335 – The Simpsons Movie

When a TV show finally hits the big screen, what should the movie have that the show didn’t? Obviously, stuff you can’t get past the censors on television; jokes that are even more adult in nature, drug use, nudity, even some profanity – as long as the basic characterizations and tone of your program aren’t mucked with. Right? I mean, what’s the point, otherwise? And that’s exactly what the cleverly titled The Simpsons Movie manages to do, shoehorning pithy comments and witty repartee into a relatively brief (87 minutes) cinematic explosion, a supernova of one of comedy’s brightest stars.

Now, often full-length feature versions of a TV show will simply be a long episode, or a couple of episodes strung together semicohesively. And semicoherently. But Matt Groening and James L. Brooks takes a plausible-for-the-Simpsons storyline and ratchets up… well, everything. There’s more visual and verbal humor, more characters (though not new ones, really), more exciting locales – not just Springfield – and tons of in-jokes, most of which the intended audience is going to fawn over like Bambi’s momma. (Speaking of which, there’s an amusing scene in which Adorable Woodland Creatures help get Homer and Marge ready for their coital bed.)

The basic plotline is that after a lot of nagging by one Lisa Simpson, the horribly polluted Lake Springfield – where people dump crap, dead bodies, and toxic waste – has finally been cleaned up. Mayor Quimby is especially proud of their new deterrent system to prevent people from dumping – it’s a wall. But wouldn’t you know it, it’s only so idiotproof, and Homer winds up throwing an entire silo of pig poop (don’t ask) into the lake, immediately killing it and causing some mutant creatures to develop. The EPA, noting this, decides that the entire area must be sealed off, so they put a huge glass dome around Springfield. No one can get in, and most importantly no one – especially toxic waste – can get out. No wonder that in short time the rest of the Springfield citizenry rise up and form an angry mob out to get the Simpsons.

As I said, there’s nudity – but, sadly, it’s not anyone you’d want to see naked. No, not even Patty or Selma. And, believe it or not, there’s death! Of course, it’s not like any of the Simpsons themselves die, or even a secondary character. But hey, there are literally scores of characters in the Simpsons universe, so it’s okay if one of them bites it, right? And double hey, it’s not as if the movie is part of any grand continuity – if someone gets hurt in the movie, I’m betting they’ll be peachy keen next time you see them in the TV show.

To be sure, even though there’s some envelope pushing and such, the characters remain who they are – Homer is a complete screwup who somehow manages to both destroy and save everyone at least once; Bart is a selfish brat who picks on his sister and is susceptible to dares; Lisa is a dreamy brain who pines for a new boy; and Marge is the proverbial glue that usually holds them somewhat together.

The movie’s not very long, which might be its only real debit. It’s wildly amusing, and the movie makes the best use out of its short running time, being chock full o’ jokes and references that only Comic Book Guys in their mom’s basement will get. Thankfully, there are very few celebrity voices – one Name does the voice of the chief bad guy, with the EPA, and another plays himself. (I’m not even including the brief appearance by Green Day, though.) I like that – it’d be too easy for the Bigwigs to shovel in celebrity after celebrity, as has happened in many a Simpsons episode over the years.

Our favorite yellow family survives its first foray onto the silver screen – the movie is so well done, it feels like an episode from the middle years of the series without seeming like a simple extension of the show. It’s hysterical, appropriately raunchy, and just absurd enough to be the ne plus ultra of animated movies. Well, at least those that are animated in a traditional (i.e., not wholly computerized) style. So pass the donuts and gulp down your Duff brew!

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