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The Simpsons Movie (2007)

by on 2011/05/21

“I can’t believe we’re paying to see something we get on TV for free!”

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It’s now obvious The Simpsons is the intellectual property with which Matt Groening will be associated, possibly forever. (Even Futurama comes in at a distant second place.) It seems nearly unfathomable it was once “that new mainstream thing” being attempted by the creator of Life in Hell, a comic strip I followed religiously through high school.

At the time of writing, The Simpsons series has weathered almost two decades of “It’s not as good as season four.” At a point about ten years ago — perhaps inspired by The X-Files and Fight the Future — someone had the idea to create a major motion picture without ending the television show. After five years and over a hundred rewrites by eleven writers, did the choice prove an inspired one?

In short, the story goes like this: Homer Simpson’s careless waste disposal renders Springfield unsalvageable according to the federal government. A large dome is dropped over the town, and the family starts over in Alaska. The dominant subplot involves Bart Simpson becoming disenchanted with his father, and tempted by the Flanders’ comparatively wholesome family life.

Given its unprecedented level of attention, effort, and time, I don’t know whether to be surprised or not that the result is virtually indistinguishable from an average TV episode. In all ways, save duration, they’re nearly the same beast: narrative, decoration, guest appearances (Green Day and Tom Hanks).

We’ve seen all the pieces already: ominous prophecies, a fight for the environment, a kindred spirit for Lisa, Homer’s obsession with a pet, the allure of the Flanders’ lifestyle, an exodus to a new hometown, an unsuccessful gorge-jump and, oddly, another (different) “first” word for Maggie.

I’m all for cherry-picking the strengths of what’s gone before, then re-presenting them in an even stronger whole, but this work is no more than the simple sum of its parts. In fact, it manages to carry along at least one of the show’s weaknesses, a penchant for the time-filling joke.

None of which is meant to suggest the proceedings aren’t funny. They are, but no more so than in a typical instalment. My favourite joke was the exchange of barflies and churchgoers at the first sign of danger, but it was my single favourite by far too wide a margin.

The movie does distinguish itself in a few ways less substantial than amusing: it posits Arnold Schwarzenegger as President, describes Springfield’s long-elusive location, and reveals The Simpsons’ take on nudity.

And though it takes a few (slight) chances in content, it takes none visually. What you see is what you get . . . every Sunday night on Fox. Only the music is significantly different. Danny Elfman’s familiar theme is referenced, however the bulk of the score is not supplied by regular composer Alf Clausen. Instead, the musical duties fall to Inception’s Hans Zimmer. The change was immediately obvious, even a bit uncomfortable, but he acquits himself reasonably well, especially with the “alternate reality” version of Elfman’s theme, played during the end credits.

So with only minor exceptions, we’ve seen it all. You can’t even look to the aspect ratio to distinguish things anymore. Recent seasons have been produced in high-definition widescreen. Homer’s early self-disparagement really says it all; for better and/or worse, The Simpsons Movie is a feature-length TV episode.

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Rated PG (Canada) / PG13 (United States)

87 minutes

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