TORONTO — Joel and Colleen Sutherland always do a family costume for Halloween. With their three children, Charles, 10, Bronwen, 8, and Fiona, 3, they have dressed up as the gang from “Scooby-Doo,” “Ghostbusters” and “The Simpsons.”
But the rest of the year, the Sutherlands are typically too busy to get creative as a family. Until now, of course.
“The kids are in activities, pretty well every night of the week: dance, scouts brownies, swimming, and soccer,” Joel told HuffPost Canada. “I work full-time at a library, and I’m also a children’s author. When the weekends come around, we usually just want to spend our free time chilling, watching TV or going to the park.”
And then the coronavirus pandemic happened.
Just shy of four weeks into staying home as much as possible, the family released a video of the magic that can happen when you strip away all the distractions and organized activities of modern family life and hunker down 24/7 together.
Their glorious family project is a remake of “The Simpsons”′ iconic opening sequence, and yes, it is very much deserving of being shared and viewed countless times on social media. Take a look:
The idea came to Joel and Colleen after they were rooting around in the basement to find more things for the kids to do while they were all shut in at home in southern Ontario’s Durham Region.
When the couple found last year’s Halloween costumes, they hit upon the idea of recreating its famous opening minutes, and the kids jumped on board.
“As young as they are, we let them do a lot of the work in planning it. They watched “The Simpsons’ sequence over and over on YouTube and then started brainstorming how to do each of the scenes with what we have at home,” said Joel.
Baby steals the show
The delightful montage (all shot on Joel’s phone) kicks off with Charles in the role of Bart, scrawling “I will social distance,” over and over on his chalkboard.
Later, in his role as Homer, Joel clutches a giant hotdog with barbecue tongs in a nod to the plutonium rod that his yellow counterpart picks up at the nuclear power plant.
Little Fiona, as Maggie, spitting out her pacifier at the end is an improvised touch, according to her father. “It was technically a blooper, but we realized, when we played it back, that it was the funniest thing in the video, so we just kept it in.”
Casting was more a question of age and gender than personality. “My son Charles is nothing like Bart. He’s very studious, he doesn’t get into trouble, and he has never told a lie in his life,” said Joel. “And my daughter’s not anything like Lisa: Bronwen is a little more freewheeling and rambunctious.”
The Sutherlands shot all the interior scenes in their second weekend of social distancing, and then the exterior ones a week later, when the weather warmed up.
“The kids didn’t care about going out into the street in costume, but Colleen and I hadn’t thought through how embarrassing it would be for us, as adults,” admitted Joel.
“We did it to help release some of our own stress and anxiety and have a good time as a family.”
After some initial self-consciousness, shooting those scenes ended up being a bonding moment within a community getting weary of quarantine life. Many neighbours watched from from their porches and garages or from across the street, and shouted over to ask what was going on. One even thanked the Sutherlands for keeping them entertained all afternoon.
“We did it to help release some of our own stress and anxiety and have a good time as a family, and I thought it might bring our friends and relatives a little happiness, when I posted our video on Twitter,” Joel said.
Watching it go viral, and even get a shout-out from the official “Simpsons” account, surpassed all his expectations.
“The comments from strangers have been overwhelmingly positive, and one mom even commented to say said she’d been watching it with her autistic son and he was loving it. Seeing how much joy it’s bringing people right now has really been worth it.”
While the kids don’t have social media accounts, their parents have kept them in the loop about all the attention.
“As the numbers kept going up, my son asked me, ‘Do you think everyone in the whole world will see this?,’” said Joel.
So, when we’re all allowed to leave our houses again, will it be back to the same old busy routine as before for the Sutherlands?
“I certainly hope that when this is all over that we’ll carry on spending a lot of time together and having a lot of fun as a family,” said Joel.