It’s impossible to overstate the importance of The Simpsons in popular culture.Actually, that’s not strictly true:“If it weren’t for The Simpsons, innocent people throughout America would be stabbed to death.”There, I’ve overstated its importance.Let’s instead say that The Simpsons is one of the most important fictional works of our time.
Do you remember TV comedy before 1990?It sucked.Sure, not everything sucked, but almost all of it did.Laugh tracks everywhere and set-up – beat – punch line structure for a half hour at a time.People overheard their friends speaking in tortured sentence construction and misinterpreted it to purportedly hilarious results. Seriously, that used to be a standard plot device.Remember those days?Can you imagine having to live in that kind of world?
When The Simpsons came along, the rules for TV comedy went out the window.The set-up was just as important as the punch line, and the beat was even more so.Characters talked the way people actually talk and they didn’t learn a lesson every 30 minutes.No pauses for the studio audience (or easily-amused robots) to laugh.Don’t like a joke?That’s OK, there was another one occurring simultaneously that you probably did.They referenced classic film and literature, and they assumed that you followed it all.And they cranked up the speed without ever pandering to short attention spans.It turned out, you could tell a story in half-an-hour, rather than hang some jokes on a plot structure.It was revolutionary.
TV would look very different today if not for The Simpsons.It changed the structure, the pacing, and even the IQ of the programming that followed in its wake.For my part, I was 14 when the series premiered.19 seasons later, Homer and company have been in my life for more than half of my existence.I don’t remember what I liked before they came along.Did I have interests?I assume that I did.I just can’t imagine what those might have been.When The Simpsons came along, the doors blew open, and nothing was ever the same.
Even after 19 seasons, they still produce a fair share of classic episodes and a solid percentage of winners.Even the clunkers end up enjoyable in syndication, without all the pressure of being a new episode.There’s always that hope that a new episode will be another “You Only Move Twice” or “Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment” or “Last Exit to Springfield”, and then there’s the disappointment when it turns out to be merely really funny, and not something that will end up enshrined in pop culture canon.Without all that pressure, episodes I didn’t care for initially are much more enjoyable when they show up on the DVR.After more than 400 episodes, I can think of only a handful that I wouldn’t stop and watch all over again.
This year’s release of The Simpsons Movie was my most-anticipated event of the year, even more so than the birth of my first child.(I’m just kidding.I don’t actually have any children.But if I did, I’d make sure they knew that if they were really good, maybe one day I’d love them as much as I love The Simpsons.)And it did not disappoint.Now, it’s out on DVD, and that means it’s time for a return viewing.
To make a long story short, Homer falls in love with a pig and causes one of the greatest environmental disasters in history. Just from that, you can tell it has one of the classic Simpsons plot structures, where the first act has almost nothing to do with the remainder of the story.
And let me tell you, it’s excellent. If you have ever been a Simpsons fan, you’re going to love this. It encompasses the multitude of themes that make up the show. If you like the religious or political stuff, it’s in here. The slapstick? Here. The emotionally resonant stories of marriage and faith? Also here. Booze and violence? Oh, they’re here.
There’s an automatic danger with putting The Simpsons on the big screen. With the massive supporting cast, everybody has their favorites, and they run the risk of upsetting people who wanted Disco Stu or Handsome Pete to have a larger role in the story. And if they even try to let all the fan favorites get their bits in, it doesn’t leave any room for the story. I think they handled it the best way possible, by focusing the story on the family. Even major characters like Krusty, Mr. Burns, and Ralph get very limited screen time. The Simpson family is the core of the story, and anybody else who gets a joke in is pure gravy. It helps that the supporting cast’s bits are all golden. Ralph has three lines, but they’re all really funny. Burns’ three scenes are unforgettable. Cletus makes more with his screen time than Ellen Burstyn in that one TV-movie where she got Emmy-Nominated for being an extra. And Martin gets his single greatest moment in 18 years.
Sure, I would have liked Duffman and Gil to get some lines, but at least they were there. Everybody appears onscreen at some point. No, EVERYBODY. Gabbo and Chester J. Lampwick and the President of the Springfield Communist Party all get screen time.
They pull off the difficult task of giving the whole family something to do. It’s very much a Homer story, but everybody else has a plotline, too. Bart, disappointed with his father once again, turns to Ned Flanders for comfort.Lisa falls in love with a nice Irish environmental activist who isn’t imaginary.Marge, who gets shorted pretty consistently in the series, has a very nice arc, with the best vocal performance I’ve heard in a long time. Just note the farewell video she leaves for Homer. The voice alone is absolutely heartbreaking. It’s been reported that Julie Kavner did 100 takes of that scene to nail the emotion, and the end result couldn’t be better.
The animation is absolutely beautiful. As ever, it’s hand-drawn, and the detail is phenomenal. They used some computer effects for rotating objects and a show-stopping pan through a fully-animated angry mob, but it’s smooth and consistent with the rest of the movie. There’s more shadowing than on the show, which is probably to break up what would otherwise be acres of flat yellow. It’s really a nice reminder to the other studios out there that cell animation is still a viable art form.When watching it on TV, it does look different from standard episodes.Meant to be seen on the big screen, the line work is much finer and the characters take up less room in the scene.There’s much more background than you usually see on the show, but everything maintains its legibility nicely.
Albert Brooks, as evil EPA head Russ Cargill, does his best to steal the movie.Brooks has a long history with The Simpsons, going back to his Season One appearance as Cowboy Bob.(And let’s not forget Hank Scorpio in one of the best episodes ever.)He’s got the best line in the movie:“Rats aren’t this easy to trap.You were trapped like…carrots.” And of course, Spider-Pig lives up the hype.That pig is comedy gold!
Extras include two commentary tracks, both of which are informative and entertaining.There’s a commentary track on all 200+ Simpsons episodes released on DVD thus far, so these are people who know how to keep the discussion moving.It’s also nice to hear the creators discuss something they still remember.Right now, the DVD releases are eight seasons behind, so their memories for specific episodes are foggy.
There are some funny but nonessential deleted scenes.The ‘Slightly Alternate Ending’ basically contains an extra two-second shot.Also included are some promotional appearances.The family’s American Idol appearances (“Puppies!”) and Homer’s Tonight Show monologue are entertaining.I wish they’d included a feature on the making of the movie, as it seemed an arduous process.I can’t help but think there’s a two-disc Special Edition coming sooner or later.
I can’t say enough good things about the movie. I even think that people who aren’t fans of the series would enjoy it, but I can’t imagine spending time with people like that. What would we even talk about?