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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Homer Begins Russian Odyssey

Itar-Tass"The Simpsons" has been targeted as anti-family by nationalist politicians.
Despite being widely dismissed as zholtiye urody, or yellow freaks, and corrupters of children since their arrival in Russia, "The Simpsons" has a strong fan base and the premiere of the movie Thursday is out to Simpsonize the country.

The film version of the television series opens in Russia more than two weeks after its record-breaking world premier. A total of 550 copies of the film have been distributed nationwide, accompanied by a huge advertising campaign. By comparison, "Die Hard 4" only had 16 more copies.

"We expect it to do well," said Alexander Kovalenko, a spokesman for 20th Century Fox CIS, the studio that produced the film.

Nevertheless, "The Simpsons" has yet to conquer Russia as they have other countries, remaining an acquired taste for most.

"Unlike the United States, the animated family does not number among our national heroes. It's a shame," wrote journalist Oleg Zintsov in Vedomosti on Tuesday, previewing the movie. "It is a sign of a healthy pop culture, a golden mean that we do not have."

If there were a Russian version of "The Simpsons," it would be a continuation of "Ironiya Sudby," one of the favorite films shown every New Year's, as if the heroes Nadya and Zhenya had married and had children, and it would touch on the main problems of the nation, Zintsov wrote.

"The Simpsons" only officially arrived in 1997, 10 years after it started in the United States, although pirated copies could be found before then, as well as Simpson matryoshka dolls.

The series has been shown on Ren-TV television since then and on 2x2 since April. Ren-TV has nearly aired the entire series and will air the 18th season in December.

"'The Simpsons' did not become popular in Russia as in the West because of the banal fact that the population was busy with other problems," wrote one fan called Silent who answered questions posted on "The Simpsons" forum. He said the show stood out among low-quality Western programs. "Such a diamond among a pile of you know what," Silent wrote.

Even before "The Simpsons" appeared on television here, it had touched on Russian and Soviet life a number of times.

Springfield, the Simpson family hometown, has a Russian district where, as in the old days in Moscow, you could make calls from telephone booths for free and the shops have simple names like Myaso.

There have been more than a dozen mentions of Russia in the series from a wrestler called Rasputin, who became the friendly Russian because of the change in the geopolitical situation with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Krusty the Clown once said Mikhail Gorbachev's birthmark was because of herpes.

Most fans noted that the jokes were all very stereotypical, perhaps referring to the time Mo's Breathalyzer showed "Boris Yeltsin Drunkenness" as one of the categories. One forum user noted, however, that they had got off easy compared with countries like Australia or Canada.

The series did not attract any real outrage before 2003, when lawyer Igor Smykov tried to claim compensation after he said it had a bad effect on his son, who called his mother a toad and asked his grandmother what cocaine was after watching the program.

The court case was thrown out in 2005, but the series then faced criticism from nationalist politicians who said the series was anti-family. The criticism was reminiscent of U.S. President George Bush's comments in 1989 when he asked why families could not be "less like the Simpsons and more like the Waltons."

Like many other Western television imports, "The Simpsons" is dubbed over into Russian with the audio of the English version loitering underneath. Homer Simpson says "D'oh," but the Russian actor does not. Fan forums are often full of complaints about the translation of the series.

In the Ukrainian version, which many fans say is better than the Russian, Quimby, the corrupt Springfield mayor who sounds suspiciously like U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy in the original version, shares vocal familiarities with Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

The film has been dubbed completely, but the pay for the Russian actors who do the Simpsons' voices does not compare with that of the originals.

Homer will still be voiced by the same actor as in the series, Boris Bystrov.

Some new voices were chosen -- Marge is Olga Zubkova, who normally dubs people like Angelina Jolie and Charlize Theron. Zubkova said it took her five hours to voice Marge's role. As she spoke, there was just a hint of the purr in the original voice.

Oleg Forestenko, 65, who has acted in the Vakhtangov Theater on the Arbat for 40 years, plays Homer's God-fearing neighbor, Ned Flanders. He got around $200. "I'll get paid soon, ring me up to check [how much I actually get]," he said. "I may be out by $50 or so."