Right off the bat, Homer reminds the audience that they’re paying for something they could see at home for free.
“Everyone in this theater is a sucker,” he shouts to a crowd watching an “Itchy and Scratchy” flick – but he’s clearly speaking to his own audience.
And Homer makes a good point. After years of anticipation, creator Matt Groening and his army of writers have finally
unleashed “The Simpsons Movie,” transporting Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie from the television screen to the big screen. The cinematic version of America’s favorite dysfunctional family relies heavily on all the things that make the television show such a success, including visual gags (Homer’s heedless use of a hammer always hatches humor), political satire (Lisa’s presentation about a local pollution issue is titled “An Irritating Truth”) and a whole town full of quirky characters.
Most importantly, the movie makes excellent use of a gimmick that has resulted in some of the best “Simpsons” episodes: The use of seemingly random, unconnected events and threads that eventually – and unexpectedly – merge with the main storyline. The best part of watching the “The Simpsons Movie” is that although it’s all familiar territory, the destination remains a mystery.
Regardless of Homer’s assertion that everything in the movie can be seen for free at home, the movie does offer a few small surprises. For instance, Bart’s “doodle” – which only makes an appearance due to a dare from
father-of-the-year, Homer – materializes for a few brief seconds in the midst of a cleverly orchestrated and side-splitting sequence. There are a few lines that might have made censors cringe back when the “The Simpsons” debuted on Fox in 1989 (Ralph Wiggums’ innocuous gay joke comes to mind), but almost nothing that would not squeak by today (“Family Guy” has taken over the role of prodding the network censors).
The scale and scope of the big screen certainly adds kaleidoscopic grandeur to the artistry, but does little to enhance the story. In fact, all of those quirky characters that make the Simpsons’ hometown, Springfield, so wonderful sort of fade into the background. Krusty the Clown doesn’t seem quite as cantankerous; Grandpa Simpson doesn’t seem as grouchy; Montgomery Burns doesn’t seem so belligerent; even Ned Flanders isn’t so uncon-diddly-doodly-dtionally pious.
So, why go to the theater and be a sucker?
Well, it’s still funny. “The Simpsons Movie” may not exceed expectations, but it certainly meets them. The jokes are consistently funny, sometimes hysterical. Maybe the story could have been covered in a standard half-hour episode – but not without sacrificing some hilarious tangents and witty asides. The movie’s deficiencies are screened by its zealous pace, its shtick and slapstick and its sly satirical barbs.
“The Simpsons Movie” has already achieved something few films can lay claim to these days: Audience participation. At a recent local showing, viewers laughed, applauded and occasionally echoed various characters’ well-known catch-phrases. Audience members even sang along with Homer as he serenaded his recently acquired pig. Imagine, a crowded theater singing “Spider-pig, Spider-pig. Does whatever a Spider-pig does ...”
Only in Springfield. And wherever else “The Simpsons Movie” happens to be playing.