Writer-producer Al Jean and director David Silverman take you behind the scenes of the hit film adapted from TV's forever-running animated comedy
6. There was concern about the dome plot after Hurricane Katrina.
Brooks told the writers that any Simpsons movie would need to provide a compelling reason to watch beyond 30 minutes, that “you wanted to find out what was going to happen,” says Jean. “We had the idea for the dome and we thought, ‘Okay, that’s something we’d want to see them get out of.’”
But in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in the summer of 2005 — after grim reports surfaced about the conditions inside Superdome, which was sheltering displaced New Orleans residents — the producers became concerned that a dome-based storyline (which came from those late-2003 meetings) would seem insensitive. “At that time, there were a lot of headlines like ‘People trapped under dome,’ and ‘Horrible conditions inside dome,’ so we were worried that people would go, ‘Oh my god, this is tasteless,” recalls Jean. “So [then-studio chairman] Tom Rothman who hadn’t read the script yet, in 2005, read the script, and said, “Two years later, this will be fine. Nobody’s going to make the connection.”
That was true. In fact, the dome-based connection that people would make was a few years later, between 2007’s The Simpsons Movie and Stephen King’s 2009 novel Under the Dome, which unspooled a story about a mysterious dome that falls from the sky and quarantines a town. “Thank god that Under the Dome didn’t come out until after we did that,” says Jean. “I don’t know what we would thought if that come out in 2006.” [Asked about the similarities years ago, King said that it was idea he had been working on as far back as the ‘70s and ‘80s.]
7. The angry mob scene was in search of a punchline.
One of the most visually striking moments in the film is the scene where the citizens of Springfield band together with torches and come after Homer for bringing about the lake/dome calamities. The scene was incredibly intricate to bring to life, requiring up to 3,600 drawings. “I wanted to push all the way through” the crowd,” says Silverman, describing his direction. “It took us the longest time: ‘Well, what happens at the end of this push-in?’ We originally ended up on Lenny and Carl and Moe, and they say some joke. And then they pushed in and we ended with Sideshow Bob saying ‘Kill Bart! Kill Bart!’ ‘No, we’re killing Homer!’ ‘Oh.’ And he walks away disgusted. [We ultimately decided], ‘Oh, we push all the way back and we end up on Homer saying, ‘You idiots are going the wrong way!’ and they stop and turn.’ It sure took us a long time to figure that one out.”
Jean confirms that the search for the perfect punchline for the mob scene was arduous, recalling one in which “they were going ‘Kill! Kill! Kill!” and then you cut to a group that’s the Springfield dyslexics and they were going ‘Llik! Llik! Llik!’ It didn’t work.”
8. The writers had a tough time thinking outside the bubble.
The Simpsons teams spent lots of time writing and rewriting this movie — up to 150 drafts were penned — and one particular area that proved the biggest headache. “The rough part of the script, which we worked on again and again, was between the Simpsons escaping [the dome] and the Simpsons returning to Springfield,” says Jean. “And that I still think is a little rough. I agree with that criticism that there were some funny observations, but it felt like you were just waiting for them to get back. Once Marge does the wedding video and then Homer starts maturing, you feel like there’s a narrative drive again.”
Jean — who notes that the single-most rewritten scene was the one in the hotel room where the family decides to go to Alaska — explains that the writers gravitated toward the Alaskan adventure for multiple reasons. “You can do jokes like, ‘We’re staying in Alaska and we’re never going back to America,’” he explains. “We thought visually that the snow would look cool. You have the jokes with Homer and the dogs, and Homer and the snow.” But many adjustments and cuts were made along the way; a song about Alaska, with music by Dave Stewart of the Eurhythmics, ended up out in the cold.
Several scenes that depicted life in domed Springfield after the Simpsons had left were jettisoned as well. “We thought, ‘People are going to probably want to see, ‘Here’s how everybody’s dealing with things in Springfield,’” says Silverman. “And what we found out in previews is that people didn’t really care what was happening in Springfield. They were more interested in what was happening with the family. People had more empathy and sympathy and interest in how the family was doing and what was their story. It wasn’t as necessary as we thought it was. We were answering questions nobody was asking.”
One scene that pained Silverman to part with featured Krusty the Clown trying to cheer up the kids in Springfield as the town ran out of electricity. “He was doing a live show in the darkened theater and he was going to tell a funny story,” he says. “He shines a flashlight under his face and the kids get really scared by the scary shadow being projected and the scary lighting on his face as he’s trying to go [imitates goofy Krusty laugh]. Then Sideshow Mel runs in with Mr. Teeny on his shoulders, yelling ‘Return to your seats!,’ and his and Mr. Teeny’s shadows about the size of King Kong and the kids all run out screaming. I thought that was pretty funny.”
Speaking of clowns, one other scene that did not make final cut is a scene involving an insult clown named Scuzzo whom the Simpsons worked for as at the circus. (He also went by Scummo in another version.) “I think Matt pitched it,” says Jean. “He remembered this clown who was kind of sleazy and who was always making fun of everybody. He had a long series of jokes taunting people.” (Scummo called passersby everything from “flat-top” to “skinnie-minnie” to “high-pockets.”)
Yet another vestige of that part of the movie found life eventually somewhere else. “The Simpsons were escaping in a King Tut exhibit, and Bart got caught in a coffin and Marge was going to let him out,” says Jean. “And Homer says, ‘That boy has got to get over his fear of coffins.’ We used it in the show.” [See: Season 19’s “Funeral for a Fiend.”]
9. The film’s central villain, Russ Cargill, was less menacing at first look.
Voiced by Albert Brooks, the nefarious EPA chief who hatches the dome plan — followed by Operation Turn Springfield into the Grand Canyon — went through some growing pains. Cargill looked different — more harmless — in his original conception. “He was a pear-shaped potbellied guy with a higher waist and no shoulders and a big nose and receding hairline,” says Silverman, who notes that Cargill was supposed to be introduced in a scene at the Washington correspondents dinner, where he was given a table way in the back, but the scene was cut. “He was more of a design like Kirk Van Houten. Old Cargill looked like ‘Okay, here’s the wimpy guy, here’s the nebbish, downtrodden hardluck case.”
Brooks recorded lots of material in this incarnation of Cargill, but at a test screening in Portland, Oregon, the producers realized that the character was simply talking too slowly and was too depressed. After a trip back to the literal drawing board, he was given the sharper jaw and broad shoulders (“the alpha male type striding in, the take-charge type of guy,” says Silverman), and his demeanor was modeled after former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. “Albert actually brought a pair of glasses to look a little bit like him, and he recorded everything that’s in the movie in about an hour,” says Jean. “We just had him come up and speak much faster, much more upbeat, optimistic character even though he was still a bad guy.”
Silverman marveled at the transformation in Brooks’ performance. “When we had the previous [version], I could sense as we were working with Albert, he just kind of had nothing. He was like, ‘Well, is that what you want?’ He never had that before. Anytime we pitched him a character, he would run with it. Clearly we were in the wrong direction, because Albert can’t mine comedy out of it, and Albert can mine comedy out of a teaspoon of dirt. And then when we came up with this approach to him, he could run with it. That gave us great confidence.”
The original Cargill lives on, though. Because the marketing tie-in products had to ship early, Burger King offered up the meeker version of him.
10. A few songs and celebrities wound up on the outside of the dome looking in.
Two big songs were cut from the film: the aforementioned Alaska song, as well as an opening number, “Springfield Saturday Night,” which was excised after the first test screening. The latter featured “people partying on Saturday night and it ended with them all being hung over on Sunday morning,” recalls Jean. “What it felt like was you’re watching it and you’re going, ‘Well, this isn’t going to amount to anything, it’s not part of the story,’ so nobody wanted to keep it.”
While Hanks and Green Day did make it into film, other famous voices, such as Edward Norton (as the man crushed by the dome), Isla Fisher, Minnie Driver, and Erin Brockovich, weren’t so lucky, as you may have heard over the years. But what were some of these roles? Brockovich appeared in connection with “the environmental disaster and her fight against cancerous chemicals,” says Jean. Driver played a grief counselor who “was lifted into the dome to tell them to talk them out of being sad that they were going to get blown up,” he revealed.
There was also a never-recorded scene where Marge was to appear on The View to tell everyone about what was happening in Springfield. “A lot of things were cut because it seemed to have a great pace for the first half, and then a great finish,” says Jean, “but we just didn’t want anything to slow it down between that.”
In terms of famous non-Earthlings, slobbering aliens and fan favorites Kang and Kodos were also supposed to end the movie by riffing on the small plot holes. “They said something like, ‘How come the bomb blew up the dome but didn’t hurt anybody inside?” says Jean. “And then we thought ‘Well, if you like the movie then it’s kind of saying, ‘Why did you like it?’ So we decided to take it out.”
Will there be a Simpsons Movie 2?
Baby Maggie finally speaks during the end credits of the film, and her first word is one that still hangs in the air: “Sequel?” No official greenlight has been issued for a second Simpsons movie, and Jean and Silverman speak of a follow-up only in the broadest of terms. “I’d love for there to be another one,” says Silverman. “We’re still a ways away from it. We talk about this and that. We’re thinking it over, but nothing’s happening just yet.…. It’s still daunting because it really knocked the stuffing out of us to do the movie and the show at the same time.”
Ideas have been floating around for several years, and the movie has been discussed “just in the vaguest strokes, just in the possibility of it” insists Jean. ”I’d say [it’s in] the very earliest stages.” A few years ago, he revealed that a season 26 episode that featured Homer and his family being taken by Kang and Kodos to Rigel 7 was originally slated to air in season 24 before but it was held back while it was considered as a possible movie idea. Right now, “I certainly am cautious about a couple things,” says Jean. “I wouldn’t want it to be risky in terms of budget, and I would not want it to be anything that we did purely for the money. I would want it to be a really great movie. I personally feel no need for another one unless it’s great.”
In other words, you waited nearly two decades for the first one — you can wait a little longer for the next.