Tuesday, November 27, 2012

About Ten Years Too Late: The Simpsons Movie Falls A Bit Flat

The Good: Moments of humor, Animation, DVD bonus features, Scale
The Bad: Pretty standard The Simpsons plot, No genuine character development
The Basics: The Simpsons Moviecomes to DVD with a look that captures well the 3-D feel of seeing the enhanced visuals on the big screen, but the same plot we've already seen.

[This review represents the final film review moved over from the other site that I used to write for! As such, all future film reviews will be brand new, and it explains the time notations in this review! Enjoy this retro review and keep checking back for new film reviews! Thanks for reading!]

I've been a bad, bad, fan of The Simpsons. When the film hit theaters last year, I simply did not prioritize it and it came and went before I saw it on the big screen. As I prepared to watch The Simpsons Movie, the new episode on Fox involved a parody of Melrose Place and as I sat watching it, I thought "well, that's about ten years past being relevant." Like any number of people, I would have thought that The Simpsons would have cashed in on its popularity when it was more popular, about ten years ago and released The Simpsons Movie then.

Instead, Matt Groening and his creative team kept focused on the television series and continued to develop episodes without exploiting the wallets of fans for the big screen presentation until the audience for the series began to dwindle and The Simpsons pretty much ran out of fresh plotlines. I mean, I've loved The Simpsons, but it has pretty much settled into a rut wherein Homer gets into some amount of trouble, Marge either puts up with it or kicks him out as a result of it and they remember their past together and fall back in love by episode's end. Occasionally, there is an episode wherein Bart gets in trouble or Lisa does something impressive. The Simpsons Movie follows in exactly that format, essentially combining the main recurring plots of The Simpsons into one cinematic event.

The Simpson family arrives late at church one Sunday where Reverend Lovejoy is opening the floor up to parishioners when Grampa Simpson has an episode where he prophecies a coming apocalypse. Marge, naturally, is concerned, but the rest of the family quickly goes on doing its own thing with Homer and Bart daring one another to do stupid things - like Bart skateboarding to the Kwikie Mart and back naked -, Lisa petitioning the neighbors to clean up Lake Springfield when she meets an environmentally conscious boy, and Grampa disappearing in the rug he was rolled up in. Lisa is successful in getting the lake protected and a barrier is put up around it, which is when Homer gets a pig.

Bart, neglected by Homer, turns to Flanders for parental attention and he discovers life without being strangled for his mistakes. Homer and his pig hang out, despite Marge believing that the pig is the first part of Grampa's prophecy. When Homer disposes of his silo full of pig feces in Lake Springfield, the toxicity of the Lake gets the attention of the EPA. Russ Cargill, the head of the EPA, meets with President Schwarzeneggar and alerts him to the crisis, leading them to seal Springfield in a giant glass dome. When the residents of Springfield discover it was Homer's handiwork that led to the consequence of the dome, the people form an angry mob and the Simpsons escape through a sinkhole to the outside world. There, they flee to Alaska until a public service ad featuring Tom Hanks insinuates that Springfield is about to be blown off the map and Marge takes the kids to go prevent its imminent destruction.

The irony of The Simpsons Movie comes from contrasting it to the much-maligned Family Guy Presents: The Stewie Griffin Story (reviewed here!). Critics of the Family Guy straight-to-DVD movie tended to lambaste the film because it was essentially three episodes of Family Guy carefully crafted together into one longer piece. The Simpsons Movie does essentially the same thing with five acts that feel very much like segmented episodes: Bart and Homer having a dare contest, Homer and his beloved pig, the sealing off of Springfield, the Alaska adventure and the rescue of Springfield. And like virtually all episodes of The Simpsons, each of these main plots has a subplot: prophecy, Lisa's romance, Bart and Flanders, the continued plight of Springfield, and Homer and Marge reconciling.

The problem is, on the plot and character fronts, there is nothing truly new in The Simpsons Movie. This is very much a typical "Homer makes a big mistake" type episode and the only significant difference is the visual scale. The Simpsons Movie is enhanced with several 3-D backgrounds and computer generated animations that are fully three dimensional. Even on the small screen, watching the big-screen effect of things like the mob scene with virtually everyone in Springfield advancing upon the Simpsons with torches is impressive. Visually the film is spectacular and lush in a way that The Simpsons never has been on television.

In the effects department, the producers utilize well the film medium, but this is pretty much the only extraordinary aspect of the film. Indeed, the only other thing that distinguishes The Simpsons Movie from an episode of The Simpsons on television is a brief shot of Bart's penis. Beyond that, there is nothing extraordinary or different about the film that viewers have not seen by watching any one of five episodes of the series.

So, as one might expect, there are guest stars. Russ Cargill is voiced by Albert Brooks (who appeared in some of the earliest episodes of the series), Tom Hanks and Green Day appear as themselves and the celebrity guest stars add a feeling of continuity to the film that allows the viewer to recall what drove them to watch some of the weaker seasons of the television show.

But the film is no funnier than the series has been of late. I laughed aloud . . . twice. Maggie takes on Krusty's monkey and . . . you know, I don't even remember what the other time was. I know I laughed when Cargill mentioned he was the first EPA head to actually meet with a President, but I cannot honestly recall if that was in the film or just the deleted scenes. Because otherwise, the film falls very much into the rut of the episodes that have Marge and Homer on the outs because of his stupidity. And when you've watched well over three hundred episodes and many of The Simpsons plots are involved with that, it leaves the viewer feeling slightly cheated.

Where fans of the series will not feel cheated is in the character detailing and the DVD bonus features. So, for example, the writers - who work on the show, so they ought to know - include details like Maggie being rather smart and also having a slightly violent streak to her, which has come out in several episodes. Also, fans will appreciate the continuity of Homer and Marge dancing to "Why Do Birds Suddenly Appear" on their wedding video, which illustrates a great respect for the fans who have supported the show for almost two decades.

The DVD bonus features support quite well the average-at-best film. There are deleted scenes and about five frames cut out of the ending restored as a "slightly alternate ending", five different trailers and teasers for the movie, and guest appearances by The Simpsons (mostly Homer) on The Tonight Show, American Idol, etc. The real treat for fans will be that The Simpsons Movie has two levels of commentary wherein Matt Groening talks about The Simpsons and The Simpsons Movie in a very entertaining and informative way and one where the director discusses the film and provides a great deal of detail into how the movie was made. Fans will likely get a kick out of these features and their inclusion does add more value than the promotional spots for new episodes of The Simpsons and the Futurama straight-to-DVD movie "Bender's Big Score," which are also on the disc.

But ultimately, these features are not truly enough to sell a very average movie to those who are not already fans of The Simpsons. The film, the DVD bonuses, they are designed as a gift-that-you-pay for to the fans and those who are not die-hard fans of The Simpsons might be amused, at best, to watch the movie, but it's not one to be added to the permanent collection. My "recommend" is ultimately a very weak one and it is solely a "watch it once" type recommendation. Those looking for something great and truly hilarious will not find it here.

If only they had released this about ten years ago; before we had watched a decade of virtually the same thing, then it might have been as fresh as it could have been.

For other reviews of The Simpsons stuff, check out my takes on:
The Simpsons - Season 1
2009 Mr. Plow Hallmark ornament
Flaming Moe Energy Drink


For other film reviews, check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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