“The boys certainly are taking a long time. I hope Maggie isn’t slowing them up too much.” – Marge Simpson
For reasons of television necessity the Simpson family has always been an adventurous lot. But while Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa can easily go out into the world and get into and out of trouble, little Maggie is limited by the fact that she can’t talk and can barely walk. But while those limitations usually see her shuffled off to the side, the show also gives strong hints that she is the smartest and toughest of them all.
“The Call of the Simpsons” is the first serious indication that we in the audience get that Maggie is more than a pacifier sucking background character. It’s true that in “Bart the Genius”, while the rest of the family is trying to build Bart’s vocabulary with Scrabble, she’s spelling out physics equations with wooden blocks. But having her wander into the woods, befriend a clan of cave bears, and then save Homer and Bart from them was the first time the show took Maggie out and built a little story around her.
With the exception of the television idiots and the camping jerk and his wife, it’s told entirely without dialogue. It’s just Maggie being silently fearless and resourceful with a musical accompaniment to set the mood. It’s not a major part of the episode, but it is in the best tradition of The Simpsons, sweet but absurd and funny.
And people say the crazy stuff didn’t start until Season 4.
In subsequent seasons we see her liberate pacifiers from a heavily guarded locker at the Ayn Rand School for Tots, unintentionally stage a massive jail break by crashing a car into the prison, and trek across Springfield in a search for Marge that ends with a peaceful nap under an ice cream sign while the police panic beneath her. She may be silent, but she is smart, tough and funny, so when the Simpson kids are shipped off to the unfortunate care of Patty and Selma in “Homer Alone”, Bart and Lisa go along meekly while Maggie outfights a grown man and stays safely out of their clutches. She effortlessly snags the bottle thrown at Homer’s head in “Lisa on Ice”; and while she is only briefly on screen in “Lisa’s Wedding”, we get a clear portrait of a teenage Maggie who has the attitude of Bart and the brains of Lisa. Oh, and she shot Mr. Burns.
All that stuff was well in the future when this episode was created, but you can see the seeds of it right here. Even at this early stage they were already having fun with unconventional storytelling and doing things that would’ve been impossible on a non-animated show. (It’s also a great example of how they put that live orchestra to good use. Maggie and the bears simply wouldn’t work without that “Peter and the Wolf” style music.) Maggie is the least prominent Simpson, but the show still had the good sense to treat her like a real character, even way back in Season 1.