As the longest-running animated series in history, The Simpsons has made a habit of skewering pop culture — there's nothing safe from the comedic critique of Springfield's finest. And with the franchise now under the Disney banner alongside the iconic Star Wars property, the team behind the scenes put together a brand new short film called "The Force Awakens From Its Nap," featuring Maggie Simpson navigating a new daycare littered with Star Wars characters, references, Easter eggs, and so much more.
The Simpsons executive producer Al Jean continues to guide the franchise and helped bring this short together alongside director David Silverman and writers Joel H. Cohen and Michael Price. Now that it's streaming on Disney+, Jean took the time to speak with ComicBook.com about how it all came together. Read the full interview below.
ComicBook.com: These Maggie shorts that you have been doing now for a while, they're so much different from the regular episodes. What is the appeal of doing these little short films like that?
Al Jean: Oh, I grew up watching Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. So their shorts were sort of a pinnacle of a certain kind of comedy that it's really cool to be able to do in 2021. It's really great for sight gags. It's great for the director, David Silverman, and you can do an idea and obviously, you don't have to belabor it. Three and a half minutes. I hope people don't get sick of it.
Everyone's always wondering about a potential spinoff for other projects. Could you see this maybe having the legs to be its own spinoff if you were to do it more consistently on a weekly basis as a different kind of series?
Al Jean: Well, I can tell you what we will be doing is more interactions with Disney+ for sure. I love writing for Maggie so I would be happy to do these shorts as long as I could. Every one of them has been a little joy.
So when you say you're doing more things for Disney+, can we expect more making fun of Disney projects and other properties? Because you guys had such a fun time making fun of Fox and now with the new ownership, there are so many different possibilities with Marvel and Pixar. Are you guys going to continue to go down that route?
Al Jean: Yeah. I mean, in a good natured way. Making fun of Pixar... I always think it's funny when we're making fun of something in our field that's better than us. Kind of like punching up. I couldn't be a bigger fan of Marvel either. So yeah, it's great. It's great company to be in.
Can you tease maybe... I mean, I know this one just came out. Everyone's always going to be looking towards the future though. Can you tease maybe something that you have in the works?
Al Jean: There's something coming in a couple months.
Now I got to look at the Disney calendar and see... put my conspiracy... my tinfoil hat on. What could they be doing? So what was your favorite part about getting to play in the Star Wars universe and picking and choosing which elements? Because you got Duel of the Fates in there, you got Lando in there. There's so much packed into it.
Al Jean: I love "Duel of the Fates." That music in The Phantom Menace is just so terrific. When I first saw Star Wars I was 16. It was in a theater where I was dazzled. I've gone to all the movies, I've seen all The Mandalorian. I'm a huge fan. So it was really a pleasure to do stuff from all the different eras like BB-8 and General Grievous. Just to have all the Star Wars references that we've known over the years in one little three-minute package was really exciting. We had two guys write it with me, [Joel H. Cohen] and [Michael Price]. Mike especially was a huge Star Wars aficionado and so we really tried to pack every possible thing we could. Plus our point that no good character ever really dies in Star Wars and stuff like that. It was really fun to add.
That was a funny ending because he kind of just told everyone to chill out. It felt like a meta way to be like, "Calm down. It's just Star Wars."
Al Jean: Well, that came from the last Star Wars feature where I was going, wait, Harrison Ford is still alive. Then Rey looked like she died, but she came back. They thought Chewie was dead, but nope, he's alive. So I'm like, "If you like them, they come back" which is good because nobody wants to see them die.
Yeah. So, in a broader sense kind of going over just your work on the series in general, looking back, do you think that there... I mean, are there any jokes that you regret cutting from the show?
Al Jean: Never regret cutting. I regret keeping some but I always think comedy is editing and if... no one ever said, "Oh, I laughed all the way through. It was too short." It really never happens. So if you have something that's really well-paced, then you haven't cut too much. Again, with a three and a half minute short, 30 seconds of which is credits, we really try to keep it tight.
Is that what the runtime you're going to be shooting for, kind of getting in and out with these Maggie shorts going forward?
Al Jean: Yeah, they'll always shoot for under five minutes. Actually, with the credits, we weren't necessarily going to do them, but we loved the Mandalorian credits, those painting-style scenes from the show. Plus we did some new ones and so we just thought it was fantastic to get those stills and to put them in. They're all beautiful.
What's your favorite one of the stills? I really like the one of Homer in the cantina.
Al Jean: I like Homer in the cantina. I love Lisa where we put The Simpsons theme. I think I love the Burns one the most. I just love... That's a perfect role for Burns.
Burns as Snoke.
Al Jean: Yeah, he is Snoke.
He really is. So are there any jokes that you feel that you can't believe that you guys managed to get away with? Especially now with the new Disney ownership?
Al Jean: There's a really funny joke that [James L. Brooks] pitched where the Disney stock price goes down. I'm really glad that stayed in. But no, they were... everybody was really accommodating. The only note we had was don't overuse Grogu because everybody wants to put Grogu in their stuff, which I understand because he's so popular. So it was good. I was glad. It made us work harder and use more characters.
You got your own Grogu. You guys made your own. Maggie is the Grogu.
Al Jean: Well, we did. We got a little nod into him, but yeah. I mean, I would say Grogu is the most popular character in fiction in the last year. So I understand the protection.
Now I'm just imagining a Grogu, Maggie, and Baby Groot team up. I don't know why.
Al Jean: Baby Groot. That would be great. No, I know. That never hurt... Every time you take some beloved character and make them a baby it's great.
Do you have... Just looking back, do you have a favorite episode in-
Al Jean: No, I mean there's too many episodes. There's too many... There's ones that mean a lot to me like the first episode and "Homer at the Bat," one I recently wrote based on To Kill a Mockingbird, one with Anne Hathaway where she played a princess, among many that I have special personal memories of. But I think we did more than a few good ones.
Reading writers of Simpsons throughout the years and interviews with them, they all have different opinions on easy characters to write for and hard characters to write for. Do you think that there's some truth to that? Are some characters easier for you and some characters harder for you? And is that more rewarding when you can tell funny jokes with the harder characters?
Al Jean: I love writing for Lisa because I identify with her. I really find the ones that the writers maybe enjoy writing the most are Burns and Flanders and Sideshow Bob, because they have such distinctive, florid styles of speaking. You can really write a really nice speech for Mr. Burns.
Who are some of the difficult characters, do you think?
Al Jean: Ralph is really hard. Writing a good Ralph line is not easy. They're good. I mean, I love Ralph. I actually created the character, but he's very hard.
Do you think it's just because the legacy of Ralph jokes is so strong. It's hard to live-
Al Jean: The legacy is strong, you're used to a huge laugh. There's just this attitude where a little off, but not too off and always optimistic.
That character in general... It's funny because that character is always the punching bag, but it's never super cruel. And when it is it's with a purpose and you know and you feel bad.
Al Jean: No, that's the thing is like when we had the show where he had his heart broken and you froze frame him, you really felt terrible because he's just a sweet, innocent kid and you never want anything bad to happen to him. Nor will anything bad to happen to him.
The show has so many seasons, decades. I've been watching this since I was a child and it's just so crazy that I get more to look forward to. So I'm just wondering, do you think that the Simpsons can go on forever?
Al Jean: Well, we just got predated for two more years. So take us through season 34. This is my statement on it, is if they ever canceled The Simpsons, I know there would be a reboot within five years. There's never been a project, especially an animated one that's been this successful that hasn't been rebooted. They're talking now about rebooting King of the Hill. You look at the other end with shows like South Park and Family Guy, which aren't as old as us, but are over 20 years old. So that would be my statement.
What are you most excited about for the future of the show?0comments
Al Jean: Well, this is just a little thing, this short. A three-minute thing that was a pleasure to do. But with Disney+ we seem to have found yet another audience. There's a hundred million subscribers on it and every time I look, we seem to be one of the top two or three trending titles. So when you have that audience, that incredible base of loyal fans, you get to do really cool things for a long time. So it's been way longer than I ever expected and it's no end in sight. So it's great to have a job where you get to do this stuff and you don't have to explain yourself and everybody knows what The Simpsons is.