Review: The Simpsons Movie
|Starring||Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer|
|Release||July 27th (US) July 27th (UK) Certificate PG|
The Simpsons is a show that belongs on TV. Consider that less of a slight at the movie and more of a compliment to the show. After 400 episodes on the small-screen, Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie feel like bona fide members of the family; we've all come home from work, slumped on the sofa and, after the first human requirement (nourishment) we turn to the Simpsons for the next one on the list - entertainment. After 18 seasons, the quality of the show has understandably dipped - imagine what Family Guy would be like after 400 episodes - but it remains a constant source of amusement, the laughs coming thick and fast, just maybe not hitting big like it used to.
The most flattering thing you could say about The Simpsons Movie is that it echoes these sentiments: it's consistently funny and always a pleasure, but those glory days seem further away than ever.
Springfield's lack of compassion for the environment sees President Arnold Schwarzenegger (looking more like McBain than ever) order an airtight dome to be placed over the city, sealing the residents (and their radioactive ooze) in and everyone else out. It's all Homer's fault, of course - his new pet pig (and more specifically its droppings) the cause of Springfield's Gore-baiting new status of enviro-hazard. The family escape the dome to move to Alaska but grow tired of Homer's flaws; Bart ups sticks to live with the Flanders, Marge can no longer stand her husband's foibles and Lisa... well, nobody cares about Lisa. Needless to say, it's a plot that could just as well suit a 20-minute episode as it does a feature, further reinforcing the idea that a Simpsons movie is something that never really needed to be.
Credit where credit's due to Matt Groening and his team of super-writers: The Simpsons Movie starts the laughs from minute one and keeps them coming until the end credits (and beyond). But that's all you get: no peaks, no spikes, no huge belly laughs. It's like watching three episodes of the later seasons back to back: undemanding comedy that's treading well-worn ground. Thankfully, Groening has kept the series' virtues in tact and has refused to refit the Simpsons with anything crass or controversial; the most shocking scene in the movie is the sight of Bart's 'doodle' in the wonderful naked skateboarding scene. It's good old-fashioned physical comedy; jokes born out of character and situation, not pop culture or toilet humour. Despite a flashy new big-screen visage, underneath, Springfield is still the place you know and love.
With such a huge cast of characters, many people will be left disappointed that their favourites have been either fobbed off with a throwaway one-liner or ignored altogether ("No Disco Stu?" I hear you cry). This, however, was inevitable; every review you'll read will bemoan the absence of Sideshow Bob/Krusty/Mr. Burns/Principal Skinner but over-crowding would lead to the Simpsons being sidelined in their own movie and nobody really wants that. A fine supporting cast they may be, but Lenny, Karl and friends can't hold a movie - that's Homer's job, and he's on fine form here, a human pinball of destruction and dim-witted do-goodery who doesn't so much tickle your funnybone as full-on molest it. Without the big H, you can knock off another two stars from below.
Part of the reason The Simpsons Movie doesn't hit the heights you've yearned for is a sadly unavoidable pitfall: you can't shake the feeling you've seen them do this all a thousand times before. Bart lives with the Flanders? Done at least twice. Marge leaves Homer? Pushing 30 episodes here, surely. Homer has an acid trip epiphany? Done in the chilli cook-off episode, and with Johnny Cash to boot. After 18 years there's precious little new places the Simpsons can go and therein lies the problem - if there's nowhere new to take it, then why bother with a movie at all? As much as it pains me to admit, The Simpsons has been slowly declining in quality over the last eight or nine years, which makes the movie at least eight or nine years too late.
It really is a crushing disappointment to report that The Simpsons Movie is merely average by its own lofty standards. Compared to most other comedies, it's head and shoulders above the pack, but if you're going to set the bar high, then you'd better make damn sure you can still jump it when it comes to the crunch. If your expectations aren't as high as this Simpsons fan's were, then you may find yourself enjoying it much more than I; when all is said and done, it's still a comedy that will manage to raise more laughs in 90 minutes than Adam Sandler will muster in several lifetimes. The only way to really judge The Simpsons Movie without hype and anticipation clouding your judgement is to wait a few months for it to hit DVD, where you can watch it in the comfort of your own home and enjoy it on the small screen. After all, that's where The Simpsons belongs, and it always has been.