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Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Simpsons Movie (****)

THE SIMPSONS MOVIE

Family Matters

Why is The Simpsons Movie exxxcellent? It marks the first time in the series' 18 year-plus history that the all-star team of ten writers assembled for The Simpsons Movie (whose "names you should memorize", chided Homer during the credits) successfully maintained a complete 90 minute narrative. (The longest continuous story in the series' history previously was the "Who Shot Mr. Burns?" two-parter in 1995. The Simpsons Movie was twice as long as that.) The Simpsons Movie's runaway box office success is a wonderful validation for the incredibly talented team of writers, producers, animators, and the voice talent lead by Dan Castelanetta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer, etc. It couldn't happen to a better, more deserving group of people. (And they'd be the first to agree.)

More importantly, The Simpsons Movie is a loving tribute to the Simpson family. It's been many years since the Simpsons' family unit was itself the focal point of the story. Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie are here on the big screen in all their glory and lovable imperfections, and we're given the most caring and complete glimpse at all of their emotional cores since the early days of the series.

When Homer watches his wedding video and "Close to You" by The Carpenters plays, longtime fans remember it as Homer and Marge's song, going all the way back to when they were in high school. (The episode where Homer falls for Marge as a teenager remains one of the sweetest in the series' venerable history.) Bart's struggle to reconcile his growing attachment to Ned Flanders with his disappointment in Homer reminds us that while he should be 28 years old in real time, Bart is still a ten year old boy who needs his father. Lisa's awesome budding relationship with the Irish new kid in town, Colin, brings back memories of her failed past relationships with Nelson Muntz and Ralph Wiggum, as well as her doomed future relationship with Hugh Parkfield. Lisa's subplot of meeting a boy who likes her (who isn't Milhouse) might be the best in the entire movie. And Maggie probably is the best accident of the three Simpson children if you count how many times she's saved her father's life.

It is regrettable that in order to protect the main narrative and keep the focus on the Simpson family, some of the very best of the show's unbeatable supporting cast didn't get to have their moment. Just about everyone who has ever lived in Springfield got to have some face time, but in terms of speaking roles, the Springfield Elementary cast got shafted. Principal Skinner never said a word, nor did Superintendant Chalmers or Groundskeeper Willie. No Rainier Wolfcastle, but that is understandable considering the presence of President Schwarzenegger. No Sideshow Bob at all! (Maybe in the sequel, if they listen to Maggie's first word, and judging from the opening weekend box office, it's assured.) It's a shame Mr. Burns only got two quick scenes and Smithers never said anything. 

On the other hand, Chief Wiggum and Ralph Wiggum did extremely well for themselves and Ralph probably has the best line in the entire movie. Moe, Lenny, and Carl got some business, and Krusty had some great lines. Nelson set the record for "Ha ha!"s guffawed, while Martin finally took revenge for 18 years of bullying from Jimbo, Kearny and Dolph, as well as learning a valuable lesson for why a bully bullies at all. I wish the movie were longer and they could have given everyone some business, but then there's always the show itself. 

The Simpsons Movie is for everyone. For us, the die hards who've grown up with the show (two decades, almost, and counting!) and for anyone who's ever laughed out loud at any of its past 400 episodes (and counting!). Watching The Simpsons Movie was pure joy, the movie itself a magnficent balance of the show's irreverent humor and ability to tug at the heartstrings with genuinely sweet and tender moments. It's safe to say you'll never forget the sight of naked Bart's doodle as he skateboards through Springfield, or Homer giving everyone double middle fingers, or Marge yelling "Throw the goddamn bomb!" 

The moments I loved included Homer still calling Jesus "Jebus", Bart calling Flanders "sister" and his "Oh my God!" when he drank Flanders' cocoa, the writing on the pig crap silo ("Return to Homer Simpson. (No Reward)"), Tom Hanks loaning the government his credibility, Colin insisting his father isn't Bono, Milhouse's line "Global warming is a myth! More study is needed!" before taking a Nelson punch to the gut, Bart drunk on whiskey ("I'm troubled"), the looks on the animals' faces when they watched Homer and Marge rock the casbah, the EPA drivers bemoaning Homer's misspelled road signs (SOP), and Homer's line to Spider-Pig, "Maybe we should kiss to break the tension."

For me, the callback of all callbacks was near the end of movie, after Bart and Homer jump Springfield Gorge on a motorcycle: There's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it shot of an ambulance crashed into a tree. It's a simple callback, not drawing attention to itself but there for those with quick eyes and long memories. In season 2, "Bart the Daredevil" 17 years ago(!), Bart tried to jump Springfield Gorge on a skateboard and Homer saved his son's life by inadvertantly taking his place. Homer missed the jump and hilarously crashed down the mountainside. Then in a stroke of comedy genius, he is airlifted into a waiting ambulance that crashes into a tree immediately. Homer's gurney rolls out of the ambulance and he falls right back down the mountain. 

It was the breakthrough moment of the series to date, the bit people were talking about at the watercooler the next day. That segment was the series' first classic comedy moment. And in The Simpsons Movie, when Bart and Homer together make the jump Homer failed to complete way back when, we see that the ambulance is still there. That was a great little treat for the longtime fans, those of us who've been there since the beginning, who remember. Moments like that are why I love the show and why I love The Simpsons Movie.

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