[Movie review]It’s a mixed bag for Bart on big screen

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[Movie review]It’s a mixed bag for Bart on big screen


The Simpsons Movie

Eagerly awaited by some, dreaded by others, “The Simpsons Movie” has been nearly 20 years in the making. Part of the reason for the delay is that despite the desperate nagging of 20th Century Fox, the creators never felt confident that they could fill the big screen with enough plot to justify a feature while retaining the small-scale domestic charm that made “The Simpsons” America's favorite cartoon.
They’re still not confident, and that’s clear in the first five minutes of the film, in which Homer gets up during a movie based on the toon-within-the-toon “Itchy & Scratchy” and mocks the audience for paying to see something they could get for free at home. It’s a great gag that puts the film on just the right footing, proving that at least the filmmakers, Matt Groening and his old stable of comedy writers, are aware of their movie’s biggest inherent problem. It also sets up a film that’s full of surprisingly funny moments.
In this extra-long outing, Grandpa Simpson has a vision in church that cryptically predicts three things: Homer will adopt a pig, Lake Springfield will end up disastrously polluted and the Environmental Protection Agency will trap Springfielders in a giant dome to keep their environmentally unfriendly ways from spreading. Emblematic of the best of Simpsons humor is a visual gag that occurs as the dome is about to drop and doom the town. The groups inside the church and Moe’s Bar emerge simultaneously, scream and trade places. The Washington sequences between fast-talking EPA head Russ Cargill (Albert Brooks) and President Schwarzenegger (Harry Shearer) are also great satire.
But the fact is, the TV Simpsons is a lo-fi toon that’s always been produced on the cheap (it was the first major American production to be entirely animated in Korea, starting with the first episode done by Nelson Shin’s Akom Production in Songpa). Its funniest episodes have relied on razor-sharp one-liners and smart, unceasingly ironic repartee. It is a pervasive piece of popular culture among the young.
Where earlier generations might have tapped Milton or Wordsworth or Benjamin Franklin, younger folks quote quips from fake action star Rainier Wolfcastle; innocent idiot Ralph Wiggum; the fat, cruel, drunk, lazy but good-intentioned patriarch Homer and a cast of characters who have come to feel like old friends after two decades on the air. They’ve never been photorealistically animated. Instead they are simple, two-dimensional yellow blobs, and though there has certainly been some wonderfully expressive acting on the show, it’s never tried to sell itself on action sequences. Thus the fully computer-animated, high-flying and incredibly implausible set pieces in the film seem untrue to the Simpsons spirit. On the other hand, the filmmakers felt that without them this wouldn't be a movie event ― yet another consequence of the tension between living room and cinema.
Of course, it’s Homer that causes the whole dome fiasco by dumping his silo of pig manure into the lake. The family subsequently escapes to Alaska and there’s much soul-searching and the typical threat from Marge to end her marriage if Homer doesn’t do something to set it right. And just like in a previous episode about Springfield’s version of the Boy Scouts, Bart also grows estranged from his dad and is adopted by Flanders instead. These sentimental moments are the weakest parts of the movie. At its funniest, The Simpsons has no moral. In the words of Homer, “It’s just a bunch of stuff that happened.” And when it does venture into genuine drama, there’s always a joke just around the corner to relieve the tension.
As the creators suspected, though the jokes in the film are certainly funny, this brand of satirical animated vaudeville doesn’t agree with the big screen.
There are laughs to be had, but the sum never surpasses the sublime early Simpsons episodes, which were overflowing with new ideas and ― thanks to constantly reduced TV running times ― necessarily pared down to only the vital, funniest parts. The Simpsons Movie is just the opposite, stretching out the format to fit its still lean 87-minute runtime.
Still, it’s worth seeing new material from modern America’s most influential social commentators ― who just happen to be yellow and fictional.

The Simpsons Movie
Animation / English
87 min.
Now playing

By Ben Applegate Contributing Writer [bapplegate@gmail.com]
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