The Simpsons Movie
Director : David Silverman
Screenplay : James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Al Jean, Ian Maxtone-Graham, George Meyer, David Mirkin, Mike Reiss, Mike Scully, Matt Selman, John Swartzwelder, Jon Vitti
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2007
After 18 years on the small screen, confined within the parameters of the squarish 4:3 aspect ratio and restricted to 22 minutes of narrative development, there is something just slightly wrong about seeing The Simpsons on the big screen (in the 'Scope aspect ratio, no less). There is nothing really wrong with The Simpsons Movie, which has become one of the most highly anticipated films of the summer season; in fact, especially when compared with most of what passes for comedy in Hollywood (I'm looking at you, License to Wed, and you, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry), it's undeniably eeexcellent. Yet, seeing those yellow faces, which are by now so familiar they're a cultural institution, rent so large and against vistas so vast, made me long for the rough-drawn early days when the lines weren't so sharp, movements weren't so cleanly rendered, background detail wasn't so abundant, and characters didn't have shadows to give them a three-dimensional weight.
The movie's plot is appropriately gargantuan: Perennially dunderheaded patriarch Homer Simpson saves a pig from becoming the next Krusty Burger and turns it into the new family pet (his adoring names for the little porker range from Spider-Pig to Harry Plopper). Disregarding Springfield's recent clean-up of their nearby lake, Homer dumps the silo in which he's been storing all the pig poop, thus immediately turning the lake into a pollution nightmare. (This is hardly the first time Homer has damned Springfield environmentally; remember when he beat Steve Martin to become garbage commissioner and so polluted the city it had to be moved to another location?)
The film's political satire kicks into high gear with the introduction of Arnold Schwarzenegger as president (not very inspired, truth be told) who allows a crazed EPA administrator (voiced by Albert Brooks) to solve the problem by dropping a massive glass dome over Springfield, thus encasing the town and its problems. This makes Homer public enemy number one, and he and his clan must flee to Alaska, where they start a new life, only to be drawn back to Springfield in order to save it from annihilation (the EPA's backup plan after the Simpsons escape).
There are also a few subplots, including Bart's increasing desire for a respectable father figure, which he finds in nebbish uber-Christian neighbor Ned Flanders, and Lisa falling in love with a do-gooder Irish kid who cares about the environment as much as she does. While variations on both of these storylines have been used in TV episodes, they allow for some heart to shine through, especially in the way all of Lisa's formidable intellectual and socially responsible pretensions are immediately subsumed by her romantic longings. We also get the inevitable Marge-leaving-Homer scenario, but this time it is done with such heart and tenderness that we can forgive its being recycled.
The movie's plot is large enough to sustain an 86-minute running time and allows for virtually every Simpsons character, from Moe the bartender, to Krusty the Klown, to school bully Nelson Muntz, to evil billionaire Mr. Burns, to have a moment (or two) in the spotlight. More importantly, it provides a ready framework for the kind of political and social satire for which The Simpsons has become rightly famous. Jabs are poked at all the favorite targets, including governmental ineptitude, bad parenting, self-righteousness, and the fickle nature of communities.
The last of these has always been what set The Simpsons apart from virtually every other show on television: Rather than a series about a family, it is a series about a community (whose whereabouts remain, of course, completely ambiguous), with the Simpsons themselves being but the most prominent spoke in the Springfield wheel. The Simpsons Movie certainly maintains its love/hate relationship with familial and communal bonds, with Springfield's finest turning into a torch-waving lynch mob when Homer's thoughtlessness (he dumps the silo because he wants to get in line for free donuts) dooms them, which neatly encapsulates the series' and the movie's focus on individuality only as it functions within a community. In this respect, perhaps it is right that The Simpsons Movie is so large in all its widescreen glory, but I can't help but feel that sometimes bigger isn't better.
Copyright ©2007 James Kendrick
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