Simpsons Movie, The

dir: David Silverman
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Well it’s about bloody time. The series has only been running for 18 years. So grateful should we be that they took the time to put together a cinematic version of the popular television animated series. Because, you know, there aren’t enough movies to watch as it is.

The Simpsons Movie arrives in a form that is unsurprising, with a running time of what three episodes would be like run back to back, with no profoundly earthshaking or universe-altering message. It has plenty of chuckles in it, doesn’t vary from the known Simpsons universe that much, and delivers exactly what long term fans would expect.

Long term fans aren’t the ones who have been saying since the fourth season of the series that it has jumped the shark or sold out a long time ago. I’m not necessarily talking about the Comic Book Guy-type fans who know everything about every episode and feel personally offended when an episode fails to live up to their expectations.

In the years where I barely existed before cable was inserted into my life, I was restricted to only watching about five or six episodes a week on Channel 10. With the magic of cable, that ballooned out to ten episodes watched during the working week, and sometimes four or five a day over the weekend. At this level of addiction, it becomes an almost shameful sickness, something to be embarrassed about, not proud of.

When my beloved redhead and I can quote entire episodes from beginning to end, when almost every situation arising in life, or difficult obstacle faced by a friend prompts the admission “That reminds me of that line from the Simpsons being “I bent my wookie.” When you know what job Ned Flanders worked at before opening the Leftorium (he was a chemist), and the name of the guy who operated the Krusty rival ventriloquist dummy Gabbo (Arthur Krandel), then you know far more about the show than any healthy human should.

So you can see that perhaps I can’t adequately assess how adequate the flick is for any other person’s purposes. Stockholm syndrome kicked in over a decade ago, and I don’t think I’m ever going to turn my back on the series that has given me such joy. I don’t think the show jumped the shark, or milked the mule, or whatever other phrase is used for indicating how much of a shmuck the user of it is by indicating their disdain for a previously loved show. I still love it to bits.

The movie opens with an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon taken to absurd lengths, followed by Homer standing up in a crowded theatre telling people what suckers they are for paying to see a cartoon they get for free on television. Gee, I wonder what he’s referring to.

Unlike many recent episodes, the Simpsons movie actually has a plot, and subplots for some of the characters. Otherwise, it’s a plot so Simpsons-esque that the only real difference between the television and cinematic versions is the amount of 3D computer generated animation geared at making the visual product more interesting for the big screen.

Still, don’t go expecting something along the lines of Pixar. They’ve deliberately kept it as crude as long time viewers would come to expect. I use the term 3D to refer to the use of perspective, not any of the other uses we’ve become more used to in the last decade.

The flick opens with a stellar update of the usual intro we’ve come to expect, updated to the point where Green Day have been playing the Simpsons theme at a concert for three hours. When they try talking about the environment to the audience, naturally, they go berserk and eventually cause the death of the band, prompting one of my early big laughs when they make a great reference to the band playing on the Titanic as it sank. A burdensome, obligatory trip to church results in Grandpa Simpson having a strange, twitching prophecy of death and destruction for the people of Springfield.

Through the kind of random happenstance we’ve come to know and love/loath from the show, Homer ends up adopting a pig as the newest member of the Simpsons family. Initially he’s called Spider-Pig, replete with his own version of the Spider-Man tv series theme. The pig’s presence emphasises to Bart how little Homer cares about his family, especially him. Sure, they have fun together when they’re strangling each other or whacking each other with hammers, but Homer is, as any long time watcher knows, a terrible father and dangerously selfish to boot. Homer dares Bart to skateboard naked across Springfield, leading to Homer letting him down yet again. When Ned Flanders offers the fathering Bart so desperately craves, he sees in him the father Homer could never be.

Apart from all the other magic the pig is responsible for, Homer and the pig end up causing an ecological disaster that sees Springfield quarantined from the rest of America via a giant dome. President Schwarzenegger, clearly a rip off of Rainier Wolfencastle, agrees to a plan he doesn’t know anything about because he’s a Leader, and he Decides which plans to adopt at random. The plan to isolate Springfield is put to him by the head of the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency who are the villains of the piece. The EPA boss sounds suspiciously like Hank Scorpio, the supervillain who, with Homer’s help, once conquered the Eastern seaboard.

It isn’t Hank Scoprio, it’s Russ Cargill, but he’s even more mad with power. He intends to erase Springfield from the face of the planet if the people don’t stay put.

Our favourite yellow, four fingered family escapes the dome and the mob pursuing them and move to Alaska, where the family has to make some hard decisions about whether to tolerate Homer’s idiocy and selfishness any longer. As the destruction of Springfield looms, someone else has to make some hard decisions as well.

Look, as plots go it’s tolerable. I’m never going to use the term brilliant to talk about the movie, because it clearly isn’t. It’s enjoyable, and entertaining, and, for a long time Simpsons fan, has a lot of chuckleworthy gags with regular frequency. It doesn’t vary too significantly from the essence of the show, but has enough of a dynamic and enough diversions to sustain the increased running length.

It has a clever sequence reprising the classic scene from Snow White with the birds and forest creatures helping Homer and Marge get naked so they can get busy. The line “We’re going to need more birds” is pretty funny in context, but like most of the good lines in the flick, meaningless out of context.

Other favourite bits include the ad with Tom Hanks pointing out how old and boring the Grand Canyon is, and how there’s going to be a new one soon where nothing used to be; Martin Prince taking some revenge on those bastard bullies, Bart getting drunk, the naked skatefest, Russ Cargill and his wicked Dick Cheney-esque ways, Mr Burns’s line about whitey finally being in control for a change, and more, plenty more.

The other favourite aspect for me is just the joy of seeing this much beloved show on the big screen. It feels holy, like a special occasion, and something more than just Fox trying to squeeze more money out of this franchise. The most important honour this flick bestows upon itself is that it honours all the people who’ve ever worked on the show, from the talent who’ve provided the voices all these years, to the writers and animators who’ve all made the show a success and a household name.

In terms of not varying, amidst the absurdity and ridicule of the show and its frequent targets, there’s the treacly stuff meant to warm the cockles of the heart. As treacle goes, it’s not Disney levels of saccharine, but it’s bloody close. The regular argument about the show versus its detractors and the imitators it has spawned over the years is that the show balances the tomfoolery and shenanigans in a way that doesn’t diminish the emotional elements of the storytelling. That smacks of bullshit to me, but at the very least I can acknowledge that the Movie, like the series, has heart.

Considering the length of time it took to get here, and considering the inevitability of a sequel, it’s no surprise that the Movie doesn’t take substantial risks or do anything too radical. It is, after all, a very successful, long running G or PG rated tv program. Anyone expecting a pornographic fiasco like the South Park movie will be disappointed. Anyone expecting a few chuckles and plenty of references for the long time fans will be tepidly satisfied.

They did good. Not great. But good. Good is good enough in my book.

7 times I've never believed in suicide, but it might cheer me up to watch you do it out of 10

“Hello, I'm Tom Hanks. The US Government has lost its credibility so it’s borrowing some of mine.” – The Simpsons Movie.