'Simpsons' makes a date with the bigscreen

Twentieth Century Fox will formally announce today that its long-awaited “The Simpsons” feature will open worldwide in theaters on July 27, 2007.

It’s the official confirmation since the reveal was done over the weekend with rule-breaking behavior worthy of serial prankster Bart Simpson.

The first step was a promo during Fox’s “American Idol” broadcast on Wednesday when animated Springfield newsman Kent Brockman announced that long-awaited news would be revealed on Sunday’s broadcast of “The Simpsons.” Fox then introduced a 20-second teaser trailer Friday on prints of “Ice Age: The Meltdown,” panning away from a tight shot of Superman’s “S” logo to show the symbol on a three-sizes-too-tight T-shirt worn by Homer Simpson, who was otherwise clad in his underwear. The release date was flashed.

Within hours of the film’s opening, Web sites like Ain’t It Cool News were dotted with sighting reports, and Web wonks tempered enthusiasm with skepticism, thinking the trailer might be an April Fools’ Day joke.

It’s no prank.

“That trailer is running on 7,000 screens this weekend, committing us to opening every place in the world on the same date,” executive producer James L. Brooks told Daily Variety Friday. “Which means, we’d better get started.”

Brooks and his co-conspirators are in the storyboarding stage following two years of script drafts and three covert cast readings. Though news of the movie became known when a feature option was made part of contract renewals for show regulars in 2001, the script and release strategy were successfully cloaked in secrecy by Brooks and Fox Animation president Chris Meledandri.

“We’ve taken script security to the point of lunacy, though it helped that we wrote it in Aramaic,” quipped Mike Scully, who penned the script with creator Matt Groening, Brooks and series vets Al Jean, Ian Maxtone-Graham, George Meyer, David Mirkin, Mike Reiss, Matt Selman, John Swartzwelder and Jon Vitti.

David Silverman, the “Simpsons” supervising animation director who co-helmed 2001’s “Monsters, Inc.,” is set as director.

Deals are done with show regulars Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer, Pamela Hayden and Tress MacNeille.

“We’ve also set Albert Brooks, Minnie Driver and the real Erin Brockovich, so you should be able to deduce the plot just from that information,” said Jean, who is running the show in its 17th season.

The original intention, said Groening, was to delay the film until the show was done.

“We tried to save this until the end of the series, but that intention was undone by good ratings,” said Groening. Last month, Fox committed to two more seasons of the show.

“The movie has been so daunting, and the contract between us has always been to wait until we all felt the script was right,” Brooks said. “We tell a feature-length movie story with each episode, but we feel we now have a story and script worthy of a movie. And there was so much secrecy that it’s actually a relief to be able to speak about it now.”

Brooks is producing with Groening, Jean, Scully and Richard Sakai.

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