The Simpsons television show could have had a spin-off feature film as early as its first season, with Fox studios approaching the show’s creators (Matt Groening and James L. Brooks) 18 years ago with the concept. Doing a film back then would have stretched the television show’s manpower too thinly (both writers and animators), as well as jeopardizing the overall quality of the series, something that Groening was unwilling to do.
Now, four hundred episodes and 18 years later, and with a script that was reportedly rewritten one hundred times by a team of 11 writers, the Simpsons family finally makes it to the big screen.
I’m a Simpsons fan, and, like many other people around the world, grew up with the dysfunctional, satirical family from Springfield. They have been a part of my life since 1990 and although I’ve lost touch (with Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie) over the past couple of years I still have scores of fond memories.
The Simpsons show has provided me with numerous nostalgic and humorous memories: Homer jumping Springfield gorge on Bart’s skateboard (the eighth episode of the second season), Homer enrolling in clown college – possibly my favourite episode ever (the fifteenth episode of season six) and Homer creating a new, hip alcoholic beverage with cough syrup (the tenth episode of season three), to name but a few.
The show’s greatest strength is its ability to make you think you’re going in one direction when all of a sudden it completely changes course. The Simpsons takes a tight 22-minute structure and stuffs it to bursting point with surprises, satire and gags. The result; you feel as if you’ve been on a journey that was actually much longer than it really was. When promotion for The Simpsons Movie began I was curious to see how this formula would alter with the change in running length.
I am happy to say that The Simpsons Movie is generally every bit as good as the television show that spawned it, although I was under-whelmed by the plot that the filmmakers/writers have tried to keep secret for so long.
It all begins with Homer, his new pet pig, and a leaky silo full of droppings – a combination that triggers a disaster the likes of which Springfield has never experienced. As Marge is outraged by Homer’s monumental blunder, a vengeful mob descends on the Simpson household. The family makes a narrow escape, but is soon divided by both location and conflict.
A change in format and aspect ratio (The Simpsons are now in widescreen) requires that more investment be made into character development and structure but as a result some of the show’s ‘oomph’ has been lost in the translation. The Simpsons Movie is essentially an extended episode (one I’d classify as a ‘good’ episode) that while entertaining doesn’t come close to blowing your socks off the way it should.
There are very few surprises on offer. Choosing to focus on the town of Springfield and its inhabitants, The Simpsons Movie sets itself up to run in one direction for 87 minutes and never detours in the way I have grown accustomed to. I understand that a feature film format places new constraints on the show but it seems the writers have deliberately thought ‘in the box’ in an attempt to milk fans’s sense of nostalgia. While I appreciate this, it hurts the film and never allows it to exhibit the epic qualities that warrant the jump from the small to the big screen.
That said, The Simpsons Movie is still great fun and should keep fans happy. The animation is crisp and extremely detailed; with characters sporting shadows for the first time, some brilliant 3D and 2D animation combinations and spider pig (you’ll see).
The writing is – aside from the limited scope I’ve mentioned – top notch and how can you not love a film that has Homer acknowledging right at the start that the entire movie – which you are about to watch – is a soulless attempt to make more money. Brilliant!