Movie review by Greg Carlson
Following nearly two decades as a television institution, “The Simpsons” transitions to the big screen as an almost completely delightful variant of its smaller self. The series, which appealed to people of all ages for its uncanny ability to blend surrealism, corniness, satire, and sentiment, has shown signs of wear for any number of seasons now, but few would argue the show’s status of one of the truly great series in the history of the medium. The prospect of a feature film version of the show has been gestating for at least a decade, and the movie was absolutely worth the wait.
The plot of “The Simpsons Movie” scarcely matters, but it predictably incorporates several favorite, longstanding targets. Following an effort spearheaded by Lisa to clean up the environmental waste that has been dirtying Springfield, Homer manages to trigger a toxic disaster when he dumps his pet pig’s leavings in the water supply. The government overreacts, an angry mob forms, feelings are hurt, and wrongs must be righted. Curmudgeons will carp that central plot elements, like Bart identifying Flanders as a surrogate father or Lisa developing a seemingly hopeless crush, have already been used, but the movie somehow manages to operate as a greatest hits collection that also takes a few liberties afforded by a PG-13 rating.
Like the best episodes of the show, “The Simpsons Movie” delivers one-liners, puns, sight gags, slapstick, and well-observed jabs at high and low culture with blazing speed. Naturally, not every joke is laugh-out-loud funny, but the zingers far outnumber the bombs, and the movie boasts dozens of brilliant moments. Homer’s instant identification with a doomed porker, which has featured prominently in the movie’s advertising, is terrific. The beast is nicknamed both Spider-Pig and Harry Plopper, and Homer’s somewhat misplaced, childlike affection provides Dan Castellaneta an ideal canvas to demonstrate his genius voice talents.
Creator Matt Groening’s universe owes much to his collaborators, and longtime relationships with folks like James L. Brooks, David Silverman, Al Jean, Ian Maxtone-Graham, George Meyer, David Mirkin, Mike Reiss, Mike Scully, Matt Selman, John Swartzwelder and Jon Vitti forged what has been often called the pinnacle of TV comedy. The co-conspirators labor diligently to make certain that the movie works as a feature film, building in a comfortable sense of rhythm and pacing that operates with sprightliness and verve, never once wearing out its welcome.
Like “Twin Peaks” and other TV shows that managed a leap to the cinema, “The Simpsons” boasts far too many beloved characters to cram into one feature. As painful as it is, several series stalwarts are given scant screen time. Montgomery Burns in particular deserved a bit more than what amounts to a glorified cameo. One cannot complain too much, however, that the focus remains on the titular nuclear family, as their foibles remind us of our own hopes and fears. The reach and influence of the show has been part of the cultural landscape for so long, it is easy to forget that “The Simpsons” did it first and did it best. The movie is a glorious reminder of that, and just might inaugurate another generation of fans.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 7/30/07.