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Movie Review: The Simpsons Movie Is History

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I was a big fan of The Simpsons, back in the day. I wish I could say I loved it when it was awesome, and lost interest because it lost its charm, but those two things are only coincidentally correlated. I was pretty much ignorant of the trends in writing or plotting, and just happened to stop watching around season seven or eight because I didn't have as much time to myself. Even so, given my former dedication to the franchise, I'm surprised how little the movie sparked my interest. When I was talked into seeing it on Saturday, I was pretty blase about it.

It was worth the money and the time, though (both of which are high-premium in New York City). I saw it at the Magic Johnson AMC theater, and I definitely enjoyed it. I differ from those friends who said it was never very funny, and who claimed it never really prompted a serious laugh from them. It definitely drew a pretty consistent response from me, ranging from a chuckle to a burst, and it occasionally touched me in an emotional place as well (God, I hope I never decide to use that phrase again).

Some people said it just felt like a long episode; for some, this was a good thing, and for some, it made the movie a waste of time (in keeping with Homer's opening observation that we shouldn't pay to see the same crap we can watch on television). I kind of appreciated the tidy narrative, though, and further, I felt it went respectfully beyond the scope of a mere episode. The emotional lows were serious, and the absurdities (i.e. the dome, the catastrophic destruction of Springfield) were developed into real conflicts, instead of remaining non sequiturs, as they would have in an episode of the series.

What impressed me most, though, was the range of humor the writers tapped. In terms of jokes, the movie acted as sort of a retrospective on the whole Simpsons series. Some of the slapstick and low-brow humor (the roof repair segments, Bart's naked skateboard ride) recalled the first couple of seasons, when the characters were essentially caricatures of a dysfunctional American family. A good deal of the jokes reflected the humor of the show's heyday, seasons three through eight, such as (off the top of my head) most of the lines written for Mr. Burns, and the President's official decision-making process. Finally, there was a decent proportion of "zany antics" that have been so popular in recent seasons, like Homer's ride on a wrecking ball swinging between a Rock and A Hard Place.

Between these jokes, however, there were enough winning lines to keep me engaged, and to keep the movie from feeling way too long, which would have been an obvious problem if it was really just a long episode.

Positive criticism aside, however, there's something unsettling about the nostalgia involved in watching an epic retrospective on a franchise that's dimmed in recent years. Part of me sees this movie as a tribute and a farewell to the series, rather than a renewal, and part of me would be happy if this were the truth. Is this blasphemy? It's been an awesome series, and the movie attests to that fact. Even among the later episodes there was an occasional winner, such as the January 6, 2002 episode "Brawl in the Family" (note how the critics disagree with my assessment of this episode). With such a good two-hour long summary, it might be a good time to administer last rites to the series itself.

As long as I'm being nostalgic, I'll throw out one thing that I feel was a flaw in The Simpsons Movie — virtually all of the character conflicts were yanked from Simpsons history. The family was definitely recycled, rather than re-imagined, for this film: Bart's disgust at Homer's bad parenting, Marge's loss of faith in her husband and her marriage, and Lisa's unlikely romantic attachments were each the subjects of multiple episodes in the past. If the jokes were a positive retrospective, the conflicts were a negative one, driven by familial issues that we've seen resolved before. Maybe I can give it credit for developing these same conflicts to greater intensity, but that doesn't quite save the film from a hard truth — we, the fans, have cried these tears before. But we all know the Simpsons, I guess, so we can't expect an earth-shattering realization about the family or the town. Our familiarity and expectation render this criticism almost moot.

So whatever Simpsons era you're a fan of, go ahead and see the movie. Whether it refreshes your impression of the franchise or just reminds you of better days, it's probably going to leave you laughing at least a bit, and remembering all the jokes and Simpsons anecdotes you've appropriated over the years.

Bart's genitals are also probably worth the price of admission.

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  • With it being a week I can now speak of the greatest reference joke the movie had. When Bart and Homer jumped Springfield Gorge (again) the ambulance from season one was still crashed into the tree 18 years later. Amazing subtle background joke and that one moment made me go from loving the movie to LOVING the movie. Great review. This movie balances between diehards and novices with plenty of great jokes for all.

  • Good call, Brad. I need to go back some day and piece through the background jokes and references. If you’ve got any more to draw my attention to, don’t hesitate.