It's hard to believe that The Simpsons has any surprises left after 17 years on the air. But turns out it had a very big one. Last week, audiences were startled to see a fat, yellow, wool-free mammoth pop up before showings of fellow Fox 'toon Ice Age: The Meltdown. It was Homer as a couch-bound, tighty-whitied Superman, in a 20-second teaser trailer touting The Simpsons Movie's July 27, 2007, release.
What's with the on-the-sly announcement? ''Secrecy is always the most attractive thing,'' says former show runner David Mirkin, who co-wrote the carefully guarded script with 10 veteran scribes responsible for the best episodes from the show's 1990s heyday. ''And there isn't anything less attractive than a room full of Simpsons writers, so we did everything we could to sex the thing up.''
The scribes may not be pretty, but they're pretty sneaky. After musing for years about a big-screen Simpsons, creator Matt Groening stopped mentioning the project when scripting began two years ago. ''We didn't want to be hounded by any deadlines,'' says co-writer Mike Scully. ''My kids were driving me nuts trying to find out what it's about. I couldn't leave the script laying around the house.... I know they'd sell me out for some schoolyard credibility.''
And the teaser is still all they'll reveal. Over the past two months, the cast (plus guests Minnie Driver, Albert Brooks, and the real Erin Brockovich, ''who the kids are just clamoring for,'' laughs Mirkin) recorded voices for the film, but no one's talking plot except to say that most Springfieldians will appear. Nonetheless, the website Ain't It Cool News suggested that the movie will involve a nuclear accident that lands the town under a dome. ''All I can say is so far the secret is completely safe,'' demurs Mirkin. Spoilerphobic co-writer Al Jean, meanwhile, is encouraging curious fanboys to show some restraint: ''I'm sure glad I didn't know that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker's father before I saw The Empire Strikes Back. '' Wait, so Homer is Ralph Wiggum's father? Scoop!