At one point, animated paterfamilias Homer Simpson asks if audiences are going to pay to see a movie with characters and stories they could just as easily see on commercially saturated television. Well, I spent time watching The Simpsons get the big-screen treatment and it’s been more than 10 years since I’ve seen an episode of the show. I have to admit, Homer and his clan are well worth the time and money spent translating them to film.
I’m aging myself by saying that I remember when Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and baby Maggie were just animated sketches on The Tracey Ullman Show. Practically everyone knows that the dysfunctional family was modeled after creator Matt Groening’s own, with Bart being his stand-in. After three years of sketch work, The Simpsons earned their own half-hour series in 1990, and have since become the satirical Everyfamily and a television icon to boot.
Of course, I fell off the bandwagon a year or so into the series run and never found my way back. It wasn’t because the show lost its edge. In fact, I’m willing to assume that fans of the show are loyal because it has maintained such a high standard by expanding its universe. The short sketches focused almost exclusively on the family, whereas the show has taken full advantage of the opportunity to incorporate the fictional community of Springfield as if they were the outsized, extended family of The Simpsons.
Which, interestingly enough, is where The Simpsons Movie falls somewhat short of the target. The show’s rabid fans must have been concerned that even at 90-plus minutes, it would be difficult to include suitable time to spotlight the cast of thousands that make this world tick with such precision. What The Simpsons Movie does, though, is what other television adaptations have failed to do — to engagingly extend the premise from the standard television format to feature film length.
It could be argued that the movie is a parody of the recent spate of environmentally conscious films. Think The Simpsons go green and you’d be in the right ballpark.
Once Homer accidentally creates a toxic waste spill that threatens to shut down Springfield, the Govenator (now President of the U.S.) has an advisor (Albert Brooks) seal off the town and prepare to annihilate it and its citizens, so Homer has to dig deep to save everyone.
Yet there’s so much more in the mix besides the environment. Satirical shots are taken at families (of course), television, advertising on Fox and movie culture. The true hallmark of all the digs is how creative and fun they are in skewering the declining art of cultural criticism.
The show is all about Middle America and we know firsthand how little criticism matters. We’re losing newspapers and cultural critics faster than a naked Bart streaking past on his skateboard, so the creative team behind the show and the movie (which was produced alongside the past season rather than during a seasonal hiatus) felt the imperative to take matters in their own hands and dole out a few choice comments.
That’s something that can only be accomplished by a show (and now movie) where its creators have control over content and the wit to make the moral medicine go down easy.
It doesn’t take a village to do that, though, just a hero of great proportions and in a summer that marks the return of Bruce Willis’ John McClane, you know Homer and Bart will live free (with cameos from pretty much all of Springfield).
The pre-release buzz about the film tried to lead us to believe that the movie might end with the death of a beloved character. But come on now: This isn’t Harry Potter or The Sopranos (although it ranks up there with Tony and the gang minus the cut-to-black finale).
I have to admit that it seems like I’ve missed something pretty special all these years. Maybe I should get reacquainted with them before the inevitable sequel. Grade: B (tt stern-enzi)