Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Simpsons

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Bart and Company Brought Belatedly to Big Screen

Created by cartoonist Matt Groening in 1987, The Simpsons originally arrived on TV as the series of one-minute shorts featured on The Tracey Ullman Show. The satirical sketches lampooned modern American culture by viewing it through the perverse prism of the generally anti-social antics of a dysfunctional family named Simpson, including hapless Homer (Dan Castellaneta); his exasperated wife, Marge (Julie Kavner); contentedly underachieving son Bart (Nancy Cartwright); precocious daughter Lisa (Yeardley Smith); and mute infant Maggie (also Nancy Cartwright).
The popular segment made such a splash that it was spun off into a half-
hour, prime-time program of its own three years later, and the rest, as they say, is history. Over the intervening 18 seasons, the caustic comedy has maintained its freshness by continuing to court controversy, never shrinking from its mission of tackling taboos and taking an ever-cynical slant on mainstream society.
Curiously, its readily-recognizable characters have become embraced as beloved icons, especially Bart and Homer, probably because their flaws resonate with their faithful fans as readily-recognizable, universal human frailties. Just as topical and as popular as ever, the show is not only the longest-running cartoon, but also the longest-running sitcom on television.
The only surprise about the screen version of The Simpsons is that it took 20th Century Fox so long to bring it to make it into a movie. Quite frankly, the film feels like an extended episode of the TV series, because the material is no more daring than what we’re already familiar with. Perhaps the producers simply see their primary job as protecting the brand’s franchise, but excuse me for expecting an experience which felt a little different from watching at home.
That being said, the picture does at least serve up an engaging adventure with a timely environmental theme. Early on, we’re treated to a funny skit lifted from Austin Powers, where we find a carefree Bart skateboarding naked with his privates coincidentally being covered by prop after prop as he negotiates his way around town. Meanwhile, Lisa is delivering a lecture entitled “An Irritating Truth” in which she warns her audience about the pressing problem of pollution in Lake Springfield.
The plot and local lake thicken, however, when selfish Homer secretly dumps a silo of pig poop there, anyway, thereby pushing the ecological balance past the tipping point. The government intervenes, and the EPA determines that the level of toxic waste warrants lowering a clear plastic dome over the entire city, trapping all the alarmed citizens inside.
Of course, it then falls to Homer to play hero and ultimately save the day, so that through his contrition, epiphany and transformation we might all learn a valuable lesson about commitment to community and appreciating our loved ones. Betwixt and between, nonetheless, the flick is heavily-layered with scads of trademark Simpson humorous asides, typical being the priceless scene where a bar full of patrons and a church full of parishioners instantly swap places upon hearing the same forecast of certain doom.
Brilliant, if belated, but be forewarned that The Simpsons, the movie, is merely The Simpsons, the television show, only on a much bigger screen and in an extended format. You want more, you got more.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated PG-13 for double entendres, animated nudity and crude humor.
Running time: 87 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox

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