The Simpsons Movie (2007) — Funny but forgotten

“I can’t believe we’re paying to watch something we can see on TV for free! If you ask me, everyone in this audience is a giant sucker… especially YOU!”

Drew’s rating: Best. Movie. EVER! (C’mon, someone had to say it.)

Drew’s review: Okay, that’s not true. The Simpsons Movie is not the best movie ever. Nor is it the funniest the Simpsons have ever been. But. It IS funny, and aside from making a zillion dollars, it should serve to remind lapsed Simpsons fans (bless me, Matt, for I have sinned) why the show holds the title of the most subversive and entertaining cartoon to ever air. Will it bring any new converts to the Cult of Simpson? That I don’t know. But I promise you that only the most surly, disagreeable “fans” of the show will watch this film and not be entertained by it. And nobody likes those guys anyway.

Though the plot contains elements familiar to anyone who’s watched the series, I’m happy to report that it does feel appropriately epic, rather than just like four episodes strung together. In brief: Homer adopts a pig and starts spending all of his time with it, prompting Bart to look to Flanders as a father figure. But when Homer dumps little Harry Plopper’s… uh, ploppings in Lake Springfield, it kicks off an environmental catastrophe that leads the EPA to seal the town in a giant bubble. Escaping before their enraged neighbors can take revenge, the Simpson clan relocates to Alaska… but when an even greater catastrophe looms for Springfield, they must choose whether to go back and help, or try to put the past behind them.

And there just might be some swearing and nudity somewhere in there.

If you were wondering whether they pulled out all the stops for the Simpsons’ big screen debut, consider this: nearly every fan-favorite character, no matter how minor, can be glimpsed in at least a crowd scene, and some get to do more than that. (Go, Stampy, go!) And I mean nearly every character — when you see first seasoners (Jacques, Princess Kashmir) and the guy who calls Homer “Bill,” you know they didn’t hold anyone back. (Except Rainier Wolfcastle, probably because of — wait for it — President Schwarzenegger. And Kang and Kodos, but they were in those Burger King ads.) That being said, everyone will also walk away with at least one or two favorites they wish had gotten more lines… a consequence of the show’s extremely popular secondary characters more than anything else. (My picks: Mr. Burns and Principal Skinner.) And the film does earn its PG-13 rating for several much-talked-about moments: Bart’s twig ‘n berries, Homer’s salute from the Double F Ranch, Marge swearing(!), and Otto finally showing us what we knew he was up to all along. (Hint: that’s not a pencil holder.) Also, I believe this is the first time Disney animals have ever directly facilitated someone having sex (except for that one deleted scene from Mulan).

But perhaps the biggest criticism you can level at The Simpsons Movie is that it’s a victim of the show’s own success. After 18 years, literally nothing hasn’t been done, and at times the film feels like a “best of” showcase. A polluted waterway that mutates wildlife; Bart turning to Flanders as a surrogate father; the Simpsons adopting a random animal; the family having to flee after Homer angers the town; Lisa falling for a cute environmentalist; Homer fighting to regain the respect of his wife — every one of those statements stirred a memory of at least one episode in the mind of any true Simpsonite. Certainly there are some great returning lines sure to appeal to longtime fans (praise Jebus!), but it’s hard to shake the occasional feeling that the movie is one long series of “Hey, remember when we did…” moments. Who is Cargill really, if not Hank Scorpio with a new face?

And yet… and yet…

And yet, is it truly fair to condemn a franchise for such incredible longevity, for having stayed popular for the better part of two decades? If the movie doesn’t feel as fresh as it might have 10 years ago, the satire is still biting, the family still relatable, the jokes still funny. Anyone arguing that the show’s roots have been forgotten need only look to one of the film’s subtlest gags — at Springfield Gorge, we see the ambulance that crashed into a tree waaaaay back in the first season episode “Bart the Daredevil.” And frankly, if the movie doesn’t quite reach the peaks of the show’s renaissance, it’s still more entertaining than 95% of the films I’ve seen this or any other year… and I can live with that. I suspect you can too, so either see this one in theaters or start counting down the days till the DVD hits. Because, c’mon — you fail to see this movie? That’s unpossible!

Justin’s rating: My eyes! The goggles do nothing!

Justin’s review: I think many of us arrived with mixed feelings at the opening of The Simpsons Movie. Partially excited, partially nervous, and partially ambiguous would be the three emotions I’d use. Excited because, hey, The Simpsons are finally receiving their glorious big-screen debut after years and years of rumors of the project. Nervous, because half-hour shows don’t usually translate well into feature-length films, and many of The Simpsons’ past genius writers were no longer around to lend their aid. Ambiguous because it’s been 18 flippin’ years of the series and it’s no longer as relevant in my life as it once was.

It’s absolutely amazing for me to think that when The Simpsons first started, I was 12 years old. Twelve. It pushed the envelope for the time it came on, and was temporarily banned in our house after watching the episode with a mostly-naked Mr. Burns on screen. As many of you, I grew up with the show, finally latching onto it once it hit its golden years (seasons 3-7), quoting it non-stop with my friends and memorizing all of the catchy little songs. I remained a faithful watcher, even as the show’s quality declined into a formulaic routine (guest stars, pop culture issue of the week, Homer does something stupid), and eventually stopped watching the weekly broadcasts in favor of lazily collecting the DVD sets.

All in all, it seems a most weird time for a feature film of America’s Favorite Yellow Family to suddenly come out with a summer flick, and I found it more difficult than anticipated to work up the enthusiasm to rush out and see it. Yes, the lowjack around my ankle and the inevitable police chase slowed me down, but there really didn’t seem to be anything that called out to me to make this a Must See Now.

While boasting a handful of laugh-out-loud corkers and a few dozen or so chuckles, The Simpsons Movie is nothing more or less than a longer episode of the show. Yes, it could’ve been a severe clunker, and that would’ve been a pity, but it’s also a shame that for all of the money and talent that they threw behind the movie, it fails to justify why it had to be released anywhere else but a television screen. While South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut leaped ahead to create a huge musical epic strange masterpiece, The Simpsons Movie plays it safe by trotting out a few guest stars, a guest location (Alaska), and quick jokes that are the beginning, middle and end of most of the characters shown.

As with many Simpsons episodes, trouble brews as Homer does something dumb. In this case, it’s an adopted pig that produces so much waste that it puts the town in environmental danger. A quarantine dome is lowered, the town goes on the warpath, and the Simpsons family narrowly escapes yet begins to fracture internally. We’ve really seen the mob thing and the family-falls-apart-but-comes-back-together thing dozens of times already, and I just found myself frowning that this — this? — was the best that Groening and company could come up with.

I didn’t not enjoy it, you understand, but afterwards I was left with such an empty feeling that I couldn’t help but nag the film in a post-mortem review. Springfield hosts such a rich assortment of secondary characters that it boggled me to see how quickly they vacated the town and underused pretty much everyone but the Simpson clan. Lisa is given a token romance that is such a yawner that I can’t imagine the voice actress deluding herself that it’s anything else but a bone thrown to keep her happy. It’s stuff like this that kept the movie from being anything but been-there, done-that.

However, to end things on more of an uptick, I will mention three positive virtues the film exhibited, and leave it to you to justify if it makes the viewing worthwhile:

  1. Spider-Pig. This became the mini-pop culture phenomenon of the movie’s advertising blitz, a one-off joke that a lot of people latched onto. It has a catchy little theme song, and comes during an appropriate Spider-Man season to keep it relevant.
  2. The Disney Scene. By far the funniest scene in the movie is when Marge and Homer are about to make icky yellow love, and all of these Disneyfied animal critters start coming into the bedroom to help them undress and set the mood. As more and more birds swarm in (including an eagle) to help Homer get nude, I couldn’t help but laugh. Good to know these creatures still get work.
  3. The Flanders/Bart Relationship. Oddly enough, the most touching part of the movie has to do with the put-upon Ned Flanders, who becomes a surrogate father-figure for Bart after Bart has had it with Homer’s lack of parental skills. Rather than make Flanders into a lame goody-two-shoes joke, he’s shown to be a caring, nuturing father, the type that Bart secretly craves. I know it’s all comedy, but a couple parts where Bart flinches, expecting Flanders to hit or strangle him and instead gets a loving touch, made me think of abused children in real life and their problems. Flanders comes through with flying colors, and that made me terrifically happy.

Didja notice?

  • That the plot is pretty much what they did to Gotham City in Batman a few years back? The whole “No Man’s Land” thing?
  • R.I.P. Green Day. We hope you had the time of your lives.
  • The 4 states that border Springfield: Ohio, Nevada, Maine, and Kentucky.
  • So we’re agreed that Maggie’s future career is either cage fighter or professional hitman?
  • Johnny Cash was a better spirit guide than Boob Lady.
  • Do you think it was weird for Julie Kavner to swear in Marge’s voice?
  • NOOOO!!!! Dr. Nick!!!

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