The Simpsons Movie

What do you do with long beloved characters from Television when it comes down to making a credible theatrical feature?  Let’s be more specific.  How do you take the longest running animated prime time sitcom in history, which has continually and surprisingly moved us and makes us laugh 22 minutes at a time, and deliver an entertaining story that’s nearly an hour and a half long?  How do you do it?
 
This was the long-term dilemma facing the creative staff of The Simpsons.  The idea of making a movie about America’s favourite yellow family has been kicking around for over a decade.  But it didn’t become a reality until recently.  In the summer of 2007, The Simpsons Movie (could there be any other title?) finally arrived in theatres.  How anticipated was its release?  In its first weekend, the film made back its 75 million dollar budget.
 
So, how did they do it?  Easy.  With trademark wit and warmth, some computer enhanced tweaking of its delightfully quirky animation and by drafting 158 versions of the script.  (Why not 159?  Pussies.)
 
All that hard work has undoubtedly paid off.  The Simpsons Movie is not only clever and tremendously funny, it’s also sweet and sly, too.
 
The environment is the real star of the film.  Brainy Lisa Simpson is having a hard time convincing the citizens of Springfield that their cozy, little lives will cease to exist if they continue to pollute the town’s water supply with their garbage.  (She’s looking at you, crazy cat lady!)  During a church service, senile dozer Grandpa Simpson warns of great dangers to come through mysterious, short sentences.  (If you pay close attention, you can figure out one of them immediately, especially if you have your closed captioning on.)  No one listens to either of them.  But Lisa does find an ally in an Irish boy named Colin who she crushes on madly, much to the consternation of terminal loser, Millhouse, who foolishly continues to pine for her.  This subplot doesn’t get the greatest amount of attention but it’s nice to see the smartest Simpson engaged in an endearing puppy dog romance.
 
Thanks to a stunt Lisa pulls during her presentation at City Hall, Mayor Joe Quimby insists on the construction of a wall that surrounds the contaminated water.  It’s seemingly "idiot-proof" (Cletus The Slack-Jawed Yokel can’t get past it) until a desperate Homer Simpson drives right through it hoping to dump a silo full of excrement.  (I wouldn’t dream of revealing why.)
 
At any event, the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, the slimy Russ Cargill (well voiced by Albert Brooks), informs the President of The United States that Springfield has become a threat to the rest of the country and must be contained.  With his unwitting approval, the town is soon encased in a giant glass dome and Homer becomes a target of mob hate.  To reveal more of the story would be a mistake.
 
This is a beautiful looking feature.  The colours are more vibrant and the scenes have more depth and detail than the TV episodes.  It’s the kind of animated movie you’d like to watch with the sound off just so you can take a closer look at the overall visual presentation without being distracted by the dialogue and plot.
 
Speaking of the plot, it’s nicely straightforward if a bit predictable in places and yet it’s also sly, too.  You gotta love a movie that has characters complaining about people preaching about the environment while simultaneously inserting helpful tips on saving the planet.  (Listen closely to what Lisa and Colin say when they first meet.)  If you’re familiar with any of the episodes of this nearly 20-year-old show, you’ll recognize some familiar elements like Bart once again appealing to the better angels of next door neighbour Ned Flanders when he feels let down by Homer, and the garbage storyline.
 
Hearing the voice talents of Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, and Harry Shearer remains great fun.  It’s still stunning to realize that Castellaneta, Cartwright, Azaria and Shearer alone are responsible for breathing life into some 60 characters or so, human and animal.  (Do they get paid per voice characterization?)  As with the TV series, there are some plum celebrity cameos, too.  Not only is Green Day’s moment inspired, they also do a killer version of The Simpsons theme, the best rendition since Sonic Youth’s.
 
Many of the jokes, a mixture of sight gags, physical comedy and one-liners, are very strong, with Republicans deservedly taking a lot of pointedly aimed shots.  (There’s plenty of stuff in the closing credits to keep you amused, as well.)  It’s nice to see a comedy like this actually surprise you with its material which results in very big laughs.  (Its style is very reminiscent of those Naked Gun and Hot Shots! movies.  It’s literally crammed with funny.)  Talking about any of these specifically would needlessly hinder your enjoyment of the film.  What can be said is that it’s as funny as the first two Shreks.
 
Inevitably, though, some bits fall flat (even dumb guys can let you down on occasion) and some of the many popular supporting characters get very little screen time.  (And, no, I’m not mentioning any names.)  Fewer painful pratfalls and violent gags would’ve been preferable, too. 
 
And yes, maybe it’s not entirely suspenseful at times, either.  But The Simpsons Movie has enough humourous moments (we’re talking the sore jaw variety), a good heart and cleverness to keep you watching and more importantly, entertained.  (The environmental plot would never have happened were it not for Al Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.)
 
So, that’s how they did it.
 
(Special thanks to Rob Kerr.)
 
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
2:17 p.m.
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Published in: on February 19, 2008 at 2:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

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