As someone who has grown up watching the The Simpsons I had to go and see The Simpsons Movie. Before I get too far into the critique I have to paint a picture of just how Simpsons-obsessed I truly am.
When I was in middle school I purchased Bart Simpson's Guide to Life and then attempted to live by the book. In high school my hometown received two different FOX affiliates and for one 18-month stretch, the two affiliates would play two Simpsons episodes apiece at different times. So, from 4:30pm until 6:30pm I was able to watch nothing but The Simpsons. This was in the mid 1990s. In college I didn't have a TV set but I did my best to catch all the new episodes (normally illegally downloaded off the Internet). I have foolishly spent money buying the various boxed sets of The Simpsons on DVD despite the fact they're available for free every day on TV.
The point is I love The Simpsons. As a young conservative I was able to forgive the left wing preaching and anti-business prejudices of The Simpsons even as it got worse and worse in the last five or six seasons. Nothing would shake my devotion. Despite what I perceived as a downturn in the storylines, Matt Groening was still able to keep his cartoon light and slapstick despite the political content.
Unfortunately the magic from the small screen hasn’t followed The Simpsons to the big screen. To be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect. The only parallel situation I can think of was the South Park movie, and for Trey Parker and Matt Stone the goal was simple — more profanity, more controversy, and more innuendo. I was glad The Simpsons Movie wasn’t just about pushing the envelope but in a way such goals would have made for a more interesting film.
In fact, this movie held my interest for about 20 minutes. At first I enjoyed the incredible animation which made the Simpson’s universe come alive. There were some classic Homer slapstick moments and the first movements towards some sort of plot didn’t get in the way of the spectacle of seeing my surrogate family from my childhood on 40 feet of silver screen.
But the movie went on… and on… and on.
About a half hour into this film I came to the epiphany that I was laughing only because everyone else was laughing. The jokes seemed like tired retreads of the last 20 years of television. The execution was shoddy and the writing was lackluster. It was like watching someone try to imitate the stand-up comedian they saw last night; even if they remember the punch lines the recitation is lifeless and unfunny.
The plot involved the standard Matt Groening targets: religion, corporations, and the government. I didn’t mind the left slant. Sure, Groening often picks the easiest targets and it comes off as kind of lame. Everyone is concerned about their privacy. Everyone is concerned about the environment. Groening must feel his perspective is somehow clearer than his audience's and it’s that sort of arrogance which is hard to detect in a 22-minute TV show but it becomes incredibly clear over the course of 80 straight minutes of movie.
But I don’t feel as though it was my own conservatism that got in the way of enjoying this film. It really was the film itself. Understandably my expectations were high. In fact I would admit they were probably too high. After two decades of leading a Simpsons-centric life it felt as if the entire purpose of my fanaticism had all come down to a single full length feature.
After my disappointment I went home and immediatly watched half of season six just to remind myself why I like The Simpsons at all.
If I had my druthers I would have left the movie theatre. Unfortunately I was stuck in the middle seats of a large and very packed theatre. This at least forced me to continue watching and see some of the few positive aspects. Almost every character ever to appear in the The Simpsons TV show found their way unto the silver screen. Springfield became very real as a fantasy community. The characters came alive to the viewer. It was a work of cinematic art. It’s just the writing and the story got in the way of this movie being an animated classic.