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The entire town of Springfield is transformed into an angry mob in a scene from 'The Simpsons Movie.'
AP photos/20th Century Fox by Matt Groening
The entire town of Springfield is transformed into an angry mob in a scene from "The Simpsons Movie."

'THE SIMPSONS MOVIE:'
Will fans cry 'Woo-hoo' or 'D'oh'?

By David Germain
AP Movie Writer

LOS ANGELES

For a cartoon comedy dependent on how much ruination one homely yellow family can cause, there's an awful lot of drama behind "The Simpsons."

Fans gripe that the animated show is nowhere near as funny as it was in the early glory years of the 1990s. Some predict the big-screen "The Simpsons Movie," opening Friday, will be similarly disappointing. Others wonder why it took so long for the show to make the leap to theaters.

And distributor 20th Century Fox has stoked speculation about the quality of "The Simpsons Movie" by keeping it under tight wraps, declining to show it to critics until a few days before its release.

That's generally taken as a sign that the movie is a stinker, though not always.

In June, Fox withheld critic screenings for "Live Free or Die Hard" until the weekend before its Wednesday opening, leaving reviewers expecting to hate it. Then the movie turned out to be a pleasant throwback to muscular old action flicks, earning solid reviews and becoming a $100 million hit.

Might the same hold true for the first cinematic adventure of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie Simpson?

Fox screened the movie over the weekend for a small group of entertainment reporters. The film delivered some laughs, but it certainly did not bring the house down.

The lure of seeing even just a passably funny Simpsons tale on the big-screen might be enough to draw fans who have tuned in over the show's nearly 20-year run, though.

Along with creator Matt Groening, producers James L. Brooks and Al Jean and director David Silverman, the movie reunited key creative talent from throughout the tenure of "The Simpsons," which is entering its 19th season. Among the writers were such series veterans as Mike Scully, John Swartzwelder, David Mirkin and Jon Vitti.

"We wanted to give it an old-school buzz. Everybody or almost everybody who ran the show or was there at the beginning took part in the first meeting for the movie," Brooks said.

The main voice cast — Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer — is joined by other series regulars, one superstar celebrity and a major musical guest band.

Thoughts of a feature film go back as far as 1992, when "The Simpsons" overseers considered expanding an episode about Krusty the Klown's summer camp into a movie.

Groening and colleagues say they were always too busy with the show to develop a film version, but once the cast signed a contract extension in 2001, the pieces began falling into place, with work starting in earnest by late 2003.

After beginning as a series of short animated segments on "The Tracey Ullman Show," "The Simpsons" debuted as a half-hour sitcom during the 1989-90 season on the struggling new Fox network.

Groening came up with the idea for his dysfunctional family as he was about to meet with Fox executives to discuss a cartoon idea. He had been thinking about pitching an animated version of his "Life In Hell" comics that featured a dark, twisted world of bunnies.

"Then I thought to myself, this Fox network might not work out, and I'm going to be left at the end of the season with a failed piece of animation and may wreck my nice, little, tidy weekly comic strip," Groening said. "So I created new characters on the spot."

Borrowing the names of his parents and sisters, Groening created the boorish, buffoonish but ever-lovable family that would become the Simpsons.

The show quickly became a cultural sensation, with omnipresent merchandising, voices by Hollywood A-list guest stars and critics that included President George H.W. Bush, who complained that America needed to be more like "The Waltons" and less like "The Simpsons."

That prompted an on-air reply by the show's creators, with Bart asserting his family was like "The Waltons," both clans praying for an end to the Depression.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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