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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Has “The Simpsons” really been on for 18 years? I guess it has. I remember watching the very first episode while I was still in college – back in the late 80’s. For many of those 18 years, there were rumors of a “Simpsons” movie, yet it never came to pass. And, really, why should it come about now? With nearly two decades of shows running in TV syndication, you can get your Simpsons fix for free every day. If paying your hard-earned money to see the long-gestating The Simpsons Movie makes you feel like a sucker…well, Homer agrees with you. The opening scene finds him ridiculing the audience that is about to watch his big screen debut. And that kind of weird, meta twist is exactly what makes seeing this film a treat.

To successfully turn a network show into a motion picture, you need a story that’s bigger than your 27-inch TV. (Or, for that matter, your 70-inch high-definition flat-screen plasma TV.) The Simpsons Movie finds the residents of Springfield ignoring the growing environmental crisis occurring in the town’s lake. Little Lisa is the only one to appear concerned: Bart has decided he likes the fatherly affection shown to him by next-door neighbor Flanders, Marge is obsessed with a weird non-sensical religious prophesy spouted by Grandpa, and Homer has fallen in love with a pig. Yes, a pig.

When Homer dumps pig waste in the lake, the health hazard bubbles over. A shady government bureaucrat named Russ Cargill (voiced by Albert Brooks) comes up with a plan to contain the situation: he orders a giant glass dome to be erected over Springfield, effectively trapping everyone inside forever. Homer and family manage to escape after marauding townspeople come after them, but the desire to save their hometown ultimately brings them back.

And did I mention that Bart has a nude scene? You won’t see that on the tube.

Back in the 80’s and 90’s, I was a hardcore Simpsons fanatic. I watched the show every week and usually laughed myself silly. But then I kind of stopped after a while. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the show any longer; it was more that I just got busy with other things and reduced the frequency with which I watched television in general. Despite years away from the series, the Simpsons continued to be part of my life. I still considered myself a fan, even though you’d reasonably think a “fan” would actually, you know, watch the show.

This is part of what I think makes The Simpsons Movie work. Seeing the film – heck, seeing the previews for the film – has brought back a wave of nostalgia. What was I thinking when I tuned out? These characters are so funny, and the trademark humor is so unpredictable and so outrageous that I can’t believe I’ve done without it all for so long. It’s the kind of thing where I came out of the movie and realized that I really need to go buy all the past seasons of the show on DVD.

There are plenty of huge laughs here. Some follow the basic Simpsons game plan. For example, Homer has his fare share of stumbles and mishaps. Others are subtler, which only makes them funnier. I particularly loved the sly parodies of other movies, like Titanic, Erin Brockovich, and An Inconvenient Truth. (Lisa Simpson as Springfield’s answer to Al Gore? Brilliant.) The series’ political/social satire is well represented too, and of course, there are also many, many of those wonderfully absurd moments that the Simpsons do so well. Homer’s “Spider-Pig” theme song will be sung by many a moviegoer exiting the theater; I guarantee it. The Simpsons Movie has a higher joke-per-minute ratio than any other movie this year, and I laughed throughout.

There is just one problem with the film. Some audience members won’t care too much, and for others it’ll be a deal-breaker. The Springfield universe has at least a hundred characters who have been featured regularly over the years. A movie that runs about 80 minutes (minus end credits) doesn’t have time to give them all their due. And so some popular characters get minimal screen time. Those with a strong preference for Mr. Burns and Smithers, Sideshow Bob, or Apu (my favorite) are bound to be disappointed by how little they factor into the movie.

Other than that, the formula is followed pretty closely and just made larger. The comedy is here to serve a general idea or moral which, in this case, is that many people are all too willing to turn a blind eye to our earth’s ecological crisis. Perhaps the most subversive thing about “The Simpsons” is that it always used humor to comment on society around us. Environmental decay is a pretty big problem, and it fits for this to be the subject of a movie.

The franchise even has some fun with the fact that it’s transitioning from TV to the big screen. The 20th Century Fox logo gets a Simpson-esque revamp, and there are some in-jokes for home viewer. I particularly relished a jab taken at the FOX network for its incessant promotion of its own shows. Stay for the end credits, too, as they feature even more “we know we’re a movie now” jokes.

There is more to say about The Simpsons Movie, but go see it for yourself. I have to go catch up on the episodes I missed.

( 1/2 out of four)

Note: To be fair, my star rating reflects the fact that I’m a Simpsons fan. I would definitely recommend the movie for more casual fans (or non-fans) but they may not have the same level of enthusiasm as those of us who have a history with the property.

The Simpsons Movie is rated PG-13 for irreverent humor througout. The running time is 1 hour and 28 minutes.

To learn more about this film, check out The Simpsons Movie

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