Movie caps 18-year phenomenonWritten by Justin R. Kalmes | | firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s time to lace up your Assassins, hop into your Canyonero and drive to the nearest movie theater. “The Simpsons Movie,” 18 years in the making, has fans hoping for the “Best. Movie. Ever.”
Don’t have a cow, man, but America’s favorite four-fingered family has finally made the jump from the boob tube to the silver screen. But jiminy jillikers, Radioactive Man, this isn’t just a cartoon. In fact, Entertainment Weekly rated the release of “The Simpsons Movie” as its No. 1 “Top 20 Events of 2007.”
“It’s raised the bar for comedy,” said Dan Snierson, a senior writer for Entertainment Weekly, who wrote about how the movie came to fruition in the magazine’s July 27 issue. “It’s showed you that you can make a show that hits on many levels.”
Snierson met with the movie’s production team about a half dozen times for his piece on the film. A longtime fan of the television series, Snierson said he enjoyed talking to the movie’s writer-producers — James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Al Jean and Mike Scully.
“It was sort of like going into the Willy Wonka chocolate factory in a lot of ways,” Snierson said. “It was fun to work your way into the inner circle and just get a peek of what was bubbling in the pot.”
Though his behind-the-scenes work granted him access to a world many Simpsons fans would sell their soul for, Snierson said those who worked on the movie remained “pretty secretive around the operation.”
“I think they liked the idea that people were sort of wondering what these mad chemists were cooking up,” he said.
Pop culture phenomenon
For Charles Coletta, an instructor in the BGSU Department of Popular Culture, “The Simpsons” is one of the few things he talks about in class that all of his students have some sort of familiarity with. He said few television shows have been able to make as significant an impact as “The Simpsons.”
“The longevity is probably the most astounding thing,” Coletta said. “I’m sure [the show’s creators] never in a million years believed that this thing would be going strong almost 20 years later.”
Most shows, Coletta said, are lucky to make it to 100 episodes. “The Simpsons” has 400 episodes to its credit, making it the longest-running animated or live action sitcom in the United States. Only “Gunsmoke” has produced more seasons (20) than “The Simpsons.”
That the series has survived nearly two decades can be credited to the show’s number of characters and their depth, Coletta said.
“It’s more than just the Simpsons themselves; it’s all of Springfield,” he said. “They have a character that will fit every type of story requirement.”
Betsy Russell, creative services director for FOX Toledo, WUPW-TV 36, said “The Simpsons” is one of the station’s top-rated syndicated programs. The show airs at 6 and 7:30 p.m. every weekday in the Toledo market.
“It has always just been a rock-solid anchor for our comedy block,” Russell said. “Simpsons fans will watch it every single day no matter how many times they see an episode.”
Though she declined to give specific sales figures, Russell said the two half-hour blocks during which “The Simpsons” air are prime territory for local advertisers.
“It’s a very popular show with viewers, so it makes it a very popular show with advertisers,” she said.
It’s that popularity that has led box office projectors to estimate “The Simpsons Movie” could make in excess of $50 million in its opening weekend.
“I think America will all be flocking to Springfield this weekend. I’m projecting that the film could open near the $50 million mark with a shot at going even higher,” said Gitesh Pandya, editor of BoxOfficeGuru.com, a Web site dedicated to tracking move box office sales.
Nikki Finke, a columnist who writes “Deadline Hollywood” for LA Weekly and the blog site www.deadlinehollywooddaily.com predicted a similar number of the film’s opening weekend.
“I don’t see a single misstep by Fox when it comes to marketing this toon so far …” Finke wrote in an online posting. “’Huge hit’ is everyone’s analysis, and the foreign gross receipts will be massive.”
Marketing for the film appears to have been successful, with Burger King and 7-Eleven offering major promotions to coincide with the film’s release.
Burger King’s promotions have included giving away talking Simpsons figurines with children’s meals and an interactive Web site that allows visitors to convert a digital photo of themselves into an image of how they would look if animated on the show. As of July 24, the site had received more than 166 million hits and more than 4.3 million photo uploads, a company spokesperson said.
Cynthia Baker, a spokeswoman for 7-Eleven, said her company’s promotions for “The Simpsons Movie” have far exceeded expectations.
For the film’s release, 7-Eleven stores have sold KrustyO’s cereal, Buzz Cola, Squishees and a special edition Radioactive Man comic book — all products sold in the show’s mythical convenience store, the Kwik-E-Mart.
The company even went so far as to convert 12 of its stores in major markets into caricatures of the Kwik-E-Mart.
“The Kwik-E-Mart launch that happened on July 1 was very exciting. A number of our customers were lined up to enter our stores,” Baker said.
No end in sight
Though it isn’t the comic force it was in its heyday of the early 1990s, Snierson said, “The Simpsons” is still funny and clever enough to succeed for a number of years.
“They have a formula, they have a groove and there’s still going to be that dedicated audience,” he said. “I still think there’s something there. I think to write it off would be unfair.”
“I would say there’s no immediate plans to end the show,” Snierson said. “As long as the audience stays there, they could stay on for several more seasons.”
Coletta said he wouldn’t be surprised if the series is still making new episodes five years from now. And even when the show does come to an end, he said it will live on in syndication.
“The Simpsons are going to be around forever,” he said. “They’re going to be around just like Mickey Mouse is around and Bugs Bunny is around.”