Groening Draws Crowd at Comic-Con

The Simpsons creator Matt Groening was joined by producers, writers and other members of his merry toon crew to dish some new information about the long-running animated FOX series at the San Diego Comic-Con Int’l on Saturday. In adition to spilling some beans about the upcoming season, Groening also discussed the upcoming feature film outing for Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie.

Commenting on the Simpsons feature, Groening remarked, "It will have all the things we need to pad it out to 90 minutes. It’ll have songs, dancing and really long end credits." The joking served to stave off fans requesting serious information on the film, which is still very much under wraps. "We’re working on a movie script," he said, again jesting, "There’s about 14 minutes we’ve written."

The audience was, however, satisfied with Groening’s confirmation that he is working on a direct-to-video feature based on his cancelled FOX animated series, Futurama. He drew applause by declaring, "Futurama lives!" and noted that they are currently in talks with FOX to resurrect the property for the home video market.

Groening and team were a bit more forthcoming about the future of The Simpsons as a series. He revealed that they are working on a series of Christmas specials in the spirit of the ever-popular "Treehouse of Horror" installments that air around Halloween. One of the Yule Tide episodes will have Homer giving a church surmon on the nativity story, while another will find Mr. Burns and Grandpa stranded on a desert island during WWII. The third special will use the music of The Nutcracker to tell the story of what happens in Springfield during the winter holidays.

Though The Simpsons is debuting in September this year, episodes will be pre-empted by major league baseball in October. The show’s producers take a shot at the sport in the opening for the new Halloween episode, which they previewed for the audience. The installment opens with aliens Kang & Kodos viewing a baseball game and commenting on how slow it is. They then send down an accellerator beam that speeds up the game considerably, but realize that they still find the sport to be boring.

Among other revelations about the upcoming series is news that Kelsey Grammer will return as Sideshow Bob in September, and that Patty and Selma will finally get to meet MacGuyver when Richard Dean Anderson guest stars. Actor/filmmaker Rob Reiner has also joined the guest list for an episode. As The Simpsons is known for spoofing movies and other elements of pop cutlture, fans can also look forward to jabs at Mutiny on the Bounty and The Poseidon Adventure, among others.

When asked if he thought the show was running out of steam, Groening replied, "We jumped the shark so many times, it doesn’t matter anymore." He then referred to the big crowd assembeled for the panel as evidence that the series is still very popular and relevent despite the emergence of new primetime animated series including FOX’s American Dad and the resurrected Family Guy.

Downplaying rumors of a rivalry between his Simpsons and Seth McFarlane’s Family Guy, Groening noted, "There have always been rivalries. Look at Mad and Cracked magazines, Superman and Bizarro Superman, Charlie Chaplin and Adolph Hitler, Darth Vader and Dr. Doom, Heathcliff and Scooby-Doo, the Teletubbies and the Republican Party. But we’re all friends, and that’s all that matters.

Groening also addressed request for a DVD release of the original Simpsons shorts that debuted on The Tracey Ullman Show in the mid-’80s. "We might release them on cell phones," he said. "That might be a better format because there’s a certain crudeness to them. They look like Bart drew them."

FOX will begin airing the new season of The Sipmsons on Sept. 11, along with fellow "Animation Domination" staples Family Guy and American Dad. King of the Hill will resume a week later.