Director: David Silverman
Writers: Matt Groening, James L. Brooks, Al Jean, Ian Maxtone-Graham, George Meyer, David Mirkin, Mike Reiss, Mike Scully, Matt Selman, John Swartzwelder, Jon Vitti
Starring: Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Harry Shearer, Hank Azaria
Studio/Running Time: Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, 87 min.
Coming after 18 seasons, it’s impossible to view The Simpsons Movie without having some context. Even if you don’t own a television, it’s likely that sometime during the past two decades you visited a house that does and probably caught an episode. And for those of us who own every Simpsons DVD set, have made frequent visits to the newly renovated Kwik-E-Marts and haven’t missed an episode’s release since the mid-90s, there’s no way of hiding the apprehension. Will it redeem the post-Mike Scully-becomes-show-runner seasons or add to the downward spiral?
The main plot, once the film gets around to it, concerns Springfield getting stuck in an impenetrable glass bubble due to its environmental problems. Almost needless to say, Homer is the source for this mess and the Simpsons become town pariahs, narrowly escaping a lynch mob out for literal lynching and ultimately causing the family to move to Alaska. As convoluted as this may sound, it’s far simpler than many episodes of the actual show and feels undeniably logical within the movie’s framework. Despite its strong political undertones, these issues fail to dominate the film in the way they tend to for South Park; instead this is The Simpsons where what matters is family and the relationships within it.
Translating the television show to film is almost seamless, and though sometimes the framing feels a bit less than cinematic overall the look is clean and precise. Like the last few seasons the film is animated by computers, which makes it look a bit like Futurama at times, especially during the more effects-driven shots. While this looks good, it’s still not quite as comfortable and human as the old cell-based method, though it was almost certainly a necessity for the project.
Most importantly, the film is undeniably funny—you can breathe a sigh of relief. It’s not as great as “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson” or “Bart Sells His Soul,” but it’s as good as one of the lesser episodes from those seasons when the show could do no wrong (aka David Mirkin through Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein in charge). In fact, because the film’s length allowed the writers to tone down the pacing, it almost feels like an old episode at times. While there’s still occasional forced jokes and a few gags that The Simpsons itself has used before, the whole thing feels like a switch in form was just what the series needed to get kicked into gear again.
The answer to whether the film should be seen comes even before it begins in earnest, when Ralph Wiggum stands on the 20th Century Fox logo and sings along with its theme. From its very first frame the movie is through and through The Simpsons and its creators have taken the time and care to make this worth a trip to the theater rather than waiting for another syndicated rerun to come on. When the film ended, it was hard to believe that more than 22 minutes had passed by.