After 20 years since its initial appearance on TV, 18 seasons and 400 episodes later, the long-awaited film version of the Fox-animated series The Simpsons has made its way to the multiplex. Has it been worth the wait? I think a friend of mine, and a lifelong Simpsons fan, put it best when he said that The Simpsons Movie isn’t as good as it could have been, but it’s definitely not as horrible as was possible (as evidenced by the show’s most recent output, which could be called inconsistent at best). For those who have long worshipped at the altar of The Simpsons, the film will be exactly what they want (see the movie’s ranking as the 43rd greatest movie of all-time on the IMDb’s user rankings, immediately ahead of such films as Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Chinatown (1974) and The Third Man (1949)), but for anyone who’s never really cared, there’s not much in this feature-length version that will change their mind.
The movie is pretty much an extended version of a TV episode, which works to both the film’s advantage and disadvantage. As far as the plot goes, the movie stays in familiar territory, with Homer (Dan Castellenata) dumping a very phallic silo of pig feces into the local lake, causing Springfield to turn toxic, and prompting the government to encase the city inside a glass dome. The Simpson’s manage to escape, but later learn of a plot to destroy their hometown. From there, the movie takes on the show’s usual theme of a dysfunctional family learning to function, because that’s what families are for. It’s a simple yet familiar formula that the show has used to its benefit for ages.
The first half hour or so actually works quite well, mainly because the movie moves at a frantic pace and manages to fit in a lot of the show’s peripheral characters (I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t a sucker for Comic Book Guy (Hank Azaria)). In this sense, much of the movie works like a thank-you letter to the show’s fans, as it manages to include screen-time for pretty much all of the show’s characters. But once we pass that 30-minute mark, and the Simpson’s escape Springfield, and many of the secondary characters are forgotten about, the film runs into the same problem that many TV-to-film adaptations have, which is an inability to stay interesting throughout a feature-length running time. While attempts are made at regaining momentum, the movie is never quite able to right itself. (Last year’s Strangers With Candy is the only recent TV-to-film I can think of that was able to overcome this challenge through pure strength of peculiarity).
As far as the jokes go, director David Silverman (Monsters, Inc.) and the 15 credited writers take a blitzkrieg approach; it’s a case of “if you throw enough gags against the wall, some are bound to stick.” And while there are quite a few hits, there is at least one miss for each hit: take the “spider-pig” bit that wasn’t all that funny in the trailer, and becomes even less so in the actual movie, especially when it’s revisited a second time later on in the film.
The Simpsons Movie is a presold commodity, one where fans will likely love it, and everyone else will be left wondering what the big deal is. However, despite its flaws, there are definitely worse movies out there right now, and any movie where you get to see Green Day drown in a lake of toxic waste can’t be all bad. Rated PG-13 for irreverent humor throughout.