Homer's Odyssey

'The Simpsons Movie' remains true to its TV roots while expanding its scope to suit the big screen

by Randy Shulman
Published on July 26, 2007, 12:00am | Comments


Cast of 'The Simpsons Movie'

WOO-HOO! With super-duper hype and hullaballoo, The Simpsons Movie finally arrives in theaters and lands with... a big comic BANG! An extension of the popular television show -- the show that, in the late '80s, put the Fox network on the map -- The Simpsons Movie does what few TV-to-movie transfers manage to accomplish: remain true to its spirit while expanding its scope to suit the demands of the big screen. (The only other movie I can recall pulling this off was South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut.)

The Simpsons Movie assumes familiarity on the part of the audience. There's no cumbersome backstory about the titular family and their nebulously-situated hometown of Springfield (though we do learn that in a certain spot you can see Ohio, Nevada, Maine and Kentucky, the four states that border the city). The Simpsons Movie leaps headfirst into the madness with the family at an Itchy and Scratchy flick. Homer promptly stands up and pronounces in disgust, ''I can't believe we're paying for something we get to watch on television for free!'' It's not the last self-referential joke the movie will make -- there's a diddly-do-of-a-doozy involving a news ticker. These wink-winks, nudge-nudges acknowledge that we, the audience, don't have to be here -- we want to be here. We crave The Simpsons much like Homer craves theater-floor popcorn.


The weekly episodes often pack more plot in 22 minutes than this 87-minute film. Still, The Simpsons Movie is not lacking in its hallmark: a squiggly narrative path as absurdly far-flung as it is surprisingly logical. Using summer blockbusters as its baseline, The Simpsons Movie deliciously lampoons the big, booming action flicks churned out like so many pink donuts, assembly-line style.

The basic plot centers on Homer (the brilliant Dan Castellaneta), who, after adopting a pig and disposing of its poop illegally, puts Springfield in grave ecological peril, to the point where the city is quarantined from the rest of the world. That's all I'm telling, because part of the joy of any Simpsons storyline is watching how Point A gets to Point Z. There's a subplot involving Bart (Nancy Cartwright) and neighbor Ned Flanders (Harry Shearer) that hits a sustained emotional note, and one involving Lisa (Yeardley Smith) that will likely be carried over into the show's upcoming television season. But it's really all about Homer, his idiocy, his selfishness, his hunger, his loveable d'oh-ness, and his ultimate redemption, spurred by a speech delivered by his blue-haired wife, Marge (Julie Kavner), in what must be the most heartfelt performance ever to find its way into a movie based on an irreverent cartoon.

The Simpsons Movie
starstarstarstarstar
Starring Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright
Rated PG-13
87 Minutes
Opens Friday at Area Theaters

But we don't come for emotions. We come for the jokes. And The Simpsons Movie is littered with them -- maybe one, two, three a minute. Some are funnier than others, but all hit their designated bull's-eyes. A select few achieve the equivalent of comic nirvana, including a sight gag involving a naked skateboarding Bart and his ''doodle.'' It's probably what gave the film its PG-13 rating. (That and the sight of Otto the school bus driver toking on a bong.)

Most of the fan favorites are represented (Comic Book Guy and Chief Wiggums have some key moments), but a few are given the short-shrift (there's little from Apu, Principal Skinner or Marge's sisters). Creators Matt Groening and James L. Brooks clearly know they can't please all the fans all the time, so they don't worry about it. What's there is there, what's not isn't. Take it or leave it. And, trust me, you'll take it. And be happy about it.

The movie is ravishing. The hand-drawn animation remains true to it television roots, but is enhanced by more detailed, lushly colored backgrounds. And the vocal work is so finely honed by the cast of regulars, that the acting conveys a timing and skill rarely encountered in even the best live-action comedies. The cast has elevated their vocal work to a craft that goes way beyond simple line readings. They bring these icons to three-dimensional life, providing soul, spirit and, most important, a direct connection back to us. It's what's made The Simpsons endure all these years on TV. And it's what makes The Simpsons Movie an instant classic.