Simpsons Movie, The

Reviewed by Jay Dubin

Based on the seminal, long-running TV series, and making a smooth transition from the small to the big screen, “The Simpsons Movie” is always entertaining, sporadically witty and irreverent, and occasionally even brilliant. Though it offers a very different experience, along with the musical comedy “Hairspray,” the film is a feel-good crowd-pleaser with strong appeal to at least two generations of moviegoers.

That said, something is missing from making this eagerly-awaited, long veiled in secrecy picture a great big-screen event.

But first, the good news. Despite the fact that over ten writers (credited and uncredited) have worked for years on the feature movie, its narrative doe not feel as a product of committee filmmakingHollywood style. Second, the story is quite coherent, if also slight, rather than a patch work, or three TV episodes strung together.

Breezy speed and short running-time (86 minutes) help turn this Fox release into a summer divertissement that while not terribly exciting, lives up to the promises and execution of the hit TV series.

The main problem may be contextual, or familiarity with the show's unique tone and angle. After 18 years on the air with 400 episodesand still running strong– viewers are accustomed to (and perhaps spoiled by) the smart, irreverent, and edgy show, which works against the new feature in terms of innovation and originality.

Blessedly, most of the TV characters remain intact. While staying true to the spirit of the TV series, the movie boasts over 100 speaking parts, and new scenes that couldn't be made for TV. The movie stars all the TV series regulars, Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer, Pamela Hayden, and Tress MacNeille, plus newcomers such as Albert Brooks.

Au courant with the timely issues of ecology and environmentalism, the slender story (or rather premise), such as it is, centers on Homer's efforts to “save the world” from a near-disaster pf his own creation. The catastrophe begins with Homer' pet pig and its droppings (yes, you read right), which upset Marge and outrage the entire town of Springfield, whose citizenry is out for Simpson blood.

When a vengeful mob descends on the Simpson household, the family makes a narrow escape. Complications arise when the clan is divided by both location and conflict. Unfortunately, Homer's calamity draws the attention of U.S. President Arnold Schwarzenegger (voiced by Harry Shearer) and Environmental Protection Agency head Russ Cargill (voiced by Albert Brooks, delightfully acerbic).

“You know sir,” Cargill tells the president, “when you made me head of the EPA, you were applauded for appointing one of the most successful men in America to the least successful agency in government. And why did I take the job Because I'm a rich man who wanted to give something back. Not the money, but something.”

With the fates of Springfield–and the worldin danger, Homer embarks on a personal odyssey of forgiveness and redemption, seeking to reunite not only his clan but to salvage his beloved hometown.

Producing the feature are The Simpsons series executive producer James L. Brooks, creator Matt Groening, current show runner Al Jean, as well as Mike Scully and Richard Sakai.

Focusing on the forces that tear apart a family and a whole town, and how a man might put his life back together in such a situation, “The Simpsons Movie” is not a cerebral experience, but also shows heart. Ultimately, though, what separates the movie from the TV show is scale, not tone or text or artistic quality.

“The Simpsons” has been a critical and commercial hit from its inception, in 1988, as a weekly half-hour series. It went on to become a pop culture phenomenon, with myriad honors and unparallel cultural impact.

The creators claim that the big-screen movie offered them an opportunity to do something the show couldn't offer, “to tell a long-form Simpsons story on the large canvas of a motion picture screen, and hear a theater full of people laughing at the same time.” To what extent they succeed will depend on your experience of the movie.

The big-screen adaptation has been in the works for many years, and knowing how bright and meticulous the creators are there must have been a reason why they didn't not include more musical numbers. Again like “Hairspray,” the text screams for a legit, full-fledged musical version.

For the record

Don't be put off by the beginning, when Homer addresses us viewers as “giant suckers,” because
we have paid to see what we can get for free on TV.

Stay to the very end: In the closing credits, the Simpson baby Maggie utters her first word.

Tom Hanks plugs a public service announcement as himself.

Credits

20th Century Fox presentation of Gracie Films
production.
Produced by James L Brooks, Matt Groening, Al Jean, Mike Scully, Richard Sakai.
Screenplay by James L. Brooks, Matt Groening,
Al Jean, Ian Maxtone-Graham, George Meyer, David Mirkin, Mike Reiss, Mike Scully, Matt Selman
John Swartzwelder, Jon Vitti.
Editor: John Carnochan
Music: Hans Zimmer, main theme by Danny Elfman

Cast

Dan Castellaneta
Julie Kavner
Nancy Cartwright
Yeardley Smith
Harry Shearer
Hank Azaria
Pamela Hayden
Tress MacNeille
Albert Brooks
Marcia Wallace
Tom Hanks
Joe Mantegna