"The Simpsons" has been a trustworthy mainstay at the FOX network for a records-breaking eighteen seasons (and counting). Talks of a big-screen version have been around for at least thirteen of them. What did director David Silverman (co-director of 2001's "Monsters, Inc.
") and a staggering gang of eleven screenwriters (including series creator Matt Groening and developer James L. Brooks) cook up during this long wait? A decade-too-late spoof of "Titanic" in the first five minutes, followed by a drippy and forgettable environmentally-conscious plot about the pollution of a town lake. Whatever its passing merits, "The Simpsons Movie" feels like yesterday's newsan idea that should have gotten off the ground when the series was still relevant.
For the uninitiated, the Simpsons are a dysfunctional family living in the suburban sprawl of Springfield. Patriarch Homer (voiced by Dan Castellaneta) is a clumsy Mr. Fix-It more concerned with his own needs than those of his family. Matriarch Marge (Julie Kavner) steadfastly sticks by her man, a woman whose faith in Homer's goodness keeps her from losing hope. Son Bart (Nancy Cartwright) is a skateboarding troublemaker who longs for a loving dad like neighbor Ned Flanders (Harry Shearer). Daughter Lisa (Yeardley Smith) is the class brain and resident do-gooder, always willing to get involved in a cause no matter how socially awkward she comes off. And baby Maggiewell, she sucks her pacifier, crawls around, and still comes off as the most resourceful one in the family.
In "The Simpsons Movie," the Springfield Lake is becoming increasingly polluted and Lisa is determined to turn its bleak fate around. Her cry for a healthier environment is met by the deaf ears of Homer, who dumps a silo full of his new pet pig's feces into the waters and instantly transforms the town into a toxic waste zone. Enter the rash Environment Protection Agency, quick to entrap the citizens by a citywide glass dome. With the Simpsons clan in hot water, Homer and family make a break for Alaska. Once safe, however, will Homer wise up, learn to look beyond himself, and return to Springfield to save their home from irreparable doom?
Having never been an avid watcher of the animated sitcom (the number of episodes I've seen could be counted on two hands), "The Simpsons Movie" still comes off as a rather stale disappointment that doesn't begin to live up to the hype surrounding it. Three thirty-minute segments strung together, the film rarely pushes the envelope (it's a safe PG-13), the plot is nothing special outside of a climactic threat against the lives of the Springfield residents, and the characters exhibit no growth that won't simply be wiped away clean once the next season of the show starts in the fall. It's an unspectacular, totally forgettable experience.
With that said, the picture's smaller pleasures began to grow on me in the second half. The first act is a miserable hodgepodge of unfunny gags and telling irony (Homer laughs at the prospect of an audience going to a theater to see something they could just watch at home). Once things slow down a little and breathe, the characters start to ingratiate themselves upon the viewer and the hit-or-miss comedy smoothes itself out. The political humor has some sharp barbsPresident of the United States Arnold Schwarzenegger firmly explains he was elected to lead, not read, and longs for the days of hanging out with Danny DeVito. In another scene, the crotchety Mr. Burns states, "Finally, a rich white man is in charge." The biggest laugh in the film, though, is earned not through dialogue or the much-ballyhooed shot of Bart's penis, but from the horrified and sickened facial expressions of a group of Disney-friendly forest creatures who unwittingly get a front row seat to Homer's and Marge's bedroom escapades.
Why has "The Simpsons" endured for so long? Maybe it is because the family is so relatable. They are a dysfunctional mess, no doubt about it, but they do love each other despite their sarcastic irreverence. Homer has become the lead star of the serieslittle more than an animated Al Bundybut it is Marge who is the glue that holds the wackiness together and gives the series (and the film) what heart it has. It is a shame "The Simpsons Movie" doesn't try harder the rest of the time. A disposable cinematic diversion that seems as if it were thrown together over a weekend, the picture lacks the scope, vision and wit to justify its appearance in multiplexes. For fans of the television show, wait a few months for the DVD. For everyone else, don't even bother.