Fri, Aug 10, 2007 - Page 16 News List

Film reviews: The Simpsons will always be with us

Love them or hate them, this cartoon family has become part of the modern cultural fabric; its just a pity the film version doesn't add much to its influence

By A.O. Scott  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

America's favorite dysfunctional family finds itself on the wrong side of the law after Homer messes up big time: he accidentally pollutes Springfield's water supply, and the consequences are dire.

PHOTOS: COURTESY OF FOX

I have long been of the opinion that the entire history of American popular culture - maybe even of Western civilization - amounts to little more than a long prelude to The Simpsons. I don't think I'm alone in this belief. But it does not follow that The Simpsons movie represents a creative peak toward which the show's 18 seasons and 400 episodes have been a long, slow climb. Let's keep things in perspective. The Simpsons is an inexhaustible repository of humor, invention and insight, an achievement without precedent or peer in the history of broadcast television, perhaps the purest distillation of our glories and failings as a nation ever conceived. The Simpsons Movie is, well, a movie.

Don't get me wrong. It's a very funny movie, loaded with dumb jokes that are often as funny as the clever ones, and full of the anarchic, generous, good-natured humor that is the show's enduring signature. From the very start, when Ralph Wiggum stands inside the 20th Century Fox logo and sings along with the company fanfare, to the last frames of the closing credits, The Simpsons Movie provides plenty of amusement for both casual fans and hard-core zealots. It is not better than the best episodes - it's no 22 Short Films About Springfield or Homer's Enemy or Krusty Gets Busted or Lisa the Vegetarian - and it doesn't strain to be. (I'd put it at about the level of Trash of the Titans, the 200th episode, with which it shares an environmental theme.)

Instead of trying to top The Simpsons or sum it all up, the film's director, David Silverman (whose association with the series goes back to the days of The Tracey Ullman Show) and the writers (who among them have at least a century's worth of experience on the show) take advantage of the opportunity to go wider and longer. CinemaScope, the wide-screen format developed by Fox in the 1950s to combat the rise of television, turns out to be the ideal way to appreciate the small-screen, small-town paradise that is Springfield. In a variation on the show's opening sequence, we swoop through the town, seeing it from new angles and appreciating its history and beauty anew.

THE SIMPSONS MOVIE

DIRECTED BY: DAVID SILVERMAN

STARRING: DAN CASTELLANETA (HOMER AND OTHERS), JULIE KAVNER (MARGE), NANCY CARTWRIGHT (BART, MAGGIE, RALPH AND OTHERS), YEARDLEY SMITH (LISA), HANK AZARIA (PROFESSOR FRINK AND OTHERS), HARRY SHEARER (MR. BURNS AND OTHERS), PAMELA HAYDEN (MILHOUSE), TRESS MACNEILLE (SWEET OLD LADY).

RUNNING TIME: 88 MINUTES

TAIWAN RELEASE: TODAY


There are also crowd scenes on a scale rarely attempted on television, spectacles that compensate somewhat for the skimpy screen time granted some of the secondary characters. Everyone has a little, thank goodness, but for my taste there was too much Flanders and not enough Krusty. Less Cletus, please, and more Groundskeeper Willie. And where were Patty and Selma? I will say that the Itchy and Scratchy movie at the beginning is pure genius, though.

At this point, the temptation is strong to rifle through my notes and repeat my favorite jokes - to tell you about Bart's full frontal nudity and Homer and Marge's bedroom scene and the bomb-defusing robot and the many acts of auto-homage that made my inner Comic Book Guy exclaim, "Oh yeah, I remember that episode." Instead, I'll just spoil the plot: Homer does something really stupid. Also, Lisa develops a crush, Bart gets in trouble and Marge expresses concern and disapproval. Sorry.

Homer's main screw-up is not necessarily more or less idiotic than anything he's done before. (All I'll say is that it involves a pig.) The consequences, though, are proportionate to what you might expect from a summer blockbuster action movie. That is, they involve Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has been elected president of the US; the elite attack forces of the Environmental Protection Agency; and the near-destruction of Springfield. Also motorcycles.

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