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Movie Review: The Simpsons Movie

The Simpsons Movie
Directed by David Silverman
Written by James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Al Jean, Ian Maxtone-Graham, George Meyer, David Mirkin, Mike Reiss, Mike Scully, Matt Selman, John Swartzwelder, and Jon Vitti

Certainly my favorite television show of all time, The Simpsons, at its peak, has never been matched by any other cartoon since it arrived in 1989.  South Park has come the closest, but it has never had a run like the first six seasons of The Simpsons, with nary a dud episode in the bunch.  Of course, since its midlife, The Simpsons has generally degraded a bit, with a mixture of highs and lows, never consistently great, and today’s generation prefers Family Guy now.  You can’t get anybody under 24 to think Family Guy is a lesser show than The Simpsons, because Family Guy does have a higher laugh count than latter-day Simpsons eps.

With an army of classic Simpsons writers onboard, The Simpsons Movie was going to have a pretty good chance of being somewhat funny.  But think about how far this family has come without a big screen adventure.  The ideas were going to be in short supply.  I know, this is going to sound like one of those reviews where I say, “It was funny, but…” and you’d be exactly right.

The basic story is that the town of Springfield cleans up their lake and Homer Simpson (Dan Castellaneta) finds a way to screw it up.  The EPA, led by Russ Cargill (Albert Brooks, using his classic Simpsons moniker A. Brooks) encases Springfield in an seemingly indestructible, inescapable glass dome and tries to cover up their existence.  Homer, along with wife Marge (Julie Kavner), son Bart (Nancy Cartwright), daughter Lisa (Yeardley Smith), and baby daughter Maggie (usually not voiced, but Cartwright takes the credit here) find a way out.

However, Homer is in the doghouse with his family: Marge because he didn’t listen to her, Lisa because his actions have led to destruction of the environment, and Bart because he seems to prefer spending time with a pig.  So like any episode, Homer has to win their love back by for once not being so selfish.

I’ll get the bad out of the way first so I can sound like I enjoyed the film, which I did.  This movie has the same problem many sitcom-to-films have and that’s taking the rhythms of a 22-minute TV show and expanding it to an 87-minute feature.  The added time really drags this down in a lot of places, and for awhile The Simpsons Movie basically gets by because it’s such a pop culture icon.  You watch because of the familiarity.  This new adventure could have been wrapped up in 22 minutes on a normal day.  The writers and producers often hint in DVD commentaries that today’s Simpsons episodes suffer because Fox cuts time for more ads.  And while I think it would be great if they got those extra couple of minutes that they had back in the heyday, they clearly don’t need much more than that.

Also, Mr. Burns (Harry Shearer), long the series’ chief antagonist, is given a backseat here and I think this is a bit of a slap to the franchise.  A simple Burns-is-evil story would have been great.  Of course, they’ve explored almost every angle of that over the years.  Still, it’s a bit of a disappointment.

OK, so ultimately there are many funny moments, and this will probably be enough to recommend it.  But it’s certainly no South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, still the best sitcom-to-film cartoon ever (and perhaps best TV-to-movie ever, period).  Somehow, Trey Parker and Matt Stone nailed that one.  It never seemed overbloated or just passing the time, like this movie does.  I give the movie high marks for some great animation, a hilarious gag involving the blocking of Bart’s privates (not just the one you see in the trailer), a very funny cameo from Tom Hanks, many sight gags and one-liners, plus almost every single beloved character (no Sideshow Bob?) given life by the longtime Simpsons voices including the previously unmentioned Hank Azaria, Marcia Wallace, Tress MacNeille, Pamela Hayden, and Russi Taylor, among others.  It fills the time with funny for the most part, and if I ever see it on TV, I’ll watch it.  I might even buy it on DVD.

I think you catch the drift.  It’s worth a look. 

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