The Simpsons Movie 4 stars
Starring Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith and Pamela Hayden. Directed by David Silverman. Released by 20th Century Fox. Rated PG-13; 1:25.
When it became clear there was to be a “Simpsons” movie, a million dorky fans of the show — including me — almost wet themselves. For non-fans, it is difficult to capture how monumental this movie is for us. At the risk of hyperbole, I can say it is the most important thing ever to happen in this history of the world. It is the last episode of “M*A*S*H,” “Who Shot J.R.?,” the final Harry Potter novel, VJ Day and the Second Coming all rolled into one.
The film was announced in 2001, so it has been a long wait. The bad news is that the film is about as good as an average episode, but three times longer. The good news is that it is about as good as the average episode, but three times longer. You will laugh your ass off, and yet most fans will be left wondering why Matt Groening, et al, couldn’t have been more ambitious on this massive stage.
“The Simpsons Movie” begins with a very joke-heavy first act. Lisa falls in love with a cute, environmentally active Irish classmate. Homer falls in love with a pig that he saved from the butcher block. These two loves play out in conflict; Lisa and her boyfriend clean up a local lake that Homer and his pig then promptly destroy. The result? Oh, the usual. The despotic Environmental Protection Agency, under the direction of President Arnold Schwarzenegger, seal the entire city under a mammoth plastic dome, bringing down on Homer the wrath of Springfield and causing the meltdown of his marriage to Marge.
The last two-thirds of the film can drift a bit as we are asked to yet again ponder Homer’s soul. Is he a man whose huge heart is sometimes undermined by his tiny brain? Or is he indeed a selfish oaf? Of course, as this is the plot device behind 50 percent of the shows (or about 200 episodes), we all know the cockle-warming answer to this: He is a big, stupid sweetie.
It would have been nice if the writers had taken the family in a new direction, or at least done a summer blockbuster parody, but even these unambitious results are well worth the wait. Why? First, it is a fantastic experience just to see it with 200 other people who are every bit as smitten with the show and as knowledgeable of its history as you are. A late showing is a nerd party that everybody should attend.
Secondly, the writers behind “The Simpsons Movie” are just that good. They have delivered the safest film possible, even substituting fancy animation for real character development, and yet it is still 10 times funnier than anything else in the Cineplex this year. “The Simpsons” has a way of building jokes on pop cultural references that in turn become pop cultural references themselves. The film gives us a new batch of these jokes: Spider-Pig, Homer’s dog sled, and Bart’s naked skateboarding adventure, a wry reversal of the old conveniently-placed obstruction gag.
That’s the sign of true greatness. Even playing it safe, “The Simpsons” blow the competition out of the water.