This article is part of our “Countdown to Disney+” series. Disney+ launches November 12.
The Simpsons premiered on FOX eight days after my tenth birthday in 1989, which meant I was the same age as Bart for the entire first season of the show. From that point on I was hooked and grew up with the hilarious animated series over the next decade. Though I abandoned it sometime around season 13 or so, I still call it one of my favorite TV shows of all time, have dozens upon dozens of episodes memorized by heart, and tend to quote it at a moment’s notice in any applicable situation– fair warning: I tend to find most situations applicable.
Now The Simpsons belongs to Disney, another in a long line of things America’s Favorite Animated Family predicted over its 30 season, 662-episode run (so far). Not only that, but every episode of The Simpsons— except for the now-excised Michael Jackson-starring second-season outing “Stark Raving Dad”– will be prominently featured on the highly anticipated new Disney+ streaming service when it launches this fall. In celebration of this momentous occasion, the show’s creator Matt Groening joined cast members Yeardley Smith (Lisa Simpson) and Nancy Cartwright (Bart Simpson) on stage alongside showrunner Al Jean, writer Matt Sellman, and director Mike B. Anderson at D23 Expo 2019 this past weekend in Anaheim, California.
Unfortunately, we were not permitted to record or take photos of the panel, but I did take notes via the Laughing Place Twitter feed, and I’m happy to report that The Simpsons presentation helped reassure me that the franchise’s transition to Disney ownership would be a smooth one. Of course, the panel began with a tribute to voice actress Russi Taylor, who played the elementary school characters of Martin Prince, Uter, Wendell, Lewis, and the twins Sherri and Terri– not to mention the fact that she was the official voice of Minnie Mouse for nearly thirty years.
That was followed up by a montage of The Simpsons’ Disney parodies from over the past three decades. Unfortunately, the “Nazi Supermen Are Our Superiors” gag from the “Itchy & Scratchy Land” episode was not included (that may be the first thing I check for– even before watching The Mandalorian— once Disney+ goes live). Then Yeardley Smith, as moderator, walked us through each of the panelists’ histories with the show, from Matt Groening’s dad Homer’s job as an animator to Al Jean’s recollection of the disastrous first animation screening, and beyond.
We learned that in addition to the annual “Treehouse of Horror” episode this year, we’ll also get a Thanksgiving-themed anthology installment, celebrated almost half of last season’s episodes being written by women (including Nancy Cartwright), and found out that Jon Lovitz will return to voice his recurring character Artie Ziff. Groening also extrapolated on the influence of Disney animation on his life and work.
It turns out that The Simpsons’ famous couch gag scene, which opens every episode with a different joke during the main title sequence, was inspired by Donald Duck’s cymbal crash at the top of The Mickey Mouse Club. And Bender from Groening’s other hit animated series Futurama, it turns out, partially came into being thanks to a Donald cartoon called “Modern Inventions.”
At that point the audience was treated to a preview of this year’s “Treehouse of Horror”– a segment parodying Netflix’s Stranger Things, in which Chief Wiggum stood in for Jim Hopper, Lisa played Eleven, and poor Milhouse was the disappeared Will Byers. The panel said the Halloween episodes are their favorites to make, and as an audience member I have to say they’re also almost invariably the best of each season this far into the show’s run. What we saw reminded me how funny The Simpsons can be when everything clicks.
Overall, the cast and creative team behind the longest-running scripted primetime series in television history seem just fine with their new corporate overlords. At one point longtime staff writer Matt Sellman even joked, “It’s crazy that I started out working for one evil corporation, and now I’m working for… a nice one.”
The panel’s audience Q&A session was surprisingly non-confrontational and the questions were fairly decent across the board. We learned that Cartwright’s dream guest star is Hugh Jackman, Al Jean wants to do a “Scrooge McBurns” episode, and Smith wants Lisa to befriend Dwayne Johnson. They even talked about The Simpsons Ride at Universal Studios and hinted at the eventual possibility of creating a different attraction for overseas Disney theme parks in the future.
Finally, they closed the presentation with Matt Groening’s thoughts on the now-controversial character of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, and whether the Indian Kwik-E-Mart owner would remain a presence in the show’s expansive cast of supporting characters. “Yes. We love Apu. We’re proud of Apu,” said Groening, to applause from the crowd. It seems even under Disney, the show is willing to stand its ground. And it remains true that despite online criticism, loss of voice cast regulars, or the astounding age of the series, they’ll never stop The Simpsons.
All 662 episodes of The Simpsons (minus “Stark Raving Dad”) will be available on Disney+ when the streaming service launches on Tuesday, November 12.
Mike serves as Laughing Place’s lead Southern California reporter, Editorial Director for Star Wars content, and host of the weekly “Who’s the Bossk?” Star Wars podcast. He’s been fascinated by Disney theme parks and storytelling in general since a very young age and resides in Burbank, California with his beloved wife and cats.