Forget the gentle creaking of a palm-tree-anchored hammock or the lilting music wafting from an ice cream truck on a 90-degree day. For the first summer in nearly two decades, fans of The Simpsons actually have something to look forward to: the sweet sound of d’oh! On July 27, The Simpsons Movie will be unveiled in theaters around the world, and millions of line-memorizing disciples of the legendary Fox series have been salivating over the prospect of TV’s First Family of Animation yukking it up on the big screen. But what exactly are we strapping on drool bibs for? Aside from doling out a few enticing yet cryptic trailers (dogsleds? missiles?), the Simpsons producers have been as closemouthed as Homer in a vegan restaurant. That’s why we decided to hit the Fox lot to butter up (mmm, butter) two of the franchise’s founding fathers — revered cartoonist Matt Groening and Oscar-studded writer-director-producer James L. Brooks, who joined forces in the mid-’80s and featured the Groening-doodled Simpson clan on The Tracey Ullman Show. Now they have a slightly loftier dream for those mustard-colored misfits: Best. Movie. Ever.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How concerned were you with making a movie that satisfies die-hards but still appeals to the uninitiated?
MATT GROENING: We’re trying to entertain ourselves. We figure that if we can surprise ourselves, we’ll surprise the fans. There’s certainly some attention paid to the idea of rewarding the die-hard fans for paying attention for all these years. At the same time, we want people who may not be die-hard fans to have a really enjoyable time.
JAMES L. BROOKS: There’s nothing where we do really basic exposition on who Homer is. I mean, if you’re gonna be surprised that he strangles his son a few minutes in, we’re gonna have a rough go with you. [They laugh.]
GROENING: If you’re offended by that —
BROOKS: — our work here is done.
Why all the secrecy? What are you hiding?
BROOKS: First of all, what we’re calling secrecy is just keeping the work private until you’re ready to show it. But it started out as people wanting to know what it was about, and then we were having fun with it, putting out false story lines. We’ve revealed more with each successive trailer. We’ll continue to do that.
GROENING: Even though there are some very misleading things in the trailer.
BROOKS: We saw a trailer the other day, and somebody said 70 percent of the things in it — based on where we were eight weeks ago — are no longer in the movie, because we keep on fooling around.
Can you pretty please give us a plot tease?
GROENING: You’ll see anatomy that you may not want to see.
BROOKS: It would ruin it if we said now who in the picture isn’t really a woman.
GROENING: It’s an epic story that takes advantage of the wide-screen format.
BROOKS: Worst screwup of Homer’s life. And the competition was thick. [They laugh.]
Not only are fans used to getting their Simpsons for free in 22-minute installments, the show has more or less covered every story there is to cover in 400 episodes. What challenges did that pose?
BROOKS: Well, we didn’t cover what we’re covering in the movie. But yeah, much more challenging than we ever thought, harder than we ever imagined.
GROENING: The movie’s been a real learning process, because I assumed ”Oh, this is just going to be an epic version of the TV show,” and it turned out that we had to rethink almost all of our assumptions. It felt very similar to working on the first 13 episodes, when we didn’t know exactly what we were doing…. Jim consistently held on to the idea of story and emotion, when the instinct in the room was to write as many jokes as possible.
NEXT PAGE: What took so damn long?