Sunday, August 19, 2007


THE SIMPSONS has been on TV for 18 years. For the first third of that, it was one of the best shows on television. After that, there has been a steady decline in quality. I still watch it with my wife, more out of habit than anything else. Occasionally there is a good episode, like the final one from last season, which was a parody of 24. It's no coincidence that episode was better; several of the writers from the early seasons returned for that one.

They also returned to write the feature version of the film. I have to admit that I did not have high expectations from the film. The show has been on so long that it's getting redundant and going downhill. It's not exactly a cinematic show, it is 2D animation with little extensive background work and pretty bare sound design. With audiences so used to the Pixar model of 3D animation and dense visuals and full soundtracks, moving the Simpsons to the big screen did not sound like a great idea.

However, early reviews and word-of-mouth made me want to see the movie. One review called it "the best animated movie ever." Well, which is it, best ever, or the lame show moved to the big screen?

Somewhere in between. In terms of laughs, it is a very funny movie. And some elements of the film did live up to the big screen. Certainly elements, including crowd animation, were definitely up several notches on the big screen.

Unfortunately, the film also has inherent problems. We've been trained for 18 years that the Simpsons should come in 22 minute doses. I was pretty surprised that it took almost an hour for me to start looking at my watch. It moves pretty well at the beginning, but like other films written by people who aren't used to filmic structure, the film feels very episodic, and just when Act 3 should be getting into full gear, the plot stops and the family moves to Alaska. It clearly feels like there were three or four episodic ideas that they pasted together to make a feature, instead of one coherent plot.

Also, in 400 episodes, they have covered a lot of ground. Even on the show they appear to have run out of ideas, and in the film there are some pretty big moments where all I could think was "this is just like that episode from the TV show."

Another big problem is that it seems like someone told them they had to include every character that has ever been on the show. This means favorite characters like Mr. Burns, Smithers, Moe, Krusty, and many others are relegated to one or two lines in the film. I'd have much rather they dumped most of the cameos and gave a few characters more time. There is one new major character that is a major misfire, Albert Brooks as the head of the EPA. The character isn't funny, and the part could have been written for Mr. Burns or another regular character and been much better integrated.

Also there's a weird thing that the president in the film is Arnold Schwarzenegger. There's already a character in the TV series based on Arnold named Rainier Wolfcastle. He's a bad Austrian actor in action films who has political ambitions, married to Maria Shriver Kennedy Quimby. So now I'm supposed to believe there are two people in the Simpsons universe exactly like that? Why not just make it President Wolfcastle? Of course, if this plot had been better written, I wouldn't have wasted time thinking about that.

Nonetheless, if you're a fan of the sow, I'd recommend it, just for the laughs.

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