After 18 years, Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie have actually made it to the big screen. Pretty crazy when you consider that the “South Park” made their movie debut two years after the show started, striking while the iron was hot.
I’m definitely part of the Simpsons Generation, if there is such a thing. Personally, I think it has a much better ring than Generation Y, or the You-Tube Generation or whatever fleeting label the media is currently attaching to my kind. I remember seeing an ad in TV Guide for the first episode, a Christmas special. I remember actually asking my parents for permission to watch it. I was hooked after that. I distinctly remember standing in the lunch line most Thursdays when I was in the second grade humming the Danny Elfman-composed theme music, visibly excited about that night’s episode. I remember eating at Godfather’s Pizza at the Madisonville mall with my dad watching “Three Men and Comic Book” for the first time.
For those of you not familiar with “Simpsons” lore, that is the second season episode in which Bart, Milhouse and Martin chip in together to share the first issue of the comic book “Radioactive Man” from Comic Book Guy. For the record, the writers have still never given that overweight goateed geek a name.
The show eventually switched to Sunday nights and I hardly ever missed an episode. In the age before DVD, I videotaped every syndicated episode I could find and watched them again and again with my sister.
One thing I don’t remember so well because of my age at the time: President George H.W. Bush saying in a speech that American families ought to be more like the Waltons and less like the Simpsons. Yes, it’s true, kids. There was a time when people were actually offended by “The Simpsons.” Though some episodes’ subject matter have been kind of racy since the early ‘90s, it’s amazing how tame those early shows are when you compare them to what’s on TV now.
These days, it seems like “The Simpsons” is a much more realistic portrait of family life than “The Waltons” anyway. Perhaps that’s what scared Bush in the first place.
Anyway, enough of my rambling. Is the movie worth the wait? Well, it depends on how you look at it. It would be hard to call it a masterpiece even when compared only to other animated fare. In case you haven’t noticed, there have been quite a few excellent animated movies in the last decade. But it’s also impossible to deny the yellow clan’s charm even after all these years. And the experience of seeing these beloved characters on a large wide screen in a crowded theater is extremely pleasurable.
For years, I wondered how the writers of the show would be able to craft a satisfying movie, since so many outlandish things have happened over the years. The plot of the movie is certainly epic: After Homer becomes obsessed with his new pet pig, he gets the town in trouble and the Environmental Protection Agency seals the town under a giant glass dome. After the Simpsons discover that the head of the EPA plans to rid the country of Springfield, the most polluted town in America, it is up to Homer to save the day. Yeah, it’s huge, but the Simpsons have saved the town plenty times since the show began. You get the feeling while watching it, though, that the writers aren’t trying to top their past work. They’re just having a great time, and you will be too.
So what’s different about the movie campared with the TV show? First, the obvious: it’s gigantic. While most animated movies are in a 1.85:1 ratio (that is, shaped like a widescreen TV set), “The Simpsons” is as wide as it gets, making Springfield seem more like a real place than ever before.
There’s also the difference in the pacing and structure that we’re used to. A typical show’s plot will start out seemingly about something, and will then turn out to be about something else entirely by the end. While that’s sort of true about the movie, there is one key difference. The extra length allows the writers to plant a few hilarious jokes near the beginning of the movie, which are not only funny to begin with but also pay off in the plot by the end. That hardly ever happens in a 22-minute episode. Also, jokes don’t just fly by the way they do on the show. Several of the jokes in the movie are expanded on, getting more and more ridiculous. You laugh once … then again … and again, reveling in how the writers manage to ratchet it up several notches.
And, although the movie doesn’t try to push the envelope much, there are a few moments that they couldn’t get away with on network
While no movie could compete with the absolute best “Simpsons” episodes, it’s hard to imagine any fan, or just someone with a good sense of humor, walking away feeling unsatisfied from this one.
“The Simpsons Movie” is rated PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned.