LOS ANGELES – Springfield, the mythical city that serves as Anytown, USA for “The Simpsons,” is enjoying some urban sprawl in the real world.
Home to America’s favorite screaming yellow TV characters, the town becomes bicoastal on Wednesday when Universal Studios Hollywood officially unveils a newly created Springfield. The city block-sized neighborhood, constructed on formerly open space near the park’s existing Simpsons ride, will feature a collection of show-inspired landmarks, such as the cooling towers of Mr. Burns Nuclear Power Plant, and eateries — one of which will answer the age-old question: What exactly does a Flaming Moe taste like?
“It’s hard for me to be objective,” said Al Jean, one of the show’s executive producers who was closely involved in the ramp up of the show’s theme-park presence. “But if you’re a fan of ‘The Simpsons,’ you will feel like you’re in their world.”
Springfield’s leap from cartoon to concrete, which first began at the theme park’s Orlando, Florida, location in August 2013, marks another surprising cultural enshrinement for a subversive animated comedy that began more than 25 years ago with few expectations of success. Today, American television’s longest-running scripted program powers a lucrative global brand that has rung up billions in merchandising sales and has hauled in 31 Emmys and a 2012 Oscar nomination for its theatrical short “The Longest Daycare.”
The show that proved prime-time cartoons could appeal to adults received even more acclaim. Fox recently announced the show would continue setting records for TV longevity when the network renewed it for an unprecedented 27th and 28th season. When concluded, those seasons will bring the tally of “Simpsons” episodes to 625.
On Friday, Tommy Trojan got some new company on USC’s campus. A sculpture of Bart Simpson’s “Bartman” was officially dedicated at the School of Cinematic Arts Complex by Nancy Cartwright, the work’s creator, who also supplies the character’s distinctively mischievous voice.
Springfield’s arrival in Universal Hollywood is among a slate of upgrades undertaken by the theme park over a five-year span that began in 2012 with the opening of its 3-D Transformers ride. Later this summer comes the roll out of another elaborate attraction, “Fast & Furious – Supercharged,” which is based on the popular movie series and will serve as a grand finale for the park’s studio tour.
Universal Hollywood’s “epic transformation,” as the park’s PR machine is fond of calling it, will culminate next year with the highly anticipated opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, already a huge hit at the Orlando park. The coming Hollywood attraction, well under construction, shares a border with Springfield.
Park officials won’t disclose how much they’ve invested in the Simpsons and other projects, but they all are designed to keep competitive in a crowded marketplace of amusement parks and tourist destinations.
At least for now, the Simpsons crew isn’t worried about being overshadowed by the rising towers of Hogswart Castle, which are easily visible from Springfield.
“We’re trying to figure out ways to tell people at Harry Potter world to turn left and visit Springfield,” said Jean, who originally pitched the idea for a drink named the Flaming Moe on the TV show.
“Harry Potter is a pretty enticing setting, but we’re pretty different,” added Jean. “They do what they do great, but they are about magic and atmosphere and we’re just trying to be funny.”
There’s no shortage of gags, wisecracks and humor on the not so mean streets of Springfield. Visitors need only look up to see a mock tribute to the Hollywood sign that has 40-foot high letters spelling out the name of the Simpsons’ hometown. Fans of the show will immediately recognize dozens of other “Simpsons’” structures including Stu’s Disco, Springfield Police Station, Burns Manor and Homer’s work station at the nuclear power plant (which every so often has a little meltdown).
Of course, no realistic Simpsons world could exist without a celebration of incredibly unhealthy food. Exhibit A — a 17-foot statue to Lard Lad (yes, you can buy doughnuts.) In all, the new Springfield boasts nine places to eat including Krusty Burger, Luigi’s Pizza, Cletus’ Chicken Shack and Phineas Q. Butterfat’s Ice Cream Parlour. (Also available at Moe’s Tavern, a non-alcoholic Flaming Moe.)
The show’s writers, often borrowing from a wealth of material from the TV show, came up with the menus. Guests can order Cletus’ Peep-Fried Chicken Platter, a Clogger Burger (a double Krusty Burger with bacon), or for health nuts the Mother Nature Burger, a veggie pattie with guacamole.
In developing the menu, Universal officials had to keep reminding the writers that jokes couldn’t trump clarity.
“They kept telling us, ‘Make sure that people know that a hamburger is a hamburger. People should know what they are buying so they don’t have to decode it,’” said Jean. “It’s a valid point.”
That Springfield is a reality is something over which those associated with the show can marvel — a state of mind that doesn’t come naturally to most comedy writers.
“Things you remember from childhood are very powerful,” said Jean. “And we’ve been around long enough to have been part of people’s childhoods. I’m just glad we’re all alive for our own nostalgia.”