family, a screwed-up family, and that's where most people come from." Amid all the absurdity of "The Simpsons" universe, the writers have made sure to keep the nuclear family at the show's center. Creator Matt Groening credits writer and executive producer James L. Brooks with that. "In the writers' room, Jim is the guy who pitches the heartfelt moment, which is very difficult for a comedy writer to do," Groening says. "Everybody is trying to be the most cynical, the most jaded, and Jim is willing to go for that sweet stuff."
That sweet stuff is at the core of the movie, too, but getting it made took almost as many years as Bart has been in the fourth grade. "This movie has been rewritten more heavily than any human document," Jean says. "The thing we fear most is making a bad movie. It's really daunting, because every fan has a vision of what this movie should be." Although animated shows "South Park" and "Rugrats" have successfully made the transition from TV to film, history is littered with sitcom-to-screen forays (e. …