It’s so hard to believe it’s been a decade since our favorite family on television adopted the Spider-Pig, escaped to Alaska, saved Springfield from being destroyed at the hands of EPA, and discovered the treasure of Imaweiner. The Simpsons Movie was a huge success both financially and critically when it came out in 2007 and still stands out today as one of the best animated films of the 21st century. I know that latter statement is quite a big claim, but I stand by it. That movie was damn good with all the charm, wit, and borderline insanity you’d expect from The Simpsons show. Easily one of the best examples of how TV to film adaptations should be, and one I’d recommend to anyone.
So with that said, where’s the sequel?
Well, earlier this week, we got a little more information on The Simpsons Movie 2, including why we haven’t seen it in the past ten years and probably won’t see it for while. Accordingly, the potential film is in the “very early stages” of development, basically waiting for the right idea and script to act upon. However, it was also stated by show/movie writer Al Jean that there is no rush or immediate need to make the film unless it lives up to the original film (which makes sense). This comes after a previous comment by Jean suggesting that due to the creative strain on the staff to run to make both the show and the movie simultaneously, the movie may not happen until after the show ends.
This got me thinking about The Simpsons future and how this comment could say a lot about where the franchise could potentially go if and when the show finally ends. That’s why today I’d like to expand on the idea of The Simpsons’ future being on the big screen rather than the small one.
Now, I know many of you are immediately thinking, “I don’t think this is a good idea”, and I don’t blame you. I mean, The Simpsons have been a mainstay of television for 30 years (including The Tracey Ullman Show), 28 seasons, and 618 episodes; and that’s just so far. That’s because the show has been renewed for another two seasons after the most recent one, guaranteeing it a spot on television up to the year 2019. By then, the show will be on its 30th season. That’s just unheard of, especially when you consider the fact that the show may even be renewed passed that, making it go on for even longer.
So what reason does The Simpsons have to jeopardize its record-breaking television run, along with all the security and guaranteed money that comes with it, all to try its hand as a film series? What reason is there to take the risk?
Probably my biggest argument for the idea involves something most fans have been pointing out for years, even decades, about the show: stagnation.
Whatever you think of the show as of now and whatever your stance is on this issue, by now it’s a universally accepted fact that The Simpsons is passed its prime. That’s not to say that the show is no longer good or that people don’t like The Simpsons anymore, because that’s not true. It’s just to say that the show has taken an inevitable decline in quality over the years, and nowhere is that more noticeable than in the show’s ratings. The most recent season averaged about 4.8 million viewers per episode, a number only slightly higher than Season 27’s 4.0 million average viewers (the lowest the show has ever gotten).
We can argue why this is happening all day, though I believe the most straightforward answer is always the best. This is what inevitably happens with long-running shows overtime. It’s the consequence of writing 600+ episodes around the same characters and formulas. It’s the result of trying to write 20-22 new stories every year for the passed three decades. It’s the upshot of being a TV show for too long.
With that said, I believe the current showrunners and writers are doing as good a job as they can in spite of this. Let’s face it! It can’t be easy writing the 619th episode of a show that’s probably done every plot and story imaginable for a half-hour TV show under a strict deadline. This is where we start talking about the difference between writing a TV show and writing a movie.
One of the things that made The Simpsons Movie so great was that it felt fresh. There was a sense that the story and jokes were more well thought out than on the show, as if it were the culmination of years of writing instead of days, weeks, or months. Well, one big reason for that was that’s exactly what happened. The Simpsons Movie was in development since the beginning of the series with several ideas being bounced around until a script was finally complete in 2005. The film took 18 years with 100 revisions being made on top of the numerous other ideas that were eventually turned into episodes of the show. The result was something very refreshing which captured the spirit of the show’s prime.
The first movie is a demonstration of what The Simpsons is still capable of when given enough time to make correctly, feeding directly into Jean’s statement of making sure the idea is right before jumping in. It shows that perhaps the only thing keeping The Simpsons from being as great as it once was is it’s current status as a TV show, which, again, demands creating 20-22 new ideas every year with less time.
Basically, I believe that a potential switch to film could allow the creative team of The Simpsons the creative liberty and time needed to make better, funnier, and more entertaining stories than they currently are. And that’s before you consider the other benefits of the show coming to Hollywood full-time. Namely, the feature length of a film and the lack of several TV-related restrictions could allow The Simpsons Movie 2 and beyond to experiment with new story-elements, themes, and jokes they couldn’t necessarily do currently.
Let’s also not forget the fact that The Simpsons is an established property with great brand recognition. This is great news for 20th Century Fox, who could adopt it as a new tentpole franchise for the studio alongside their current line of Dreamworks and Blue Sky Studios films. In fact, The Simpsons has a massive leg up on other up-and-coming animated film series in Hollywood, due to there already being a financially/critically beloved Simpsons Movie. The fact that there is substantial buzz for a sequel to the movie tells us that such a series will be insanely profitable.
It’s honestly a fantastic alternative for the series to go in after the show ends. However, the idea isn’t without three potential problems.
One roadblock could be the amount of time required to create each installment in the series. As I previously said, it took 18 years to come up with the idea of the first movie, and the script only began work within the last 5 or 6 years of that time. Granted, such a time gap could be limited by the fact that the show is no longer a factor, but that leaves one question. How long would each Simpsons movie take to make on their own? We already know the next movie won’t be made until it lives up to the previous one, so could we still be looking at a long development process each time? If the answer is yes, then that may affect the franchise’s relevancy as we enter the third and fourth movies.
Of course, long gaps between installments are nothing new in Hollywood, especially when it comes to animated series like Toy Story and Shrek. The Simpsons may have enough lasting popularity to pull off above average wait-times between films.
Another issue involves it’s chosen format of traditional animation, a style of filmmaking that has largely deteriorated in recent years in favor of CG animation. Is Fox willing to invest in this format of film longterm without being tempted to carry out such a series as CG? The only reason I mention this is that I can see fans being outraged over such things. On the other hand, I believe that this won’t be as big of a problem for 2 reasons: 1) the creative team of The Simpsons probably won’t let that happen; and 2) the traditional animation style is worth investing into if only for the fact that it gives The Simpsons films individuality against other competing animated films.
The third and final issue involves the show’s continued relevancy. Can The Simpsons stay relevant for a number or years without the show to back it up? This is a very interesting issue the showrunners and Fox would have to consider before committing fully to this plan. For instance, if The Simpsons Movie 2 is great, how many people will want to see a Simpsons Movie 3? Can the series survive a bad movie, and if so how many? What happens when time goes on and people die or leave the production team, such as the writers and voice actors? Will the idea of The Simpsons on film get old after a while? Most importantly, can The Simpsons compete long-term with other animated films from the likes of Illumination, Sony Pictures Animation, and especially Pixar and Disney?
These are all subjective questions, of course, so your opinion may vary on the matter. Personally I believe the franchise will have very little problem competing in the animated film sector. As I said previously, its traditional, hand-drawn animation style will help the series stand out against other modern animated films. I also think The Simpsons would be appealing to a slightly different market than most others, considering its more adult themes. Don’t get me wrong, kids watch The Simpsons all the time (I was one of them), but that’s not exactly the demographic the creators would be aiming for.
As for relevancy, I wouldn’t worry about that either. At this point The Simpsons is a classic franchise that still resonates with a ton of people whether they still watch the show or not. So, if nothing else, its nostalgia factor should carry it along for however long the creative team and Fox will want to go. And if the time comes for new blood to have to replace certain members of the team, we can only hope they do a great job carrying the torch.
In short, as long as the movies presented to audiences are good, then I can see The Simpsons really thriving in Hollywood if and when the show eventually comes to an end. It’s at least a fun thing to think about.
But hey, don’t have a cow if you disagree! Let me know in the comments what you think about this idea in the comments below!
I’m SBox180. Thanks for reading!