‘Simpsons’ isn’t a homer, but it’s a hit
Matt Groening and company can rest easily. Fans of “The Simpsons” won’t be invoking the show’s own words – actually Comic Book Guy’s classic geek dismissal – with regard to “The Simpsons”‘ move to the big screen. “The Simpsons Movie” is not the “Worst. Movie. Ever.” (It’s certainly not the worst movie ever made from a TV show, and if it were, it would be quickly surpassed by “Underdog,” which opens this week.)Probably even the most optimistic “Simpsons” lover wasn’t expecting “The Simpsons Movie” to surpass the best small-screen efforts from a run that is in its 18th year. (Pick your own high point from that stretch; mine is “A Streetcar Named Marge,” in which Marge stars in a smiley-faced musical version of “A Streetcar Named Desire.” It’s got everything: a guest appearance by Jon Lovitz, references to Ayn Rand and Alfred Hitchcock, a batch of original songs, and a talking Krusty the Clown doll that says, “If I break, buy a new one!”)”The Simpsons,” while still better than 99 percent of everything that’s ever been on TV, is no longer able to surprise us with its combination of cuddly family endings, vicious social swipes, and cartoon nuttiness. Nearly two decades hasn’t robbed “The Simpsons” of its irreverence or wit, but the movie doesn’t catch us off-guard, not even in its longer format and on a wider screen.So “The Simpsons Movie” isn’t a grand slam, but it certainly has its moments. Let’s call it a well-hit double – the kind that rattles around in the corner, causes a bit of excitement, has onlookers thinking about a triple – maybe even an inside-the-park home run.
There is one scene that has already taken its place among the best bits of comedy ever, offering insight into religion, alcohol, human nature and our fear of death. The fact that the sequence is a sight gag that lasts three seconds is further testament to its brilliance. Another highlight is a play on Disneyesque animation that at once pays homage to the original animated giant, jabs at it, and goes eons beyond the dated innocence of chirping birds and dancing animals. Unless you’re partial to the current administration, it would be difficult to quibble with the quality and number of the jokes packed into “The Simpsons Movie.”There is room for criticism, though, in the story, and even more in the structure of the film.First, the plot. Like virtually every TV show making the jump to the cinema, “The Simpsons” felt the need to supersize the dimensions of the story to fit the larger screen. It seems like a trend “The Simpsons” would have made fun of, rather than succumb to, but succumb it does. The plot here has Homer’s selfishness and stupidity threatening the very existence of Springfield (something that’s happened in at least a few regular episodes). The story line – which includes the town being quarantined by a shadowy arm of the federal government, and the Simpsons escaping to Alaska before returning to save the town – requires the introduction of a new character, Homer’s pet pig. It feels overblown and outsized; a story more grounded in everyday Springfield might have been warmer and wiser. More problematic is how virtually every character ever to appear in a “Simpsons” episode has to have a voice in the movie. One scene of such representation would have sufficed, but it seemed “The Simpsons Movie” was one sequence after another of panoramic views of the residents of Springfield. Worse, virtually every character, from Luigi to Mr. Teeny, has to have his spotlight moment. It feels scattered and distracting.
Even the writers – all 15 of them – seem distracted enough to leave a plot point unresolved. Homer’s pig disappears halfway through the film, never to be heard from or wondered about again.As Bart would no doubt point out: It’s just a cartoon.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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