In the excitement of everything going on with Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, Pixar, Disney Animation, and more, it was easy to miss one of the biggest pieces of news to come out of the D23 Expo: The immediate cancellation of the Simpsons Cinematic Universe! All kidding aside, The Simpsons returned to D23 and they featured a nice, casual conversation with the cast, creatives, and the fans.
Many of our readers may not be huge fans of America’s longest running TV family. The excellent documentary, The Problem with Apu, reinforces why. But credit where credit is due, The Simpsons has been trying to make strides over the past few years to make things right. The character of Apu was retired, and Hank Azaria formally stepped down from the role. And they have made efforts to hire Black actors to take over voicing established Black characters, like Dr. Hibbert and Carl. It’s not perfect, and the jokes that were made at a different time can’t be washed away. But the effort to try and do better can and should be applauded.
Given this, and considering the iconography behind the long-running sitcom and its influence on American pop culture, it was an honor to spend an hour with actress Yeardly Smith (aka Lisa Simpson) as she casually spoke with a veritable who’s who of legends: creator Matt Groening, director David Silverman, showrunners Al Jean and Matt Selman, and writers Tim Long and Rob LaZebnik.
The panel kicked off with a screening of the new short called Welcome to the Club, which debuted during Disney+ Day late last week. The short, as you all may have guessed, is actually incredibly short. And not particularly funny. Though it does feature a cameo from Tom Hiddleston as Loki, which is always welcome. Everything else is pretty lame, so thankfully it didn’t linger any longer than it needed to. It was refreshingly self-deprecating to hear Al Jean take digs at the short saying “We get it. Cruella DeVill doesn’t have fire powers.”
Smith brought out Groening who she hasn’t seen in three years. Groening has revealed how busy he was, working on the revival of Futurama and the next season of Disenchantment. He joked about recommending working on three jobs at once, so you could tell each of the jobs you’re working at one of the other ones, and just take the day off instead.
In a big reveal, the crew surprised everyone by announcing that there would be two Halloween specials this year! One of the specials would be the standard three-story Treehouse of Horror episode, and the second would be an extended, single story Treehouse of Horror special. The single story would be a Simpson-ized adaptation of IT with Krusty the Clown in the Pennywise role. They also alluded to two episodes that would be focused on Kirk Van Houten and Carl Carlson.
As far as guest stars are concerned, this year will see the likes of Lizzo, Albert Brooks, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. all booked for guest spots. Brooks will be making his ninth appearance as a guest star on the show. Gates will be playing Carl’s father. And Lizzo will be portraying one of Maggie’s Happy Little Elves toys that comes to life and starts singing in a fantasy sequence. In fact for her song, along with many more to be featured in that episode, were written by Long and Oscar winner and Flight of the Conchords member, Bret McKenzie.
During the panel, Smith began playing games with the creators, and had Silverman begin sketching as the rest of the panelists answered questions. There were a lot of fun drawings of Mr. Burns hang-gliding, Homer playing a tuba, and a sketch of Smith that looked an awful lot like Lisa herself. It was all a lot of fun.
The panel concluded with an extended “Q&A” with Homer himself. In an animated segment, where Homer “answered questions” from the “audience,” Winnie the Pooh made a cameo appearance, confronting Homer about stealing his pot of honey. He made another appearance walking hand in hand with Selma Bouvier later in the panel, when Homer talked about upcoming romances on the show.
In response to a sequel to The Simpsons Movie, Homer then also jokingly teased the coming of a Simpsons Cinematic Universe: Phase 5, including Iron Moe, Sea Captain America, Groundskeepers of the Galaxy, SelmaVision, and Moon Knight (with Bart mooning everyone on the poster). Each of the projects had their own accompanying spoof posters with it. Homer then gets called by “Kevin Feige” and hangs up announcing the Simpsons Cinematic Universe has been cancelled.
All in all, a lot of laughs, and a lot of fun was had by all. And for a family like The Simpsons, after 34 years on the air, what else would you expect?
The Simpsons Season 34 arrives Sunday, September 25, and Season 33 hits Disney+ on October 5.