Better than TV: The Simpsons go big screen

Reeling It In

Posted: Thursday, August 02, 2007

"The Simpsons"

20th Century Fox

1 hour, 27 minutes

Though I would never dare to complain about my job, this week's movie is one I went into with a certain amount of trepidation.

"The Simpsons," for anyone who somehow missed the constant reruns or the marketing juggernaut that they have spawned, is the animated story of a dysfunctional family and their adventures in the dysfunctional every-town of Springfield.

It's also the longest-running American sitcom, celebrating its 18th season, and 20 years on the air.

I used to love "The Simpsons." When I was in college and the show was in its prime-time heyday, I didn't miss an episode.

A mixture of "Bugs Bunny," "Married with Children" and "Peanuts," "The Simpsons" was a strange creation, one that was certainly either too-low brow or too high-brow to succeed. But somehow it hit just the right nerve with Americans and the show took off.

In fact, it created such momentum that it sailed right out of the glory days, into mediocrity, and nearly into unwatchability.

The last time I sat down and actually watched an episode of "The Simpsons" was probably five years ago, and it was awful. Frenetic, confused, offensive and senseless — the show was just a mess, and from what I hear, it's stayed that way.

So what's a full-length feature going to offer — an hour-and-a-half of pain instead of just 30 minutes? You can understand my worry.

I'm pleased to report, however, that "The Simpsons Movie" is a return to the series at its best — partly brilliant, partly awful and consistently funny throughout.

The show begins with a fairly typical "Simpsons" premise — Homer is a bad father. This is really the theme for nearly every show, but in this case his actions — daring Bart to skateboard naked through town and then adopting a pig to lavish affection on instead of his own son, lead directly to a national catastrophe.

While dumping his pig waste in the lake, Homer sets off a chain reaction that leads Springfield to be declared the most polluted town in America.

For the good of society, the government has declared that the town be sealed off from the world, isolated under a giant glass dome. Naturally, when it's discovered that Homer's to blame, the mob comes after him with torches ablaze.

This, of course, leads to a miraculous escape wherein the Simpsons, eager start a new life, move to Alaska. Now, I don't know how this part of the movie plays elsewhere, but it killed in Kenai at 10:30 on a Saturday night.

I'd like to give kudos to creator Matt Groening for recreating what is almost certainly the Seward Highway along Turnagain Arm as the road to the family's idyllic cabin. That's a nice bit of realism that no one else in the country will get.

Anyway, suffice it to say that responsible Marge can't sit by and let Springfield die, no matter how much Homer likes his manly mountain home and his PFD payouts.

Will Springfield be saved, thwarting President Schwarzenegger's plans to destroy it? Will Homer receive an epiphany from an Inuit medicine woman with huge totems? And will Lisa win the love of her environmental-activist-neighbor-with-the-delightful-Irish-brogue?

All this and more will be revealed, right after this commercial message.

Of all the potential pitfalls involved with taking a TV show to the big screen, I'd have to say the biggest plus is the lack of commercials. Ads on television have almost driven me away completely — if I want to watch "The Office" or "Lost" I just wait for the DVD. On the other hand, it's hard to get away from commercials even at the theatre.

At "The Simpsons" we had to sit through 15 minutes of commercials, and 15 minutes of the most inane previews I've seen in a long time. Trust me, the coming attractions are no bellwether for this film — it's much better than they imply.

Though I did enjoy this movie, I had a problem that I don't know if I would have had when I was younger. Most of the time, Homer's irresponsibility is funny, but other times he's so thoughtless and cruel that I can't stand him. Suddenly, it's not cute or charming anymore, and it pulls me out of the story.

Luckily, this happens rarely in the film. Someone's got to be there to rein the writers in occasionally, and I think that's what the show's been missing for the past several years.

This film is a return to the glory days of a show that's had its ups and downs. Let's see if the TV family can live up to their big-screen counterparts.

If so, who knows? The show could be around another 20 years. Grade: B+

"The Simpsons Movie" is rated PG-13 for cartoon violence, brief language and brief cartoon nudity.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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