Director: David Silverman
Producer: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Al Jean, Mike Scully, Richard Sakai
Release Date: July 27, 2007
Running time: 87 mins
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Distributors: 20th Century Fox
“Look at that, you can see the four states that border Springfield: Ohio, Nevada, Maine, and Kentucky!”
The Simpsons movie, duh.
Has it really been 18 years since the Simpsons debuted? Yup - December 17, 1989. Man, the date alone conjures memories of freshman year in high school. Typing that last sentence also gave me a sour taste of nostalgia. I can remember hearing about the possibility of a Simpsons movie every since I can remember the show airing and taking off. It’s one of those things you kinda thought would never really happen. One of those movie urban legends like Back to the Future IV. But, low and behold, here we are.
Leading up to this weekend you are probably in one of three different camps regarding the Simpsons. One, you are a die-hard fan that has been salivating over this since the 90’s and could barely contain yourself while you painted your face yellow in anticipation of opening night. Two, you are a casual fan of the show who is slightly interested in the movie but have no real expectation of what it has in store. Or three, you could really care less either way. I myself, am parked dead square in the middle of the second camp. I intermittently enjoy the show and appreciate its sharp writing and irreverent humor. I didn’t allow myself to get worked up with anticipation before I saw this movie. It could have been easy to fall into the trappings of thinking that if it took 20 years to make this movie then it must be the greatest thing ever to grace the screen. Then again there is a difference between taking 20 years to make the movie versus the movie being 20 years in the making. And on we march.
The movie itself felt, much like the Family Guy ‘movie’, less like a full movie but two or three TV episodes put together to achieve feature length. While it was much more seamless here, it is essentially, in length and material, a couple of episodes put together. The overall plot is pretty straightforward: Green Day dies while performing at Lake Springfield when pollution eats away at their floating stage and sinks it. At the funeral, Grampa has a convulsive vision of impending doom that no one but Marge listens to. Lisa and her new interest Colin convince the town to clean up the lake and stop dumping into it. Homer alienates Bart then adopts a pig, sending him into the comforting arms of Ned Flanders. The pig waste is enough to fill a silo that Homer has hidden in the backyard until Marge insists Homer properly dispose of it. He does so in true Homer fashion by ignoring Marge’s warning and dumping it in the newly cleaned Lake Springfield. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decides to take action against their spreading pollution and places a large glass dome over the town. The town finds out who is responsible for their new prison, hunts down Homer and burns the Simpson house down while the family escapes to Alaska. And so on. See, pretty straightforward. Well, for The Simpsons anyway…
Let’s face it, is the plot ever really the reason we watch The Simpsons on TV in the first place? I mean, we watch it because it’s funny. We watch it for its quick witted look at the various topics it pokes fun at (including itself). And we watch it because of its built-in familiarity. None of those things are plot driven. I was pleased to see that the formula that has worked so well for so many years was left unchanged for the movie. The creators had the good sense to know that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If something like this has worked for almost two decades, why mess with it now? The film had the same fun look through the eyes of one of TV’s most endearing families, the same comedic jab at topics like the environment, government, and religion, and the same sight gags and jokes that so many times get missed on the initial viewing. The animation looked fantastic; crisp, colorful, and tight. One negative thing I can say however is that in keeping with the same structured formula, they restricted the film from ever going for the jugular. I wasn’t looking for them to go all South Park on us, but you almost expect that they would take advantage of the bigger arena and try to get some wind under their wings to try something bigger and bolder. To have gone completely in that direction would distract us from the original appeal of the materiel, I just would have liked to see them take advantage of the freedoms of the big screen a bit more. Nevertheless, this was an entertaining film that stayed true to the materiel without straying too far from what has made it so good for all these years.
Your expectation level going into this will no doubt impact your overall enjoyment of the film. While I am not a die-hard fan of the show, I am amused by it and shocked that any show, let alone an animated one, can hold its own among the best TV comedies for all but 20 years and still be as relevant as it is today. It’s not the Holy Grail of Simpsons lore that some might expect, but is definitely funnier than 75% of the crap that counts as comedy these days. And after 20 years it’s safe to say that The Simpsons still got it. And there’s the rub.
*** 1/2 of *****