We discussed it in the Talkbalk Areas over at Filmrot – ever since I admitted I’d given up The Simpsons for Family Guy and duly astounded a few folk in the process – but just to give a brief history of my relationship with Matt Groening’s yellow-skinned creations; I used to love the show when it first started and it was a love affair that continued season after season after season. Then, somewhere between the worst form of over-exposure a TV show has ever had (here in the UK a terresterial channel shows it every night, five nights a week, at 6pm whilst the highest rated satelite channel shows four episodes nightly six nights of the week!) and seasons 7, 8 and 9, I just fell out of love with the show a little bit, then a bit more, and a bit more after that… before you know it, it was completely off my radar by the time the show’s writers thought drafting in “celebs of the moment” in “pseudo-ironic sketches” was ‘cool’ (Simon Cowell? Really?).
The show seems to be awash now with regurgitated storylines (Homer joins the army/navy/air force/police etc. Hilarity is meant to ensue!) and attempts to be ironic that fail (a filler episode of clips, whilst bemoaning TV show’s that do flashback episodes just to use clips and fill their show quota!) or clunk (how many “musical” episodes are we going to get before show bosses realise they don’t work?) or smack of desperation (Sideshow Bob? Again? Sigh!), with only the occasional flash of genius that reminds us of The Simpsons potential for greatness – that ‘Behind The Music’ spoof, the recent spot-on pastiche of 24 to name but a rare few!
So it’s understandable, I hope you agree, why The Simpsons Movie didn’t make my list of “Must See’s” for 2007 and why I haven’t really been following the rumours that have been slipping out following the production’s “total secracy” policy for the last three years or in any real rush to see it!
The Simpsons, these days, is the animated equivilant of that other long-running American show, Saturday Night Live. Once truly fantastic, a genre setter and a pop culture lexicon that resulted in taking hold of the American Comedy scene from 1975 through to 1985 and shaping it with some of the greatest comedians of the modern age, Saturday Night Live now plays like the American TV version of OK! or Hello magazine with lite-joshings of ridiculous celebrities, open-door policy on hosting duties when they used to be so choosy and it’s toothless satirical/political bites. There’s occasional flashes of genius that remind you of what it is capable of but mainly you just avoid the new stuff and watch the old classic reruns! Just like The Simpsons for the last five or six years huh?
There’s my opinion on the show itself as it stands presently. So you can understand that I didn’t really see any point in the prospect of a movie. It certainly didn’t excite me or speak to me in the manner it would have done five or six years ago. Now it was almost smelling of “desperation” on the parts of all involved. I wasn’t that pumped about seeing it, which was reflected in the fact that I wasn’t rushing there on opening night and I actually expressed more interested in staying in with my Larry Sanders boxset.
Did the film version of a show I consider to be a primarily spent-force prove worthy of changing my opinion? Was it worth leaving behind the compilation DVD boxset of one of the true great comedy shows of my generation?
Opening on a great/completely overblown Itchy & Scratchy “movie” moment involving cats in space, mouse presidents, plugs for Hilary Clinton’s campaign etc. we’re led into a ‘too-easy’ gag from Homer (about paying to go see something you can get on TV for free) and as the opening title comes to an end and we’ve whizzed passed pretty much every single character in Simpsons history, I had a horrible feeling and hoped that for the likes of Comic Book Guy, Lenny and Carl, Milhouse and his parents, Barney, Professor Fink, Moe… to name but a few of my favourites, that this wasn’t going to be the sum of their parts.
What becomes apparent is that a) that horrible feeling proved right and b) because the show has built such a rich tapestry of characters (every single person on the planet seems to have a favourite Simpsons background/supporting character – and nobody ever seems to agree on who that is!), the feeling that it is “impossible” to make a Simpsons movie without shortchanging someone in the show’s hall of fame is a justifiable one. Here though, the makers appear to be equal-opportunity types though because pretty much everybody across the board, asides from the core family members and next door neighbour Ned, are poorly treated in terms of quality time up there on the big screen.
Groening and producer James L. Brooks have stated several times over the last few months that up until about a month before it’s US previews, they were still reshaping the movie and adding and subtracting little vignettes or entire subplots. Groening told a UK film magazine recently that what they started animating and the characters involved and what they ended up with, were drastically different and the future DVD release could see a hugely extended “work print”. I hope so because whilst this is a “Simpsons” movie and the film serves all Simpson characters well, it was always the supporting “players” that really made the show what it was and this big screen incarnation is not a very respectful tribute to that!
The film is far from perfect though – Hans Zimmer’s score is as epic and bombastic as you’d expect but takes a lot of getting used to in this form! The animation is incredibly patchy and seems to go from extremely dodgy background caricatures that don’t appear to move well or interact with their surroundings along with below par capturings of our favourite characters, to fantastically realised CGI background vistas that integret with the characters seamlessly and solid animated sequences that thrill you like you’d wish any movie-moment to (the swallowing of The Simpson’s house, Homer’s attempt to rescue his family from the EPA team!).
Where the film really comes together though is in the reemployment of the top writers from the show’s “golden era” ( along with producer James L. Brooks and show creator Matt Groening working on the script there is also Al Jean, Ian Maxtone-Graham, George Meyer, David Mirkin, Michael Price, Mike Reiss, Mike Scully, Matt Selman, John Swartzwelder and Jon Vitti) to take what has always been the high point of any really brilliant Simpsons episode (an opening salvo that appears to have absolutely nothing with the plot but leads, in rather a creatively genius fashion, into it – the more obscure the opening act, the better the episode is usually the rule of thumb!) and play with it within the form of a feature length movie, avoiding the trap of just having 3 episodes “fastened” together. Here we have a game of father-and-son dares leading to a naked skateboarding incident that leads us to Homer coming to own a big whose poop gets the plot finally rolling!
For spoiler-fans who’re planning on waiting for the DVD but want to know what online rumors were true and which weren’t then here you go. SPOILER WARNING: Yes, there is full-frontal nudity. It’s Bart’s pre-pubescent testicles! Yes, a regular “cast member” does die. Say goodbye to Dr Nick Riviera! Yes, there are “star” cameos. If you count Albert Brooks, Tom Hanks and Greenday. And finally, Maggie does indeed say her first proper official word. It’s “sequel”. SPOILERS ENDED!
The script is a lot funnier then I thought it would be, a lot more inventive then I thought possible and it helped to remind me of just how good the show used to be. However, the show’s recent desire to push the rest of the family aside in favour of more stale “Homer adventures”, is a template the movie follows only with a slightly funnier and more brazen script. By the time the rushed ending is in motion (the film needed a lengthier run time then a meer 82 minutes methinks!) you come to realise that the movie is a great compliment to the TV show because it represents both the best of the early seasons (fast, witty, satirically biting script!) and the worst of the later ones (too dependant on Homer, tendency to enter into the outright stupid in order to find the laughs!). That’s as back-handed a compliment as it seems!
It’s an animated comedy that I found myself laughing out loud along with for a fair amount of the time and the audience I was with, and the girlfriend, seemed to have a great encounter with it. I wouldn’t say it was perfect and I wouldn’t say it did so great a job that it made me want to go and reevaluate all the seasons I’ve been disappointed with of recent. But considering I went in to see it with the film already working against me in my mind, with recent negative reviews of it springing back into memory and considering I’ve been out of love with the show I used to be obsessed with for a good few years, this was a fair old surprise.
It’s not a great big screen representation of the smorgasboard of fantastic supporting players the show has built up over it’s 400 episode run, but if you go in expecting a movie version of the more recent season’s “Homer on an adventure” but with a script containing the bite and hilarity of the early seasons then you won’t be disappointed!
It’s unlikely, with Groening’s assertion that he wants the show to run and run and he doesn’t see why it can’t along with the amount of time it took just to get this movie version going, that this is the start of a big-screen franchise run but, as a one-off jolly for new younger fans and the older “I liked the earlier ones better!”, it’s a commendable and surprisingly good slice of animated hilarity with gags that when they hit they hit hard and when they miss you don’t really notice!
This review was first published in July-07 on Filmrot.com