SPOILER ALERT! The following review discusses plot points from the movie. If you’d rather not know in advance of seeing the film, stop reading now.

I am one of the lucky ones. I was a senior in high school when The Simpsons premiered on TV in 1989. So I was able to witness the best years of the show when they were new. The unlucky among us started to watch after the late 1990s when the show changed focus and started to go downhill. For many of those late-comers the show is still considered great, but they only know the show as a joke driven, over-the top, celebrity guest filled, zany thing – not the character driven, down to earth, well written gem it used to be. Therefore, for fans of the show your reaction to The Simpsons Movie will probably be based on when you started watching the series. Unfortunately for me, that means I was not one of the lucky ones in the theatre.

Looking back, the Simpsons are shocked at how good they used to be.

Springfield is on the verge of an environmental disaster when the town decides to clean up its act. Even Homer is on the bandwagon – until the promise of free doughnuts causes him to do some illegal dumping. This, of course, is the last straw that turns the eminent environmental disaster into a full blown catastrophe. The government acts quickly to isolate Springfield, while the town residents turn on Homer and his family. They are forced to go on the run from their former life and government agents who want to cover up what they’ve done to the town.

A few years ago I read an article by screenwriter Terry Rossio (Aladdin, Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean) where he was talking about a meeting he had with some producers who wanted to do a new movie where Superman died. This led him to describe a phenomenon he called the “Starship Enterprise Syndrome”:

As an aside, what is it that draws people to classic properties, only to then get excited about screwing them up? Call it SES, the Starship Enterprise Syndrome. The thought process goes, “Cool! We get to make a film about the Starship Enterprise!” “Bitchin’!” “So, what should we do with it?” “Uh, I got it… let’s blow it up!” No… how about instead you tell a great story, a classic story that does justice to the franchise?

As Homer would say, “It’s funny because it’s true”. And it popped into my head as I watched the Simpsons’ home destroyed, and then the town itself. Like so many episodes of the series over the past 10 years, it seems that if it is not over the top huge it is not worth doing. Nothing is done on a small scale in this movie! Another problem the film story shares with recent Simpsons TV episodes is some major schizophrenia issues. For several recent seasons the TV episodes have started with one story, morphed into another forgetting the original plot, and then ended somewhere else. Thankfully the movie doesn’t have three stories every 22 minutes, but it does lack a solid direction. Is the main story about the relationship between Homer and Marge or Homer and Bart? Then why does a story point between Homer and Lisa drive the main plot line? Why does it take 10 minutes of movie time to get to Nome, Alaska (don’t ask!) when they only spend five minutes of movie time there when they arrive? Thankfully when Homer heads back to Springfield from Nome it is instantaneous, even if it is sloppy storytelling. And these are just what I can give without getting into spoiler territory! And one last minor point – given a tendency towards imitation of successful ideas among movie studios, is environmentalism going to become a common theme in animated films now to curry favor with award-givers?

As this is The Simpsons, the humor should get its own writing section apart from the actual story section. For the most part the writers succeed in their attempts to get a laugh from the audience. Like the series, this seems to have overtaken writing a solid plot, but we all know that by now. The jokes in the movie come fast and they are almost all classic Simpsons humor. You will be laughing out loud throughout! The writers have decided since they are freed from the constraints of television they can push the envelope a bit occasionally and stray from TV formatted humor. But sadly, their attempts here come off as gratuitous and sophomoric. They also turn this into a film you will probably not want to see with kids, despite some commercials and promotions that seemed aimed at them. Examples of this include frontal nudity, offensive hand gestures, underage alcohol abuse, drug use, and foul language beyond what is heard on the show. What is really sad is that each of these is a throw away joke that if left out would not have effected the story, and as the humor in the rest of the film is so good, would not have cut down much on the laughs.

Don’t worry about the story, it’s best to just enjoy the ride.

Springfield has never looked better – before it is destroyed of course! While the animation retains the look and style of the original series, the widescreen aspect and digital presentation really make everything seem to pop after 18 years of analog video on the small screen.

The Simpsons has always been blessed with great music. From Danny Elfman’s iconic theme to Alf Clausen’s amazing scoring and wonderful songs, it wouldn’t be The Simpsons without music. Hans Zimmer takes the baton for this outing and scores a winner. The music, while fitting what we’ve come to expect as the Simpsons style, feels bigger and grander befitting the move to the big screen. While it’s a small disappointment that they weren’t able to work a musical number into the film, the orchestral arrangement of Homer’s “Spider-Pig” song is hilarious and an amazing piece of music on its own.

The actors have all got their parts down by now of course, and they do their usual amazing job. The only issue I have with the voice acting is the casting choice of Albert Brooks as EPA agent Russ Cargill. Brooks is a regular guest on the TV series, having appeared in five episodes since 1990 playing five different roles. But his character in the movie sounds exactly like Bond-esque super-villain (but great boss) Hank Scorpio – a very memorable character he played in a popular episode from season eight. Maybe it was just me, but as that was a favorite episode of mine I found it very distracting. But Brooks himself does a great job.

I admit it – I am a Simpsons snob. I can still laugh and enjoy the new shows, but they don’t have the same emotional pull or substance that the first several seasons had. Having grown up with the best of the show I long for them to get back to their roots. I’m critical because I love – to adapt one of Krusty’s phrases. The Simpsons Movie is good for a lot of laughs, and for fans of the current iteration of the series, a worthy big screen debut. But for us old timers it just makes you wish they had made a film 15 years sooner.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

The Simpsons Movie
20th Century Fox
July 27, 2007
87 minutes
Rated PG-13
directed by David Silverman