Released: 27 July 2007
Director: David Silverman
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $75 million
Stars: Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Harry Shearer, and Albert Brooks
When Homer Simpson (Castellaneta) pollutes the lake in Springfield, Russ Cargill (Brooks), head of the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) imprisons the town under a giant dome. Although the Simpson family narrowly escape, they ultimately abandon Homer due to his selfishness and he is left to find a way to redeem his folly to help save the town and reunite with his family.
Soon after the first episode of The Simpsons (1988 to present) aired, their iconic yellow visages were seemingly everywhere as “Bartmania” swept the nation. Creator Matt Groening and the other showrunners first considered a feature-length adaptation early into the show’s run, but these plans were scuppered by the show’s popularity and ratings. Work began in earnest on the venture in 2003, when The Simpsons was entering its fifteenth season, with the creators bringing in some of their most successful writers to work on the script, which went through over one hundred revisions and eventually included cameos from almost every character in the show’s long history. Following a unique marketing campaign, The Simpsons Movie finally released to mixed to favourable reviews. While the show has had an impressive run and been incredible popular, many felt that felt that movie (despite being a massive box office success and earning almost $540 million) failed to live up to the expectations set by the show’s peak and its years in development.
The Simpsons Movie opens in true fourth-wall breaking fashion with the family (and, seemingly, the rest of Springfield) attending a screening of an Itchy & Scratchy movie, during which Homer openly criticises the stupidity of audiences everywhere for their willingness to “[pay] to see something [they] get on TV for free”. In many ways, this sets the tone for the story that is to follow since The Simpsons Movie is, basically, like an extended episode of the series rather than a true, one-of-a-kind cinematic experience like, say, Beavis and Butt-Head Do America (Judge, 1996) or South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (Parker, 1999)m which took the concepts of their respective animated shows and expanded upon them using their new medium rather than simply repeating a lot of the same tropes and traditions from the show.
The story begins proper when the Simpsons (and, again, apparently the rest of the town), attend church and Grandpa Abe Simpson (Castellaneta) has a sudden and prophetic turn that greatly disturbs Marge (Kavner). The rest of the family, however, is happy to ignore Grandpa’s warnings of a “twisted tale, a thousand eyes, trapped forever, [and] eeepa!” to concentrate on more pressing concerns such as Homer’s many chores and Lisa’s (Smith) attempts to warn the town about the benefits of recycling and repairing their damaged environment (especially after the heavily polluted lake resulted in the untimely deaths of Green Day).
While Marge is unable to drop the subject and spends the first half of the film trying to figure out what Grandpa’s words could mean, Homer dares Bart (Cartwright) to skateboard through the town naked (resulting in an amusing sequence where the film does everything possible to hide Bart’s junk and then just shows us it). When Homer refuses to take responsibility for Bart’s indecency, Bart begins to grow frustrated with his Dad’s shabby parenting and gravitates towards the support and caring nature of their long-time neighbour, Ned Flanders (Shearer).
Indeed, Homer only exacerbates Bart’s ill feelings towards him by adopting, and showing more care and concern for, a pig. Homer’s selfish and reckless ways are a pivotal catalyst in many of the film’s events as they not only drive Bart further away from him (and, at one point, literally to drink) but also earn him the ire of his entire family (especially the environmentally-conscious Lisa) and the town when he disobeys Mayor “Diamond” Joe Quimby’s (Castellaneta) mandate that all pollution of Springfield Lake must immediately stop by dumping Spider-Pig’s faeces into the lake and incurring the wrath of the E.P.A.
Their representative is, of course, Russ Cargill (who sounds so much like Hank Scorpio (Brooks) that it may as well have been the same character), a somewhat-unhinged government official who is absolutely determined to first isolate and then wipe out Springfield. Cunning and power-mad, Cargill easily manipulates the incompetent President Arnold Schwarzenegger (Shearer), imprisons Springfield within an inescapable dome, and then plots to destroy the entire town to avoid his actions being exposed to the world. His mission borders on obsession and it’s implied that he’s simply gone mad with power but his fixation on Springfield (which eventually leads to him being willing to shoot Homer in the face) isn’t really explained all that much beyond him simply wanting to prove that he’s the best at what he does.
Honestly, for me, the best parts of the film are those that take place in Springfield; once the Simpsons are driven out of the dome and end up in Alaska, the film really loses its way and slows down a bit. Understandably, Homer’s actions cause a lot of friction and resentment in his family and his unwillingness to save their town from destruction provides Marge with yet another perfect excuse to leave Homer. It’s not the first time Homer and Marge have split up, broken up, or fallen out or the first time that the family have been driven from town by an angry mob and, honestly, these were tired tropes even then and the only real difference here is that they’re in Alaska so there’s a lot of snow about.
One major positive of The Simpsons Movie is the vast and immediately noticeable improvement in the animation quality; even little things like adding shadows to the characters makes them pop out more and appear more cinematic and there are far more elaborate and dynamic shots of the town and its citizens. Everything looks and feels much bigger and like more time, effort, and money has gone into making every scene as good as it possibly can be; it’s just a shame, then, that more of the film doesn’t actually take place in Springfield so we can really see the benefits of this. Indeed, while we get to see much of the town, a lot of key areas and locations are only briefly glimpsed and, similarly, some of the show’s more entertaining supporting characters are reduced to mere cameos or cut entirely.
On the plus side, this does service the main focus of the plot, which is on the Simpson family; one thing that does separate The Simpsons Movie from most episodes of the show is its emphasis on drama and conflict within the family. This drives Marge not only to take the kids and leave Homer but also puts Homer on the path to self-discovery in the Alaskan wilderness; however, considering Homer’s actions are uncharacteristically selfish and his stupidity and self-serving ways and dialled up way past eleven this time around, it’s difficult to really root for him. This is troublesome for me as Homer is one of my favourite characters of the show; his bumbling ways are usually amusing and endearing but, here they’re just callous and foolhardy simply because the plot has to happen and the lessons he learns from the Medicine Woman (Tress MacNeille) are really ones he’s already learnt in the series and should already know.
Of course, being that it’s The Simpsons, The Simpsons Movie also features a bevvy of jokes and humour; some of these are simple gags, such as Homer literally being stuck between a rock and a hard place, Drederick Tatum (Hank Azaria) attempting to punch his way out of the dome, Homer’s middle finger salute to the angry mob, and the aforementioned mob heading away from the Simpsons’ house in their mission to lynch the family. Other humorous moments I enjoyed included Cletus Spuckler (ibid) proving that Quimby’s idiot-proof barrier works, Homer urging Spider-Pig to drive away from the polluted lake and being fooled by his reflection in the dome, Marge stopping amidst the burning of their house to do the dishes, and Lisa punching out Bart when he taunts her.
Similarly, there’s some very funny lines in the film, such as when Cargill’s men admonish Bart for scratching the chains of his manacles, the gag at the service station when Bart randomly scribbles over the family’s wanted posted and a group who look just like his doodles walks in, the entire sequence at the government spy centre, Cargill’s mental rant about tough guys and soft guys, and Marge’s sudden and unexpected cry of “Somebody throw the Goddamn bomb!” Unfortunately, not every gag and reference works that well; there’s a particularly outdated reference to Titanic (Cameron, 1997) at the Green Day concert, probably one too many anti-gay jokes and gags, and I really could have done without another visit to Springfield Gorge (though it was funny to see the crashed ambulance was still there). Likewise, while the Spider-Pig song was amusing the first few times, it (like the pig itself) quickly becomes grating and annoying.
I think one thing that also disappoints about the film is that it could have been a really good opportunity to spice up the show after nearly twenty seasons (at the time) but introducing some actual changes and fallout from the movie. Instead, no real, lasting repercussions are ever really felt following the film’s conclusion; Colin (MacNeille) disappears despite how interesting it might have been to develop Lisa’s character with a boyfriend, Spider-Pig is reduced to mere cameos and a largely insignificant role despite how important he is to the film, and even Doctor Nick Riviera (Azaria), who appears to die, turns up alive and well in subsequent episodes. I get it, obviously; you don’t want to risk alienating long-term viewers with sudden unexplained changes but, surely long-time fans of the series saw the film and would understand any changes made to the show’s formula.
The Simpsons Movie was a long time in the making…maybe too long, judging by the quality of the story and the resulting film. It’s not an especially bad premise, to be fair, and results in some funny moments and gags but I can think of several episodes of the show that are funnier or could have been expanded, or combined, into an even more entertaining feature-length film. As a reflection on the film and their love/hate dynamic, it works; the film’s more dramatic elements are interesting and it’s clear that the filmmakers were trying to emphasis a few undeveloped aspects of the family, such as Bart’s relationship with Homer and Homer’s destructive ways, but, since the movie had no lasting repercussions on the show and their characterisations, it almost feels like a waste of time and potential. In the end, The Simpsons Movie is less of a celebration of everything that works about The Simpsons and more a blatant attempt to recapture some of the show’s earlier magic and failing just short of the mark. Rather than try and be a truly unique cinematic experience, the filmmakers played things way too safe and took what would have been a semi-interesting premise for an episode and blew it up to feature length rather than trying to craft something more unique and memorable and, while it’s amusing and entertaining enough, it ultimately fails to live up to its potential as a truly unforgettable experience.
Could Be Better
Did you enjoy The Simpsons Movie? Do you think it was worth the long wait or were you, like me, somewhat disappointed with the end result, especially compared to feature-length versions of other animated shows? What did you think to Homer’s characterisation in the film, Bart’s sub-plot with Flanders, and Lisa’s sub-plot with Colin? Did you like Russ Cargill and the plot about the dome, and Homer’s voyage of self-discovery in Alaska? What were some of your favourite moments from the movie? Which member of the Simpson family, or the cast of the show, is your favourite? What are some of your favourite episodes and moments from the series? Perhaps you prefer a different animated series; if so, what is it? How are you celebrating Scotchtoberfest this month? Whatever your thoughts on The Simpsons Movie, or The Simpsons in general, drop a comment down below.