Home, sweet Homer

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SPRINGFIELD, Vt. – Rolling out the yellow carpet, the “hometown” of Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa played host Saturday to the premiere of “The Simpsons Movie,” with creator Matt Groening and the film’s producers among thousands who turned out to toast the cartoon family’s big-screen debut.

Streets were closed off, costumed Simpsons lookalikes walked through the crowds and blue-haired fans vied for tickets to one of four showings of the movie at the 212-seat Springfield Theater, the first of which was by invitation only. “As Homer would say, “Woo hoo!”‘ said Groening, addressing the crowd in a short ceremony before the 2 p.m. first showing.

The Vermont town got the most votes in an online USA Today poll and earned the right to host the premiere, beating out Springfields in Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon and Tennessee.

Originally uninvited, Springfield, Vt., officials lobbied to be included in the contest and then won it, in part on the strength of a homemade video in which Homer – played by a Burlington talk-show host – runs through town chasing a big, pink, rolling doughnut before he gets chased into a movie theater by a mob of people.

Vermont’s Springfield got 15,367 votes, edging out Springfield, Ill., which drew 14,634. “It’s so great to have this little town on the map for something positive,” said Angelo Jardina, 56, of Springfield.

On Saturday, the Simpsons were everywhere you turned. About 2,000 people turned out for the festivities, far below the 10,000 some had forecast, police said. A banner strung across Main Street read “Welcome to Springfield, Vermont, home of the Simpsons,” with three frosted pink doughnuts – each with a bite mark.

Stand-up cutouts of the characters from TV’s dysfunctional cartoon family filled shop windows.

Fans noshed on “Duff & D’oh-Nuts” ice cream, a custom-made concoction from Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc., and sipped a special version of “Duff” beer made by the Magic Hat Brewing Co., of South Burlington.

About 600 tickets were to be given away for three showings Saturday, with Springfield residents getting preference.

Nick Seymour, 19, of Peterborough, N.H., showed up sporting a fresh Homer Simpson tattoo on his back. “I’m a huge Simpsons fans, and a little crazy,” he said.

Two teen-agers from Bellows Falls donned tuxedos for the occasion, with one of them – Trevor Fuller, 16 – carrying a pinata of Bart Simpson that he made in Spanish class. He got it signed by Groening.

Groening and other dignitaries walked the yellow carpet to a stage set up in a bank parking lot for the ceremony, where former Phish member Page McConnell played the Simpsons theme song on keyboards.

“We knew that wherever the real Springfield was, there would be a lot of enthusiasm,” said Groening. “But I’ve never experienced this much fan intensity as here in Vermont,” he said.

“I think it’s quite clearly bigger than Elvis and the Beatles put together,” said Brock Rutter, of the Vermont Film Commission.

The movie got rave reviews from people who watched the early showing. “It was fantastic. It’s a big culmination of all the years of the Simpsons,” said Mike Iglinski, 26, of Manchester. “I thought it was very cute. Very clever, lots of little allusions,” said Mary Helen Hawthorne, 57, of Springfield.

AP-ES-07-21-07 1610EDT

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