Tuesday, July 31, 2007

"The Simpsons Movie" -- * * * 1/2

Gloriously offensive and irreverently good-natured, the best thing I can say about “The Simpsons Movie” is that it manages to not be a disappointment. Considering that “The Simpsons” is probably the piece of pop culture that had more of an impact on my life than any other, that’s high praise. The movie isn’t really a mindblower, nor is it a brilliant exploitation of transformation to a new medium a la “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut”—the descriptions of it as an extended episode are apt—but it’s consistently hilarious, as well as a perfect encapsulation of all the elements that have made “The Simpsons” the defining show of the 20th century.

Lots of people—myself included—have proclaimed that they would have been a bit more excited for the movie’s release had it come out, say, ten years ago, but I think releasing it now has forced Groening and company to actually make a better movie than they would have ten years ago. Ten years ago, “The Simpsons” was in top form, proclaimed by many to be the best show on television. It would have been easy for the crew to churn out a cheap 80-minute cash-in with little-to-no effort resulting in a massive blockbuster. Now, despite still maintaining writing better than damn near anything else on TV, “The Simpsons’” status has dwindled.

Even its biggest fans must oblige that its quality has dipped since its heyday. As a result of this, the whole behind-the-scenes crew has recognized that they needed to step up their game to satisfy fans longing for the good ole days, and—having seen it with an audience three times now—I can state pretty definitively, they delivered.

Opening with Ralph Wiggum singing along with the 20th Century Fox fanfare, followed by our beloved Homer telling all of us what giant suckers we are for “paying to see what we can watch at home for free,” the movie has us from hello, so to speak. That Ralph later delivers what may be the best line in the movie, at once both a cheap laugh and a brilliant dissertation of the far right’s views on the “influence” of homosexuality, is just one of many examples here of Groening giving fans what they want.

I won’t delve into the specifics of the plot—what would be the point? All I’ll say is *gasp* Homer does something stupid, Marge questions the stablility of their marriage, Lisa develops a crush on a boy, and Bart gets in big trouble. There, I said it.

“The Simpsons Movie” brandishes a PG-13 rating, but it isn’t much more extreme than an average episode—the only really risqué inclusions are a “goddamn,” a few flips of the bird, and a full-frontal yellow “doodle.” The scene featuring the latter is the one that seems to have everyone talking, but what tells me the movie will have strong word-of-mouth is that it’s only one of many moments I hear when people discuss what they find to be the funniest part. I’m personally torn between the bomb-defusing robot and the big celebrity cameo in the the Grand Canyon II commercial (“Since the U.S. Government seems to have lost all credibility, they’re borrowing some of mine…”), but hey, that’s just me.

The film also harkens back to the “Simpsons” of days past, where emotions/sentiment used to play an integral role, and to my surprise, they completely work. In Marge’s big “videotape” scene, Julie Kavner completely broke my heart. This is probably the last movie this year I expected to cry in, but it happened nonetheless. Each character gets their emotional beats, and it never feels like a diversion away from the show/family we’ve grown to love.

“The Simpsons Movie” has already opened to $72 million dollars in its first three days, and I couldn’t be happier. The only concern I have is that this massive box office take seems to ensure the show another half-dozen or so seasons on the air (they’re coming up on number nineteen). I still love it whenever I catch an episode, but I think Groening and company should do the classy thing and stop after number twenty. But again, that’s just me.

Back to the movie itself, I think it’s funny enough to appeal even to those who’ve never seen an episode of “The Simpsons,” but honestly, who really cares about them? This is a movie made for those of us who’ve seen every episode at least a handful of times, and have waited with bated breath for this movie since talks of it began nearly a decade ago. I can’t speak for everyone, but as someone who still treasures his copy of “Bart Simpson’s Guide to Life,” I must say, it was worth the wait.


Blogger RC said...

i am not so much amazed at how well this film did at the Box Office (especially with it's shorter length which allowed for more showings, good marketing, and huge multi-spanning fan base)...

but the high reviews have really surprised me.

i agree, if they had done a movie 10 years ago it would have been far more hillarious!

2:49 AM  

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