Not D-OH, but D-UH
THE SIMPSONS MOVIE (David Silverman, USA, 2007, 7)
The thing that saves THE SIMPSONS MOVIE is the TV show. Knowledge of 17 years (well … in my case only about the first 10 years) fills in the gaps and allows the film-makers to get away with a lot of shorthand. For example, when we see the long-haired bus driver sucking it in from a bong, we instantly remember all the years of Otto-man saying “hey, Bart-dude.” We know who it is. Without the memory of the show, we’d be walking out of the theater scratching our heads about the little-sister character and why her affair with the Irish boy was dropped so completely. And wondering what we were supposed to get from the pathetically perfunctory scene involving Monroe(?) Burns, who seems to resemble Mr. Potter from IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.
But coming in with the knowledge of who’s who and with their pasts and characters already set, the film can settle down into its moments of utter goofiness and in-jokes that come so fast they fly over the head. I recall right now: Homer and Bart’s games; Homer singing the “Spider-pig” theme song; Green Day’s titanically dissolving into the lake; the UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG gas station; “Thou Shalt Turn Off Thy Cell Phone”; the lookalike family; the people in the bar and the church exchanging buildings when the apocalypse is upon Springfield; Marge throwing the g-d bomb; and the Itchy and Scratchy short that kicks everything off.
In other words, there’s nothing more here than a very good 90-minute episode of the show. Still, that means that it IS a 90-minute episode … of THE FRICKIN’ SIMPSONS!!! How can anyone awake during the last 20 years resist that prospect? D-UH.
The thing that sinks THE SIMPSONS MOVIE, or at least prevents it from Year-Best-greatness, is the TV show. In many respects, the fact that animation does not use live actors is what has enabled THE SIMPSONS to survive so long and so strong as a TV show. For one thing, if this same show had to use on-screen personages, Bart would now have to be 25 and Maggie 18. And who knows how many of the character actors would have either gotten a spinoff or quit the show from frustration at only getting more than a walk-on for two episodes a season.
The prodigious number of memorable side characters is what makes THE SIMPSONS and Springfield so dense and rich, and while it enables us to “fill in the gaps” for a movie that need not start afresh, it also leaves a feeling of major disappointment because I guarantee every reader that one or more of your favorite supporting characters is virtually absent. In fact, I don’t know that it would have been possible to make a great movie out of THE SIMPSONS, at least by this time.
This movie strongly focuses on the Simpson family, and while that’s fine, it leaves little-to-no time for Apu, Troy McClure, Patty and Selma, Grampa, Principal Skinner, Diamond Joe Quimby, Barney Gumble or Mrs. Krebapple; and not much for Chief Whigham, Krusty or Moe. Again, any given episode wouldn’t have much of any of these named characters, but they all get their time over the course of 24-episode seasons. This movie tended to reduce them to walk-ons — see this picture of a Springfield mob coming to lynch and count how many characters you recognize. That’s all most of them get.
And one more thing … remember when Austin Powers and Borat appeared nude and how both movies, in different ways, made a joke out of having to cover male genitalia. There is an awesome scene where Bart goes skateboarding in the nude, with all the same very funny jokes. The earlier films were smart enough to realize that not-actually-showing is the joke. This movie … well, I thought the makers of THE SIMPSONS were at least that smart. D-OH.