The Simpsons Movie

Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
The Simpsons Movie
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

We have loved them for over 400 episodes and it is the most popular animated TV series ever. Now, America's most beloved cartoon family makes the leap to the big screen in the long anticipated wide screen, feature length event known as "The Simpsons Movie."

'Familiarity breeds contempt,' or so the saying goes but, with "The Simpsons Movie," familiarity breeds comfortable, familiar delight for the many fans of America's iconic animated TV comedy series.

The denizens of Springfield have polluted its namesake lake to the point that they have created a toxic crisis for the town. With a environmental disaster looming, the townsfolk take Lisa's dire and band together to clean up Lake Springfield. They make the lake pollution proof, surrounding it with Jersey barriers to keep anyone from further contaminating the water. They are not prepared, though, for Homer Simpson.

In keeping with the television series, Homer screws up big time after he rescues a pig from imminent demise. He makes it a porcine pet, treating it as (or better than) a member of the Simpson family. But what to do with the copious pig poop that Spider Pig/Harry Plotter produces? Why, dump it in Lake Springfield, of course! This one thoughtless act will have horrendous effect on the town when the EPA quarantines it from the rest of the world. Homer must go to extraordinary lengths if he is to save his hometown and his friends.

"The Simpsons Movie" is, as I hoped, an epic version of "The Simpsons." Our favorite family is joined by a host of familiar faces, from Moe to Mr. Burns and the Bumblebee Man, as Springfield joins forces to 'kill, kill, kill' Homer for his travesty (even Grandpa sides with the vigilantes). Unless James L. Brooks and Simpson's creator Matt Groenig were willing to make a 3-hour monster (which would not have worked), short shrift is given to the hundreds of characters introduced over the years on the show. They made the right decision.

Instead of showcasing many of the wonderful characters, Director David Silvernan and company focus on the Simpson family and the story of Homer trying to right his enormous wrong. As such, the first Simpson feature film is lean but not mean. The laughs are many, even if they are from humor that we have already seen on the TV show. But, free of the shackles of network television restrictions, the makers are able to mine more edgy material, including a noodle shot of Bart.

"The Simpsons Movie" is both what I expected and hoped for and, while it does not strike me as brilliant, it does have brilliant moments. I give it a B+.

After over 400 episodes and 18 seasons, the longest running animated series on television finally lands on the big screen in "The Simpsons Movie" and fans should feel fulfilled.  While the film edition features flourishes not seen on the small screen - wide screen images of astonishing clarity and detail, Bart full-frontal - in essence it never offers an 'epiphany,' although the road to Homer's is well worth taking.

Beginning with an 'Itchy and Scratchy' cartoon poking subversive fun at the Oval Office revealed to be a movie feature being watched by the Simpsons clan ('Why would anyone pay to watch something they can see for free on TV? Homer asks), then shifting into a revamped version of the show's opener that features Bart writing 'I will not illegally download this movie' on the chalkboard, "The Simpsons Movie" neatly establishes its theme.  Green Day, who are playing the show's theme from a lake barge, sink in the polluted waters and Lisa has a new cause.  At the band's funeral, Grandpa makes a strange prophecy about terrible things happening, twisted tales, a thousand eyes and 'epa, epa.'  Homer saves a pig from the local Krusty Burger and brings it home. Jealous over the attention being paid the pig, Bart finds solace with neighbor Ned Flanders.  Meanwhile Marge thinks the pig is the eye to what Grandpa was on about.

Of course she's right and of course, Homer disappoints the whole family, most especially Lisa, who has succeeded in her efforts to clean Springfield's lake. The EPA cocoons 'the most polluted city in the world' within a glass dome. When the town's citizens turn on them, complete with burning torches, Homer pulls out his long-hatched 'plan B' and decides the family should make a new start in Alaska.  Maggie finds their escape hatch.

But Marge, Bart and Lisa discover Springfield is being targeted by EPA head Russ Cargill (voice of Albert Brooks) for complete destruction, and when Marge turns Homer's words back at him, he fails her completely. The family separate and it is up to Homer to find them and, as always, redeem himself.

It must be said that Homer's redemption, while nothing new, is writ a little larger this time around, complete with an Oliver Stonesque Inuit side trip, where Homer has his 'epiphany.'  A thirty minute Simpsons episode (in actuality 22 without commercials) can often feel an hour long - in a good way - because it crams so many things into such a small amount of time.  The 'four times as long' movie suffers from some drag, and even a number of jokes fall flat (astounding given the amount of nurturing this movie's been given).  But, is as usual with "The Simpsons," it is not necessarily the story but the details that it is peppered with that make it worth watching.  The classic Bart skateboarding scene extends a device recently used in the Austin Powers' flicks, but caps it with an unexpected howler.  A cup of cocoa deemed uncool becomes something fantastical and the joke feels bigger than what would have graced the small screen.  Springfield's actual location, used as a contest for the film's premiere, is given a sly bit of geography, and if Moe's doesn't appear next to Springfield's Church in the show, their new abutment is cause for one of the movie's better punchlines. A couple of jabs at Fox are not only funny, but particularly satisfying after the recent round of hostility the studio has exhibited towards online film critics.  A couple of unexpected Presidents appear and America's most trusted movie star takes the piss out of himself.

Visually, "The Simpsons Movie" is a stunner where Homer's eyeballs pop in the middle of a blizzard and that certain shade of yellow never seemed more carefully chosen.  It's a fun time, if not exactly the be all and end all of the pop culture phenomenon known as "The Simpsons" - I'd rather rewatch some of the classic television episodes than the movie.  And whatever happened to the pig?  Maggie's second 'first' word, heard at the film's end, may be the answer.

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