DIS INFORMATION

A Simpsons parody of the Disney castle logo.

As the Walt Disney Company continues to celebrate its 100th anniversary, let us consult the tea leaves and try to speculate just what the entertainment conglomerate wants to do with The Simpsons.

  • CEO Bob Iger recently spoke about the importance of quality over quantity. Sure, he was specifically talking about Marvel’s recent underperformance at the box office, but maybe, just maybe, he was secretly thinking about The Simpsons, which passed the 750 episode mark this year and is only getting more expensive to license.
  • There’s a rumor that 20th Century Studios recently greenlit James L. Brooks’s upcoming film Ella McKay in hopes of convincing him to do a sequel to 2007’s The Simpsons Movie. Maybe that’s true, but 20th and Brooks already have a longstanding relationship (his production company Gracie Films is located on the Fox studio lot) and frankly it doesn’t seem like Brooks would need much convincing (the Disney+ shorts were his idea). As I see it, the main obstacles are that everyone is 16 years older and the circumstances that made the first movie possible have changed.
  • Remember back in 2019 when Matt Groening announced a Disenchantment comic book series? Well, good news, it’s finally being released, four years later and after the show has ended. The podcast Talking Simpsons speculated the delay might’ve been due to behind-the-scenes squabbling between Groening and Disney over Simpsons publishing rights, complicating Groening’s plans for a comics app.
  • Disney Parks chairman Josh D’Amaro claims they have enough space in Anaheim “to build another Disneyland there if we choose to do that.” Might The Simpsons find a home there if the Universal contract is not renewed?
GROEN DRAIN

An image of Jonesy from Fortnite looking surprised at Futurama characters. Behind him is an image of Matt Groening's head in a jar, surrounded by question marks.

Fortnite recently announced a collaboration with Futurama: Fry, Leela, and Bender are purchasable characters, with other stuff inspired by the show also available in the game. However, there’s one thing missing: creator Matt Groening’s signature. It’s not present in Fortnite’s announcement post, the in-game item shop, or any of the advertising posted on social media. So what’s the deal?

The exact language is not publicly known, but it appears safe to say that Groening’s signature is contractually obligated to appear on merchandise and promotional art of the properties he created, which is why you see his name everywhere. This extends to the Simpsons profile pictures on Disney+, and even the NFT of Homer choking Bart.

However, in very, very rare circumstances, Groening will remove his signature or credit to implicitly indicate his disapproval. I know of only two instances: the 1995 Simpsons episode “A Star is Burns” because he was opposed to doing a crossover with The Critic, and the 2001 video game Simpsons Wrestling. It may seem a little silly considering the ubiquity of Simpsons merchandise, but Groening appears to take his endorsement seriously. Talking to a trading card magazine in 1994, Groening criticized the quality of the 1990 Topps set and lamented that “my name was on every one of those cards.”

I searched similar video game collaborations to see if perhaps this was a trend. The promo art for a 2015 Simpsons Minecraft skin pack does have Groening’s signature, as does this Animation Domination card game featuring Futurama characters (near Bender’s hand), which makes its exclusion from Fortnite odder.

Was it a mere oversight? Did Groening decline to approve the collaboration because of the writers’ strike? Obviously it exists to promote the Hulu revival, but I’m not sure if a signature necessarily constitutes crossing the picket line. Is it a weird technicality because Fortnite is using their in-game models instead of drawn promo art? Or did the peacenik-minded Groening object to his characters being used to propagate violence in a video game? If that’s the case, I think it’s a little misguided: my understanding of Fortnite lore is that characters don’t “die,” they are bloodlessly “eliminated” and are stuck in an endless loop where they regenerate. Even Batman uses guns in the game, come on. Also, the characters in question are canonically war veterans.

Perhaps we’ll never know the real reason. In the meantime, I shotgunned Goku while playing as Bender. This, to me, is the essence of gaming.

WORD OF APU

The classic Friendship Ended With Mudasir meme modified so it's about Hari and Hank. It now reads Friendship Ended With Apu, Now Hari is my friend. Two men shake hands while images of Apu are crudely crossed out.

Indian American comedian Hari Kondabolu, whose little TV documentary about the Simpsons character Apu caused a wee bit of controversy back in 2017, finally got to have a chat with voice actor Hank Azaria in a joint interview aired on NPR Wednesday.

As you might recall, The Problem With Apu takes a critical look at the Kwik-E-Mart proprietor Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, a character Kondabolu blasts as a demeaning ethnic stereotype, and touches on the broader context of South Asian representation in Western media. The documentary is framed by his Michael Moore-like attempts to arrange an interview with Azaria, who (spoiler alert) politely declines.

Now it appears Hari and Hank are best buds. Azaria helped promote Kondabolu’s new comedy special in a video where he comes off like a captured prisoner of war, and the two sat down to discuss the Apu hullaballoo on NPR’s Code Switch.

Azaria, who last voiced Apu in 2017, reflected on the character’s legacy:

I – through my role in Apu and what I created in the Hollywood messaging – right? – which is a big deal in this country and around the world, I helped to create a pretty marginalizing, dehumanizing stereotype that makes it much easier – in fact, some moment during all this, I read a little news blurb where a guy was attacked. It was actually a Middle Eastern guy who was attacked in his store and was called Apu while he was being attacked. I think if I had any doubts at that point – there was also – there were certain key moments in that whole is-this-real question journey I was on where I got the answer. You know, Apu had become a slur, in other words. That – a lot of times I have conversations with my white friends and family or acquaintances or whoever, and that gets through.

Kondabolu shared the mixed feelings he has about the documentary:

I sometimes have thought to myself, I regret ever doing this. Like, it gets to a point where I’m like, I’m sick of this. And, you know, it’s – you get so frustrated as an artist and as a person. Like, the documentary is about how I hate being associated with this stereotype, and now I’m forever associated with it. Like, there’s a lot of, like, irony and frustration in that […] But at the same time, in the broad scheme of things, I think I did right. And I think I did right by my community even if they’re not all in agreement, by the way. It’s not universal. Definitely, I have a killjoy reputation amongst factions of my community as well.

In the wake of the 2020 George Floyd protests, The Simpsons announced it would no longer have white actors play non-white characters. While characters like Dr. Hibbert, Bumblebee Man, and Comic Book Guy’s wife Kumiko have since been recast, Apu and the rest of the Nahasapeemapetilon clan have yet to speak. In March 2021, creator Matt Groening mentioned they had ambitious plans for Apu, but whether they’ll ever come to fruition is anyone’s guess.
[NPR]

PANEL PIECES

A photo of the Simpsons panel at the 2022 D23 Expo featuring Yeardley Smith, David Silverman, Matt Groening, Al Jean, Matt Selman, Tim Long, and Rob LaZebnik.
(The Walt Disney Company)

On Friday, The Simpsons held its second-ever panel at Disney’s D23 Expo, moderated by voice actress Yeardley Smith. A press release for the panel touted “a surprise so shocking it can’t even be announced in press release form!” Simpsons simps hoping for a big announcement of some kind – a new movie? A spin-off? A new game? The Ullman shorts? Cancellation??? – unfortunately had their dreams denied. Here’s a recap of the event.
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NEWS ROUNDUP

A collage of random Simpsons-related pictures.

Howdy pard’ners, this here’s a roundup of Simpsons news items from all over yonder.

  • Chris Ledesma, the show’s music editor since the series began, has left the show. Although it’s not regularly updated anymore, his blog Simpsons Music 500 was super-informative if you’re into TV production minutae. For example, here’s a post about music spotting notes. [Matt Selman/Twitter]
  • Back in 1990, the producers insisted the Simpsons aren’t Toons, although Matt Groening joked “they could be in Roger Rabbit 3!” OK, so the new Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers movie isn’t exactly Roger Rabbit 3, and the Simpsons technically don’t appear in it, but I’m still gonna say that was a prescient call. [Rolling Stone]
  • If you’re a parent who’s sick of the absolute filth on Disney+, the Parents Television and Media Council has helpfully provided a list of alternatives, including Daily Wire Kids. [PTC]
  • Apparently Rick & Morty exists in Star Trek canon, but whether or not The Simpsons does remains unclear. [Digital Spy]
  • Remember the hulabaloo when Hulu announced yet another revival of Futurama and voice actor John DiMaggio (Bender, Randy) was holding out for more money, before finally signing on? Well, he recently admitted at a convention that he was unsuccessful in that regard, saying “trying to get money out of Disney is like trying to get blood from a stone.” [/Film]
DIS INFORMATION

An image of Bob Chapek with Simpsons producers behind him in the background.

A recent Hollywood Reporter story on embattled Disney CEO Bob Chapek opened with this observation:

It is unclear at this point whether Chapek, 61, can execute a reset with Disney staff and creative partners. A cartoon hanging in the production offices of The Simpsons seems to suggest an opinion: It has Chapek in the “In Memoriam” section of the Oscars show.

First of all, what a fuckin’ lame cartoon. Second of all, who cares. Some comedy writers made light of authority, stop the presses.

Well, apparently the Simpsons TOP BRASS care, because the article was updated later in the day to include this parenthetical disclaimer:

(The Simpsons top brass, including Jim Brooks, Matt Groening, Al Jean and Matt Selman, deny that that there was such a cartoon in the office. “For the sake of the simple truth: No notice concerning Bob Chapek has been on the walls of any Simpson’s office. Since March 2020 all our work has been done remotely due to Covid. Nobody has been in the offices for two years now. We do miss the snack room,” they wrote in a joint statement. The source who spoke with THR said that the circulated cartoon was in fact subsequently taken down.)

That FOUR executive producers felt the need to issue a joint statement about this stupid doodle that may or may not have actually existed is bewildering and pathetic. Do they think they’re going to get sent to the principal’s office? Maybe they’re right and they’re just really concerned about the spread of Fake News. In that case, why not just have one guy deny it, why did they need all four? Was this really an “all hands on deck” scenario? Also, I guess maybe there’s a world of difference between “production office” and “studio,” because this doesn’t look like somebody’s home to me.

Whatever happened, their emphatic denial makes them sound like they’re absolutely terrified of their boss’s wrath, which seems very silly because The Simpsons was once known for biting the hand that feeds them (albeit with the hand’s permission) and other parts of the company haven’t exactly been shy expressing criticism of their leadership lately.

Who knows, maybe years from now we’ll read in DisneyWar 3 about how this absolutely set Chapek off and made him angrily tear up the plans for Simpsons Land at EPCOT or whatever.

MEANINGLESS MILESTONES, SPRINGFIELD SHOPPER

An image of the Simpsons Season 1 DVD cover.

Today marks the 20th anniversary of The Simpsons: The Complete First Season DVD boxset in North America (tip of the hat to illustrator Bill Mudron for mentioning this). It was, for a time, the best selling TV show on DVD until it was eclipsed by Chappelle’s Show a few years later. Now that physical media has been rendered a relic by streaming services, let’s take this opportunity to look back at what’s been lost.
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NEWS ROUNDUP

A collage of random Simpsons-related pictures.

Here’s a roundup of Simpsons news tidbits from the past month.

  • Wes Archer shared part of a script from the Tracey Ullman short “Burp Contest.” Interesting to note Marge and Homer were just “Mom” and “Dad” back then. [Wes Archer]
  • Showrunner-turned-fast-food-reviewer Bill Oakley appeared in a Burger King commercial. [Bill Oakley]
  • The Star Wars-themed Disney+ commercial short Maggie Simpson in “The Force Awakens from Its Nap” is nominated for an Emmy. [Cartoon Brew]
  • Kid Leaves Stoop did a video about the much-maligned Homer-head-shaped Season 6 DVD set (I’m pro-head for the record), and made a startling discovery about the security of the site you had to visit to get a replacement box. [Kid Leaves Stoop]
  • The Simpsons held a Comic-Con panel over Zoom. There’s no Homer hologram this time, but the part where they play Pictionary is pretty fun. Also, the ever-punctual Matt Groening shows up late towards the end. [Comic-Con International]
  • New Simpsons writer Broti Gupta is promoting an Amazon wishlist to help unhoused people in Los Angeles. [Broti Gupta]
  • The great Simpsons blog Dead Homer Society appears to have let the domain name lapse, but luckily it’s still on WordPress.
  • The Department of Energy is redacting documents relating to a BuzzFeed-style Simpsons blog post they did. What are they hiding?!? [Vice]
GROEN DRAIN

An image of Milhouse surrounded by unused child designs.

Back in 2011, during a Twitter discussion about whether Milhouse’s design was inspired by Wonder Years actor Josh Saviano, Simpsons superdirector David Silverman dismissed that theory, mentioning Milhouse had originated from an unproduced Saturday morning cartoon Matt Groening had pitched to a network in the 80s, and his design was recycled for a Butterfinger commercial. I wrote about it at the time.

Silverman mentioned that cartoon again recently (the Wonder Years thing just won’t die!), and this time some more details have emerged.
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READING DIGEST

did u ever know that ur my hero

Back in 1994, there were plans for a spinoff of The Simpsons centered around Krusty the Clown moving to Los Angeles and becoming a talk show host. The twist is that the show would’ve been live-action, with Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Krusty, starring as the character. Creator Matt Groening, who co-wrote a pilot script with The King of Queens creator Michael Weithorn, was quoted in a 1999 Entertainment Weekly article reflecting on the challenges of working in live-action:

We had this running joke in the script that Krusty was living in a house on stilts and there were beavers gnawing their way through the stilts. But somebody at the network pointed out how expensive it was to hire trained beavers — and an equally prohibitive cost would be to get mechanical beavers — so I said, “If we animated this, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.”

And that was absolutely everything we ever knew about the project… until now!

Simpsons expert @ThatGuy3002, known for his deep dives into scripts on Twitter, found out a lot more about the ill-fated spinoff, and shared his findings in a tweet thread:

Click through to read the whole thread, which reveals plot details about the surprisingly death-heavy pilot episode, how another Fox show about an alcoholic clown may have poisoned the well for clown-related entertainment, and what really killed the spinoff (spoiler: money). I have my doubts about the quality levels of what sounds like a Larry Sanders rip-off mixed with the 1992 Boris and Natasha movie, but I’m nevertheless fascinated by this odd footnote in Simpsons history. It doesn’t sound like production ever went any further than the script, but if any photographic evidence of Dan Castellaneta in full-blown Krusty makeup exists, please please please share it with the world.