“The Simpsons” has been aired on Fox for almost eighteen years. The show had a shakey first season, but quickly became one of the smartest and funniest things on t.v. or any other medium for that matter. Unfortunately the years have not been kind to the show, most agree that the show has jumped the shark. Thirteen hundred and two people on jumptheshark.com feel jumped in 1999, Seven hundred eighty eight people say it jumped in 1997, but they all seem to feel that by the end of the millennium the show had descended into a series of pointless random gags and lame episodes that either feature lame family trips or exist solely to support a guest star’s presence. What was once the edgiest show on T.V. has become family entertainment, the formerly rebellious show has become part of the establishment. Now in 2007, more then half a decade since the series almost certainly jumped, Groening and company have decided to bring the Simpson family to the big screen with The Simpsons Movie.
The Simpson family is familiar to just about everyone, even those who’ve been living under the proverbial rock. As the movie opens, the Springfield lake has become so polluted that a big barge in the water dissolves as if it were in acid. Lisa Simpson manages to convince the town to stop polluting the lake. The town even stays true to its word, that is, until Homer (motivated by the prospect of free donuts) dumps a vat of pig waste into the lake resulting in an environmental crisis. In response to this crisis President Schwarzenegger (not voiced by the real Schwarzenegger) is told by the millionaire EPA head Russ Cargill to place a dome around all of Springfield.
Watching “The Simpsons” on T.V. is free; so why would a viewer pay good money to see it in theaters? The answer Trey Parker and Matt Stone came up with was to take away all the censorship of T.V. and go for an all out R-rated movie, thus delivering a much different product. The Simpsons Movie does take a few liberties with its PG-13 rating that wouldn’t be taken on television. A character says the word “goddamn” at one point, Homer gives a mob “the finger” in another, and there’s a surprising gag involving nudity. However what you get for the most part is t.v. friendly. I would have preferred they did more with the freedom of cinema, they had an opportunity to throw around the “s-word” and they could have used the “f-word” at least once, but they did neither despite obvious openings for both.
There are more subtle benefits to the theatrical format. The extended length of the movie really gives the show more of a chance to breath than a thirty minute episode ever would. The fact that there are no (real) commercials also helps a lot. For someone like me who doesn’t see many animated movies, it is really different simply to see the show projected onto the big screen. The film also has a larger budget and uses a lot of computer related effects. The movie’s frame is expanded to a full 2.35:1 widescreen, and the whole thing just looks a lot sharper than the show.
The true benefit of the movie is that it is an event rather than yet another episode and as such the writers actually seem to give a damn. The movie develops a real story that carries throughout the entirety of the film rather than annoyingly switching story paths every fifteen minutes like most recent episodes have. The story focuses on the Simpson family rather than focusing on the one-note supporting characters that populate Springfield, these characters show up a lot but no one secondary character ever takes over. The movie does have guest appearances, but the movie isn’t taken over by them like so many episodes are.
Perhaps most importantly, the movie is pretty funny. There are a lot of witty lines here that elicit laughs. There are a lot of in-jokes that will have the hardcore fans giggling. There are some politically subversive gags, but the movie generally avoids major political messages. The lower physical humor doesn’t impress me much, but I’m sure it works for those looking for such material. I did laugh a number of times, not very hard mind you, but I was laughing.
That’s not to say that many of the show’s more negative aspects as of late aren’t also present. Many blame the decline of the show on the simple fact that it’s run out of ideas after nearly two decades. This can be seen in the movie, as a number of jokes and plot ideas have been seen in some variation or another in old episodes. There have been more than a few occasions where Marge and Homer have had marital problems, the town has been angry at Homer before, there have been a number of episodes where the family has gone on a trip and here they’re going on yet another one (this time to Alaska). Additionally the movie too often descends into some of the crazy “Family Guy”-esque humor that has plagued recent episodes of the show. For example, at a peak emotional point the screen goes black and a title card comes up and reads “To Be Continued… Immediately”. This kind of “joke” is not only is completely unfunny but also takes the viewer completely out of the movie. This type of thing comes up repeatedly.
There really isn’t much to say about The Simpsons Movie, anyone who’s seen an episode of the show will pretty much know what they’re getting. At the end of the day it is basicly a pretty good three part episode on screen, if you have no interest in seeing that, than stay out of the theater. If you are interested in such a thing, The Simpsons Movie won’t disappoint.
*** out of four