The Simpsons Movie

The Simpsons Movie

The Simpsons are startled by the first part of "Lights! Camera! Action!"

(20th Century Fox) Starring the voices of Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer, Albert Brooks, Pamela Hayden, Tress MacNeille, Marcia Wallace, Joe Mantegna, Tom Hanks. Directed by David Silverman.

When they made their debut 20 years ago on Tracey Ullman’s short-lived sketch show, who’d have thought The Simpsons would become national cultural barometers? That’s exactly what happened though. Just after their 18th season, America’s most dysfunctional family took a crack at the big screen.

The pollution in Lake Springfield is getting out of control. After Lisa (Smith) nags the city fathers enough, joined in by a new Irish boyfriend named Colin (MacNeille), the mayor (Castellaneta) authorizes a no-dumping zone in the lake.

In the meantime, Homer (Castellaneta again) has picked up a pig for whom he’s developing an unnatural affection for. A depressed Bart (Cartwright) finds solace in the house of Ned Flanders (Shearer), who is more of a father to him than the self-involved Homer. As the pig’s droppings begin to accumulate, Marge (Kavner) demands that Homer dispose of the waste properly. As he’s about to do that, Homer is distracted by a free doughnut giveaway – curse those free doughnuts – and as a shortcut to doughnuts, dumps the waste into Lake Springfield.

That’s enough to tip the Lake into full-blown toxicity. Mutant squirrels convince President Schwarzenegger (Shearer) and his smarmy EPA Chief Cargill (Brooks) to imprison the entire town within a dome. Nothing can get out, nothing can go in – except Maggie (Smith), who discovers a sinkhole that allows egress. Still, it’s a good thing that FEMA wasn’t in charge – the dome would have been late and full of more holes than a fishnet.

Anyway, once the good citizens of Springfield find out that Homer was responsible, the town arrives on their doorstep with torches and rope. The Simpsons barely escape, and are forced to flee to a new life in Alaska. Still, when the family discovers that the government plans to destroy Springfield, Marge is eager to get back and save the town. However, when Homer refuses, the family splits up. Homer must now find his inner Simpson, rescue his family and save Springfield. Is there time for ribs too?

The question you always have to ask in a situation like this was “why make a movie of something that is available on television?” The evaluation has to include whether a big screen is necessary for the story, and will the experience be enhanced in a movie theater as opposed to one’s own home. In the case of X-Files: Fight the Future, the criteria were met. Here, however, it’s hard for me to say unreservedly that this is a movie that cries out for the big screen.

There are some scenes that make for nice movie viewing – the Doming of Springfield, the trip to Alaska, Homer’s encounter with the Northern Lights spring to mind – but for the most part, the movie doesn’t do much more than give us a few obscene gestures and sequences that wouldn’t make it past the network censors. I agree, there are some really awesome laughs, like Homer’s scorn at the Itchy and Scratchy movie and Maggie’s barroom brawl, but the ratio of big laughs is about the same in any typical episode of the series.

I really liked Marge’s videotaped sequence – that was truly a tearjerker – but for the most part the performances were solid as always. The thing I didn’t like was the scale. It just didn’t seem so epic that they couldn’t have done it as a two-parter in the show.

It took 158 drafts to get to the script they eventually used. Plans for a Simpsons movie have been in motion for nearly 15 years now; something tells me, they could have used a little more time to get it right.

WHY RENT THIS: Hey, it’s the Simpsons. Some good laughs. Alaska, the last unspoiled wilderness.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Never delivers a compelling reason for this to be a movie and not a TV show.

FAMILY VALUES: If you feel comfortable having your kids watch the TV version, there’s nothing here that is any worse than on the broadcast edition.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: During the month of July 2007 when the movie was released, a dozen 7-11 stores throughout North America transformed themselves into Kwik-E-Marts, with several items made famous on the TV show for sale including Duff Beer and Buzz Cola.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: A parody of the “Let’s All Go to the Lobby” intermission cartoon and appearances of the Simpsons characters on live television are included.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Passengers

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