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"The Simpsons Movie": Ay Caramba, It's a Winner!

I’ve been a Simpsons fan for as long as I can remember. I first saw it when I was probably five or six. (If I recall correctly, it was “The Call of the Simpsons”, back when it first aired). I’ve been a big fan ever since and have seen each episode countless times, whether in syndicated reruns or on the season DVD sets. And yet, I also have felt the show hasn’t been at its strongest for awhile now. So The Simpsons Movie was kind of an interesting experience for me. Rumors that a movie would be produced have circulated for the better part of a decade, leading to high expectations. On the other hand, since I don’t like the way the show has drifted over that decade, I also harbored low expectations for it. So did it live up to hype and end up better than the majority of recent episodes? Yes.

The plot is reminiscent of Outbreak. Lisa and her new crush, Colin, start a campaign to clean up the Springfield lake. However, Homer disregards the laws and dumps a silo full of pig feces (from a pig he adopts early in the film) into the lake. A mutated creature arises from the polluted lake, and the Environmental Protection Agency winds up putting a giant dome over Springfield, isolating it while they continue research on any other monsters. The townspeople want Homer dead for cutting the town off from the rest of the world; luckily, the family manages to escape and hightail it to Alaska to start a new life. Meanwhile, the EPA decides to annihilate the town.

Marge is unhappy when she finds out why Homer disobeyed the anti-pollution law—he was in a hurry because a donut store was going out of business and was giving away free donuts—and becomes even angrier when he doesn’t want to return to Springfield to save the town, and she and the kids leave him. It’s then up to Homer to mature, become less selfish, and return to Springfield to save the day.

This main plot is essentially identical to any number of “marital problems” plots that the show has done before, and it’s no surprise when the two are reunited by the end of the film. But it’s executed much better here; Marge is truly at the end of her rope. The “goodbye” video she leaves him is actually quite dramatic, and offers the best voice acting by Julie Kavner since, gosh, season 8 at least. You can feel her pain when she tells him why she’s left him, and it’s made all the more emotional by the fact that she created the message by taping over their wedding video.

The other part of the plot concerns Bart’s disillusionment with Homer as a father figure. Early in the movie Homer dares Bart to skateboard downtown naked, and then doesn’t back him up when he’s arrested by the cops. So Bart takes refuge with Ned Flanders. (The movie, by the way, treats Flanders better than recent seasons of the show have treated him; instead of an ultra-conservative, panicky worrywart, he’s a caring neighbor who wants what’s best for Bart and doesn’t stand in the way of father and son reuniting later on. This is refreshing.) If anything, the movie doesn’t flesh out this sub-plot enough, and it has a bit of a too-convenient conclusion. At times it feels like an afterthought amidst all the “end of the world” chaos.

Of course, most Simpsons fans will undoubtedly be concerned about is its humor. Well, I’m happy to say it measures up. The movie is so packed with gags that it will definitely hold up to repeat viewings, especially with its trademark, freeze-frameable background signs. It also has plenty of satirical material about the government, from a colossal room where agents monitor every single conversation in America to the president himself, President Schwarzanegger (who looks and sounds remarkably like Rainier Wolfcastle, and might as well be), who doesn’t even read the laws that are placed in front of him by villain Russ Cargill. One of the funniest moments in the film has Cargill placing five folders in front of him and asking him to randomly pick a number. The exchange goes something like this: “3?” “No.” “1?” “Too low.” “5?” “Too high.” “3?” “You said that already.” “2?” “Now multiply it by two.” “4?” “Good choice, Mr. President!”
It’s just so fast-paced and silly that it works.

Some of the freshest jokes in the film play with the film medium in a clever way. A Fox promotional banner suddenly appears on the bottom of the screen in a random scene. It roughly states: “Don’t miss the newest episode of this show on Fox. That’s right, we advertise in movies now.” At another point the movie fades to black and the text “To Be Continued” appears, followed quickly by “…Immediately.”

Not all of the jokes work. Partly this is because the barrage of trailers and commercials for the movie have robbed many of them of all impact, but there are some genuine duds, such as Ned’s “And I wish you didn’t have the devil’s curly hair!” or Homer’s downing a bowl of chili, screaming in pain, and then calmly saying “More please.” Even if that joke wasn’t spoiled beforehand in the trailers, it’s a pretty obvious joke.

I loved the 2D animation in the film, which is done by the same studios that produce the TV series, but which has a much fuller and smoother look and uses shadows on the characters to convey mood. Director David Silverman is arguably the best director still with the show, and he has a knack for facial expressions and funny visual gags. And he even nails some of the more dramatic moments, as when the angry mob has the family cornered in Bart’s tree house. But Silverman shouldn’t get sole credit. Numerous current and former Simpsons directors, such as Rich Moore, worked on the movie, and Rough Draft and Akom provide more inbetweens for the movie than for the series. It’s a gorgeous movie, so that you can at least enjoy the craft behind it even if you don’t find it funny.

The Simpsons Movie an entertaining, high-energy ride that flies by and can probably be enjoyed by both the show’s hardcore and casual fans, as well as those who’ve not seen the show much at all. My only concern is that has set the bar too high. There’s no way the series can top this: the town on the brink of destruction, Homer and Marge almost splitting up for real, Bart realizing his dad can be a horrible man, and so on. If the series were ending soon I wouldn’t have this concern, as it would be a fitting finale, but at this point it shows no signs of stopping.

Oh well, even with that inevitable problem, the movie itself is still worth seeing, especially if you’re a Simpsons fan, and especially if you’ve been disappointed with the show lately. It’s funny, it’s fast, and darned if it doesn’t even have some dramatic impact.

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