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Interview with the creators of The Simpsons

Matt Groening, James L. Brooks and more on the Simpsons Ride.

Interview with the creators of The Simpsons

The Simspons have taken over Universal Studios. The new Simpsons Ride replaces the longstanding Back to the Future: The Ride. The Simpsons creators celebrated the ride’s opening with a yellow carpet event, and previewed what guests can expect. Even Universal Studios chief Ron Meyer spoke highly of it.

Ron Meyer: I think this is just one of the great rides you’ll find anywhere in any theme park anywhere. It’s just a great, great attraction. You’ll have a great time. It’s really a world class attraction, unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.

Crave Online: Were there lots of candidates to replace Back to the Future?

Ron Meyer: Well, we weren’t going to replace it unless we found something. We loved Back to the Future and unless we found something we thought really was a suitable replacement, we wouldn’t have done it. When Mark Woodbury, who’s our creative director came up with the idea, that really made the difference for us. Then when Matt Groening and Jim Brooks agreed that this would be an attraction we could develop, then that was when we decided to make the change.

Al Jean has been the showrunner for the entire run of The Simpsons save for a year or two in the middle. We found him inside the park awaiting the grand opening of the attraction, introduced by a stuntman being shot out of a cannon.

Crave Online: What is the Simpsons take on a theme park ride?

Al Jean: Well, as you’ll see, there’s a lot of satire of other theme parks. We make fun of safety videos. We make fun of everything and there’s a lot of detail. It’s really something where you can look at it again and again and ride it again and get a lot out of it.

Crave Online: How many of our favorite supporting characters are in it?

Al Jean: Let’s see. There’s Homer and Krusty and the family and Apu and Groundskeeper Willie, Moleman, Patti and Selma, Chief Wiggum. Of course Sideshow Bob is a very big part in the ride.

Crave Online: Is he the villain?

Al Jean: Yes, he is. Kelsey did the voice as he’s always done. It was great.

Crave Online: Have you given any thought to a second movie?

Al Jean: Well, the biggest thing for me is to do more episodes of the show. We have nine more in the fall. All of them are done. I just want to keep doing more shows, and then maybe when the show’s done, another movie.

Crave Online: I want more shows too.

Al Jean: Yeah, well, the thing with the movie was we really waited until we had something we liked an I wouldn’t do a

sequel unless we felt the same way about it.

Crave Online: You’re still doing great episodes.

Al Jean: Oh, thank you. We’ve done 420 so we’ve really got to suck ideas in wherever we can.

Crave Online: How long do you see it going?

Al Jean: I would love to do more, as long as people want to do it.

James L. Brooks was the TV mogul who first brought The Simpsons from the Tracy Ullman Show shorts to their own series. He has remained an integral part of the creative team, where he easily could have just cashed paychecks from afar.

Crave Online: Have you ever thought of doing a Mary Tyler Moore ride?

James L. Brooks: The Mary Tyler Moore ride? No, it’s never occurred to me.

Crave Online: Did the writer’s strike help the ride by giving you more time to work on it?

James L. Brooks: Well, you don’t think of the writer’s strike helping a lot because it was pretty rough on people being out of work and a lot of people suffered even that weren’t writers, but it did mean that we were all able to gather because there was a very critical point in the ride, trying to figure out how to do a few major things. The fact that we were able to put all hands on deck, because that was allowed, we were allowed to work on the ride, probably did help, but you don’t want to look at it that way.

Crave Online: Have you ridden it?

James L. Brooks: Oh my God, yes. Since it’s all fixed, twice, but if you don’t count that, about 10 times.

Crave Online: How cool is it to be a staple at Universal Studios theme park now?
James L. Brooks: It’s so great because you don’t see it coming. You just live with the problems and try to get the ride right. Then when it happens it’s like a total surprise. I mean, I didn’t anticipate today would be anything like that. I never saw somebody shot out of a cannon. It’s like that.

Crave Online: What is the Simpsons’ take on a theme park ride?

James L. Brooks: You’ll see it on the ride. You’ll see it on the ride. We have one line where it says that you won’t be hurt because they’ll keep you alive as long as there’s a dime left in your pocket.

Crave Online: Is it a similar writing process to the show and the movie?

James L. Brooks: Yeah, similar in that you have those silent periods where you try to figure stuff out and then you crack the problem. Just the trial and error of it is very similar.

Crave Online: What favorite cameo characters are in the ride?

James L. Brooks: You’ll see Sideshow Bob. You’ll fear Sideshow Bob. You’ll see some people. Not as many as in the movie but you’ll see a lot of characters.

Crave Online: There’s also a Kwik E Mart next to the ride. Is that a carryover from the 7-11s?

James L. Brooks: It’s not the same as the 7-11 and I think it’s still a work in progress but it’s fun. What we just heard is that anything with the pig on it sells out.

Crave Online: Is Spider-pig in ride?
James L. Brooks: No.

Crave Online: What is coming up next season on The Simpsons?

James L. Brooks: We’ve just started to work and we feel pretty good about the season coming up. Everybody wants to talk about how long we’ve been on but we’re always guys sweating the next season.

Crave Online: The Jim Jarmusch cameo was classic. How do you keep it fresh after all this time?

James L. Brooks: I have no explanation for this but up until the 10th year, we were just going crazy with "We’ve done that, we’ve done that" to crack stories. Then we got over a hump where suddenly it’s less and less of a problem and I have no explanation for it. It’s just absolutely true what I’m telling you.

Crave Online: How involved were you in the ride?

James L. Brooks: I was pretty involved. It worked like everything works. It was a lot of trial and error. About six months ago, we rode a rough version and we felt that we had to make a lot of changes and we had to almost invent a process to make those changes because it was late in the game as these things go. Universal was great and they’re sort of fun and working with a different culture. You sort of get that treat on The Simpsons, like suddenly you’re working with the people who make your game and it’s very interesting because it gets you outside yourself and outside your own box. So it was a ride working on the ride.

Crave Online: Did you get any backlash from the Back to the Future fans?

James L. Brooks: We were very worried about that. I love Back to the Future. I love that ride. It’s my favorite ride at the park but I never go on all the blogs because there’s going to be some kid who says something where you feel bad that night. So all my colleagues go on it and apparently the blogs are going nuts over this ride.

Crave Online: Why will this ride be a hit?

James L. Brooks: It’s funny, it’s scary and it’s a ride. It’s a real ride and there’s storytelling in it and there’s unexpected things happening in it. There’s fun. I think it has the spirit of the show.

Crave Online: Is it a little futuristic too?

James L. Brooks: Yeah, people wonder how you did it. That’s great and it’s always stupid to talk about it because everybody talks about it and never has any real texture when you just say the words, but mixing the two cultures is tricky. It took everything each of us had to pull this off.

Matt Groening was happy just to draw his pictures. Now he’s got his own theme park ride on top of his TV show, movie and all the licensed Simpsons products. He seems like a happy guy.

Crave Online: What’s your favorite Simpsons episode?

Matt Groening: My favorite episode of The Simpsons is one that we just had one in which Homer ends up dressing up in a cow suit. That’s all I can say, just Homer in a cow suit being led to a slaughterhouse is very funny.

Crave Online: Who is your favorite character?

Matt Groening: My favorite character is Homer slightly edged out by Lisa. I guess Lisa’s my favorite.

Crave Online: Who’s the easiest to draw?

Matt Groening: Oh, Bart’s the easiest because you draw his eyes. First of all, they’re all the same if you just draw their eyes. Eyes, nose and mouth, pretty much the same. Then their hair, so Bart is just like wiggling. It’s very simple.

Crave Online: Do you make a lot of money?

Matt Groening: Um, yes. Yes, it’s very lucrative and I highly recommend it because this is the thing: When you’re in school and you’re supposed to be paying attention to what’s going on, what I was doing was I was sitting in the back of class drawing and doodling and stuff, but look how it turned out? Pretty good.

Crave Online: What is the irreverent Simpsons take on theme park rides?

Matt Groening: You know, from the very beginning, because face it, the sad fact of these rides is that you have to wait a little bit in order to get on them. So what we try to do is both have fun with that waiting period and tell a story and we make fun of that. The safety video, the required safety video that come with all rides of this nature is really funny because it stars Itchy and Scratchy. The fact that we got away with it is truly amazing.

Crave Online: So it’s like writing a script?

Matt Groening: It is very much like The Simpsons if you were on some sort of legal but brain damaging substance.

Crave Online: What is the plot of the ride?

Matt Groening: Well, I don’t want to give too much away but it involves Sideshow Bob exacting his revenge on The Simpsons and anybody who happens to be on the ride as well. So we have Kelsey Grammer, the voice of Sideshow Bob who’s been fantastic and been a great friend of the show for 20 years, back and he really delivers the good and the chainsaw.

Crave Online: What is more challenging, writing the ride or an episode?

Matt Groening: Well, with the ride, we’ve never done it before so that is very difficult and we’re trying to thrill you and entertain you and keep you laughing while we’re throwing you around, so that’s a tall order. It was really fun. Well, with the show, it’s the same animators and the same writers who’ve been working together for 20 years. We know each other really well and the actors all know the characters. With the ride, suddenly we’re working with different technology and the thing about The Simpsons TV show is it won’t kill you. But an amusement park ride that goes wrong, you know, you never know. So we have safety issues which we’ve never had on the show. We have safety issues on The Simpsons but that involves the healthiness of the snacks that we eat.

Crave Online: Are you happy with the ride?

Matt Groening: Okay, I’m hyping this thing, right? Because it’s my job. But if I were embarrassed, like oh, the ride’s not good, I’d be kind of reluctant. I’m telling you, the ride is good. It’s really good. You want to go on more than once. I thought the ride was going to be good, maybe great, and it was beyond my expectations. It makes you quiver. It’s really crazy. There’s screaming involved by me and it’s funny too.