“The Simpsons” created some of the most vivid and lovable characters animation has ever known. Whether it’s a member of the titular family or just one of the many familiar Springfield residents, even nonfans recognize just how memorable these fictional characters have become. Sadly, unforgettable characters make it that much more difficult to say goodbye to the wonderful people responsible for them.
On July 26, longtime “Simpsons” voice actor Russi Taylor died of colon cancer. She was 75 years old and had been a part of the show since its beginning. Aside from her many roles on “The Simpsons,” Taylor was also famous for voicing Minnie Mouse for over three decades. Her legacy will undoubtedly live on through these characters.
Taylor was the voice behind several kids in Springfield, including the jump-roping twins, Sherri and Terri, the perpetually ill Wendell, chocolate-loving Üter Zörker and, her most expansive character, Martin Prince.
Regardless of whether you’re picturing one of Martin Prince’s many interactions with the school bullies, or just remembering his foolishly innocent, high-pitched voice, a universal image of the young character’s geeky but lovable demeanor immediately comes to mind. This is the result of Taylor’s refined ability to create a vivid and enticing minor character with nothing more than her voice. Thus, it’s no surprise that Taylor’s death has prompted many to pay respects to the legendary actor.
Questions still remain as to how the showrunners plan to handle the loss of these characters. It’s important to remember this isn’t the first time “The Simpsons” has lost an actor; Phil Hartman, the voice behind many of Springfield’s most iconic citizens, such as Lionel Hutz and Troy McClure, died in 1998, which led the showrunners to retire each of his characters.
Similarly, when Marcia Wallace, the voice of fourth grade schoolteacher Edna Krabappel, passed away in 2013, the showrunners not only retired her character but paid several in-show tributes to her legacy. Considering the deep connection that “The Simpsons” cast members have with each other, it’s likely that fans will see a similar treatment for Martin Prince and the rest of Taylor’s characters.
The showrunners are sure to find a proper way to celebrate Taylor’s legacy. Taylor’s primary character, Martin Prince, shined brightest through the lessons he conveyed.
Martin taught viewers that, sometimes, it’s better to be a nerd, when made his first appearance in “Bart the Genius,” the second episode in the series. At first, it’s easy to be somewhat frustrated with his character. He’s a condescending know-it-all who tattles on Bart Simpson, which lands him detention for the week. Initially, Bart doesn’t like Martin, and the audience doesn’t care too much for him either.
However, it soon becomes evident that much of Bart’s contempt for his classmate comes from a place of jealousy. Bart wants to be the brainiac who doesn’t struggle with school. He wants to be the gifted child who finishes tests early, beaming with self-confidence as he leaves class to enjoy the rest of his day. Basically, he wants to be more like Martin. This is what urges Bart to secretly swap his exam with Martin’s, which leads Bart to be placed in a school for gifted children where he struggles more than ever.
Russi Taylor’s role in “Bart the Genius” shows audiences the beneficial side of being the nerdy kid. While Bart seems to have all the friends and popularity that a child could want, he still finds himself striving for the emotional security and self-confidence that Martin boasts about.
Also, through Martin’s character, viewers learn how to squash a beef with a bully. In the episode “Lemon of Troy,” the children of Springfield receive a lesson on community pride when they’re told about the famous lemon tree that separates their town from the rival town of Shelbyville. Tensions soon rise between the two towns when a group of Shelbyville kids steal the lemon tree, urging Bart and his friends to infiltrate Shelbyville and take back what’s rightfully theirs.
This group includes many of Springfield’s most noteworthy kids: the school bully, Nelson Muntz, and everyone’s favorite nerd, Martin Prince. Normally, the two act as foils to one another, and the confrontation often ends with Martin getting beaten up. But this time, civic pride turns the two into a hilariously efficient duo, using both brains and brawn to combat the Shelbyville thieves. Martin even forms his own song about the unlikely friendship, much to Nelson’s displeasure.
The friendship doesn’t last beyond the episode, but Prince and Taylor still deserve praise for their efforts to befriend the scariest kid at Springfield Elementary. They taught fans everywhere that no bully-victim relationship is completely un-squashable, which fosters hope for both Martin and victims of bullying everywhere.
Martin also highlights the superficiality and transience of popularity. The episode “Bart of Darkness” begins with all the kids of Springfield struggling to stay cool during the summer. That all changes, however, when the Simpson family invests in a pool. The other kids flock to the Simpson’s house, and Bart and Lisa soon become the popular kids in town. That is, until everyone’s favorite poindexter changes everything.
The Prince family gets an even more lavish pool, decked out with wood paneling, a volleyball net and enough room for all the kids in Springfield (or so Martin thinks). The winds of popularity soon shift in Martin’s favor, and he quickly becomes obsessed with his social acceptance. He begins wishing for “more friends” and “more allies.” Ironically, the overwhelming number of “friends” becomes too much for the pool to physically handle, causing it to completely break down, ending Martin’s popular streak.
Martin gets the last few words in this episode, singing Frank Sinatra’s “Summer Wind” as the camera slowly pulls away. Martin singing the words, “The summer wind came blowing in from across the sea,” perfectly captures the ephemerality of popularity by comparing the short-lived enjoyment of being popular to the temporary comfort of a summer breeze. The ending to “Bart of Darkness” is one of the most unique endings in the whole series, and Taylor makes sure to use her screen time to send a heartwarming sentiment that rings true for fans of all ages.
These lessons don’t even begin to scratch the surface, nor do they do proper justice to Taylor’s legacy. It’s difficult to narrow down Taylor’s greatest moments on “The Simpsons” when she has so many to choose from. Whether her screen time was spent delivering a heartwarming message to fans, or simply just conveying yet another hilarious joke, one thing remains true: There may never be a nerd as lovable as Martin Prince, and there will certainly never be a voice-actor quite like Russi Taylor.