Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Simpsons Movie / *** (PG-13)

Featuring the voice talents of:
Homer/ Itchy/Barney/Grandpa/Krusty the Clown/Mayor Quimby/Sideshow Mel/various others: Dan Castellaneta
Marge: Julie Kavner
Bart/Ralph/Nelson/Todd Flanders/various others: Nancy Cartwright
Lisa: Yeardly Smith
Ned Flanders/President Schwarzenegger/Mr. Burns/Rev. Lovejoy/Scratchy/Lenny/Kent Brockman/Principal Skinner/Smithers/various others: Harry Shearer
Professor Frink/Comic Book Guy/Moe/Chief Wiggum/Carl/Lou/Cletus/Bumblebee Man/Apu/Sea Captain/various others: Hank Azaria
Russ Cargill: Albert Brooks

20th Century Fox presents a film directed by David Silverman. Written by James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Al Jean, Ian Maxtone-Graham, George Meyer, David Mirkin, Mike Reiss, Mike Scully, Matt Selman, John Swartzwelder, and Jon Vitti, based on the television show created by Groening. Running time: 87 min. Rated PG-13 (for irreverent humor throughout).

“Why would anyone pay for what we can see on TV for free?” – Homer Simpson

That is an appropriate question for this movie. Yet 20th Century Fox seems to have little doubt that we will. And why not? Television has provided Hollywood with an endless supply of subject matter recently, and most of those films have been based on TV series we don’t even bother to watch anymore. Therefore, it makes sense that we might be willing to pay for something we have been watching for free for 18 years and will continue on into the foreseeable future.

This movie is a success for the same reasons that “The Simpsons” the one of the longest running sitcoms in television history. “The Simpsons Movie” is filled with the same irreverent humor. In fact, its irreverence seems to be the only reason why its been slapped with a PG-13 rating when the content barely differs from the TV version readily available during family viewing hours 7 days a week. Although when you see this movie you will finally get to see one hand-drawn yellow person’s private parts during a wonderfully clever sequence that pokes fun at the fact that a show that has become as universally accepted as “The Simpsons” can still face censorship.

As with most of the television episodes, the film’s plot revolves around the ignorance and stupidity of the Simpsons patriarch Homer (voiced by Dan Castellaneta). Needless to say, Homer gets the entire town of Springfield – which borders the states Ohio, Nevada, Maine and Kentucky (hardee, har, har!) – in trouble with the EPA. President Arnold Schwarzenegger (not voiced by the Governator himself) is talked into sealing the dysfunctional town into a protective dome by EPA head Russ Cargill (Albert Brooks, “Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World”).

Even this short synopsis demonstrates that something other than the plot carries this cartoon’s success; it is the little jabs at our current events and even at the show’s own existence that give it life. Little is safe from ridicule in the Simpsons universe: environmentalists, video games, the violent nature of children’s cartoons, the more innocent cartoons of Disney, religion, law enforcement, the evening news, blind governmental leadership, and even recent cinematic fare like “Spider-Man” and “Harry Potter”.

Little effort is made to expand the scope of the “Simpsons” formula for the big screen. Graphically, the filmmakers (also the usual lineup of suspects from the television show) do try to outdo their weekly sitcom budget. This is the most magnificent “The Simpsons” or Springfield has ever looked. There is much more “camera” movement than can be found in the TV show, and much more of a sense of depth to the images. There’s some wonderful artwork to be found in the framing of this cartoon, especially during a sequence set in Alaska. But even the Alaskans have to take a blow from the Simpsons joke machine to warrant such glorious big screen representation.

This movie does prove just how little time a feature length film affords a cast of characters as long as that of “The Simpsons”. While just about every recurring character (that is still “alive”) from the television show makes an appearance, most of their screen time is limited to cameos at best. Many favorites, like Apu, Mayor Quimby, Krusty the Clown and Principal Skinner, barely have any role to play in the plot at all. This may disappoint some die hard fans, but 88 minutes is a lot less time than 22 episodes a year.

Is it necessary to see this movie in theaters? In no way whatsoever. If you don’t have a tendency to wear Homer Simpson’s likeness on your shirt, you might as well just wait another year or so until “The Simpsons Movie” is available for free at home. There will be plenty of new TV episodes to tide anyone over until then, and seventeen years worth of reruns as well. “D’OH!” indeed.

Buy it: Simpsons merchandise

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