Woo-hoo! The stars and creative team behind The Simpsons came out in Hollywood (well, Universal City, anyway) tonight for the grand opening ceremony of the brand-new immersively-themed Springfield area of Universal Studios. For a gala two-hour event celebrating the recently-unveiled land (built, during operation, around the existing 2008 Simpsons Ride and Kwik-E-Mart), Universal pulled out all the stops and invited press, celebrities, and friends of the park and show to enjoy this fully-realized representation of the popular fictional town for one fun-filled evening.
The Simpsons Springfield grand opening ceremony Universal Studios Hollywood
The Simpsons Springfield full nighttime walking tour at Universal Studios Hollywood
The event began as an in-universe ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, hosted by “senior vice president of public relations” Bob Fleming. Fleming stumbled onto the stage and began speaking into the top of a large lever as though he thought it was a microphone. From that point on it was clear that the organizers of these festivities knew not to take themselves too seriously. Realizing his mistake, Mr. Fleming found the real microphone located just to his right and began to extoll the virtues of the power plant, its owner C. Montgomery Burns, and the surrounding neighborhood of Springfield that we, the attendees, would soon have a chance to explore.
Fleming then introduced the president and chief operating officer of Universal Studios Hollywood, Larry Kurzweil, who gave a somewhat more serious-toned introduction to Springfield and what it means as part of the park’s 50th anniversary. Kurzweil also acknowledged the designers and executives behind the creation of the new area, while welcoming special guest visitors Nancy Cartwright (the voice of Bart Simpson), Yeardley Smith (Lisa Simpson), and Joe Mantegna (Springfield’s resident mob boss Fat Tony). Also on hand were long-time writer and executive producer Al Jean, producers Matt Selman and Michael Price, and director of many a Simpsons episode (not to mention the feature movie) David Silverman.
Kurzweil turned the podium over to Al Jean, who politely asked us to divert our attention away from the still-under-construction Wizarding World of Harry Potter: “It’s not finished! We are finished. It’s a big advantage.” Jean also cleverly pointed out that this event was considered the “hard opening” of Springfield because of the “hardness of the churros that have been here since 8 AM”. He then claimed that the conspicuously-absent Simpsons creator Matt Groening was actually present, but was dressed in a Shrek costume he wears in public to avoid being bothered. Finally, Jean half-jokingly invited us to purchase bags full of merchandise before the evening ended and turned the mic back over to the still-in-character Bob Fleming, who brought out a cavalcade of costumed characters: The Simpsons family (who have been present in the park since the ride’s opening) and new additions Krusty the Clown and Sideshow Bob.
After a brief recognition of the park employees (introduced as the “citizens of Springfield”), the ceremony came to an end with a bang: at the conclusion of a countdown, Kurzweil and Jean pulled the “needlessly oversized ceremonial switch” and brought the nuclear power plant to life. But of course, as with anything involving the hastily-thrown-together infrastructure of Springfield, something went wrong. A loud rumbling sound and alarm bells began emitting from the power plant, sparks flew from the rooftop (Fleming dismissed them as fireworks), and smoke billowed out of the large cooling towers atop the structure. Fortunately, a hazmat team was on hand to save the Simpson family and the rest of the party-goers from certain doom.
Revelers then were offered unfettered access to all that Springfield has to offer: Krusty Burger, The Duff Brewery, Luigi’s Italian restaurant, Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck, and Cletus’ Chicken Shack, among a whole lot more. The show’s behind-the-scenes talent gathered for a drink in Moe’s Tavern, where free Flaming Moes were dispensed to guests. Official Lard Lad jumbo donuts and Marge’s-hair-style cotton candy were given away, and attendees were even welcomed to ride the Simpsons Ride and play the many carnival games to win complimentary Bart and Lisa plush toys.
While it may be somewhat smaller in comparison to its Florida counterpart (a notable omission is Kang & Kodos’ Twirl N’ Hurl), this new Springfield area is a wonderful, lively renovation of Universal Hollywood’s upper lot area. Fans of the show will no doubt get a kick out of the ability to explore their favorite animated American town while visiting the park, and once the aforementioned Harry Potter area is complete and opened as well, Universal’s current phase of expansion will surely have achieved the company’s goal of keeping its Hollywood location a must-see destination for Los Angeles tourists and Southern California residents alike. For now, theme-park enthusiasts can consider themselves very fortunate to be able to quote one of my favorite Simpsons episodes by saying “get me two tickets to the state that Springfield is in!”