If there’s ever been a more review-proof feature film in the history of the medium, somebody speak up now because I certainly can’t think of one. After 18 seasons and a couple of years of shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show, the motion picture debut of The Simpsons has been nothing if not highly anticipated. However, early concerns about the extended running time and whether or not the writers could offer up new jokes worth paying for were premature. I’m happy to say The Simpsons Movie is witty, original and makes the transition to the silver screen almost flawlessly.
This isn’t to say the film is without its problems. Sadly, it isn’t that perfect. But the fact of the matter is that it was never going to be – and what you get from it will depend on what you wanted from it. If you go in expecting your personal favorite character – of literally hundreds to choose from – to shine, you’ll more than likely be disappointed. Most get only a few seconds in the spotlight at best (and this includes second-tier stars like Mr. Burns, Apu, Moe and Chief Wiggum). Me? I wanted classic Simpsons (with, I admit, some Ralph) and the film is all that and more.
Oh, and for the record, I’m one of those guys who no longer has any idea which episodes are new and which are repeats. In fact, I swear I’ve only seen a handful of new episodes since the turn of the century. This movie, for me, is about nostalgia – and I was more than happy to pay the price of admission.
In a clever sequence at the beginning of the film, The Simpsons Movie disarms audience cynics by referencing obvious criticism – particularly the argument of why you would pay to see something you could watch on TV for free – and preparing you for this flash, new cinematic adventure. Following a hilarious updated opening, we are reintroduced to all the characters we fell in love with back in the late-80s/early-90s. This first half hour or so is where most of the Springfield action occurs, with more cameos than you can poke a stick at and – most importantly – where the old dynamics of the Simpsons family are set up. Among the laughs, an epic story begins to unfold involving pollution, town apathy and pig crap. Needless to say, it is Homer who kicks it into high gear with his ever-endearing incompetence.
While a lot has been said of the first act and how it equates to the “Best. Episode. Ever” before dragging in the final hour, I actually have to disagree to some extent. Sure, the humor is top notch in the familiar daily life Springfield and that’s great. But I – for one – found it difficult to get my bearings with so much going on. The relief comes as the family escapes a bloodthirsty mob in Springfield and travels to Alaska, where they become torn between their loyalty to Springfield and their love for Homer. While still offering a ton of laughs, it was in these scenes that I was able to sit back and absorb the larger scope of the story. Perhaps it’s my love for a good narrative over slapstick comedy, but it simply would have been too much of a sensory overload if the early pace continued for a full 90 minutes.
Overall, the film is precisely what it should be: a way-better-than-average comedy about a well-meaning yet incompetent Dad and his family. The icing on the donut, you might say, are all the little gags for those of us who’ve watched The Simpsons for years. From a particularly naive announcement by Ralph Wiggum and two-decades-in-the-making payoffs for Martin and Otto, to an is-he-or-isn’t-he final moment for Dr. Nick Riviera, the film doesn’t skimp on the supporting cast. It simply focuses much more on what’s important.
If you can get past your preconceptions and the shock to the system of watching The Simpsons on the big screen, I’d say this is easily the blockbuster flick of the year. Oh, and it looks great, too!