By Dan Snierson
Updated May 22, 2012 at 08:23 PM EDT
The Simpsons 3d Animated Short
Credit: Fox

Simpsons fans who have been awaiting the show’s return to the big screen, you may now let out a short, silent “Woo Hoo!”: A four-and-a-half-minute dialogue-free film, titled The Longest Daycare, will be shown before Ice Age: Continental Drift when that movie hits theaters on July 13. (There’s a little history between these two Fox franchises: The trailer for 2007’s The Simpsons Movie was stealthily placed before Ice Age: The Meltdown.)

Teased at the end of the season 23 finale on Sunday, the short marks The Simpsons’ first 3-D adventure (not counting the exploits of “3-D Homer” in Treehouse of Horror VI). “[Executive producer] Jim Brooks thought we should do an animated short — a la the ones Pixar does before their features, a la the cartoons you used to see in the theater years ago — as a fun thing to give our fans,” executive producer Al Jean tells EW. “We just wanted to do this as a way of saying, ‘We appreciate how much people have stayed with the show and watched it for 25 years.”

The Longest Daycare — which was directed by David Silverman, who helmed The Simpsons Movie — revolves around Baby Maggie, who returns to the Ayn Rand School for Tots, where her lone friend is a butterfly. “They put each baby through an airport security-style testing machine to measure their future and hers says ‘Nothing Special’, so they put her in an area that’s not great,” Jean says. “If they put her in a good area, it wouldn’t be much of a plot.” He adds: “For a four-minute plot, it has a number of twists and turns… It’s very sweet but funny. ”

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Why did the Simpsons producers choose to focus on Maggie? “It’s hard to do a 20-minute Maggie episode, but in four minutes it’s great,” he explains. “She’s like Charlie Chaplin.” Jean is mum on how — or if — Homer translated to 3-D: “I don’t want to say which family members are in it. Some family members are in it. There are people from the Simpsons universe, including Maggie’s arch enemy. If you’re a fan of Maggie, you’ll know who that is.”

While the only chance to see The Longest Daycare in 3-D is in theaters, a 2-D animatic will be screened at the show’s Comic-Con panel in July.

Speaking of The Simpsons on the big screen… is there any word on that anticipated sequel to The Simpsons Movie? “There are no immediate plans for a feature, although as you see with this, you never know,” answers Jean. “It certainly made us excited to think that if we did another feature, maybe 3-D would be the way to go.”

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