July 29, 2007

The Simpsons Movie

What a challenge, to create a successful and satisfying Simpsons feature film. We've been anticipating a Simpsons movie ever since the show was just a fad in the early 1990s. It grew from pleasant fad (remember the bootleg Bart t-shirts?) to one of the all-time best TV shows by the mid-1990s. For most of the last decade, as the show treaded water creatively (and frankly slumped badly circa 2003) rumors of a feature film percolated. I suspect many fans hoped that a movie would restore their faith that these characters could be creatively reborn. In my wildest dreams, the movie would be as funny and special as my all-time favorites (You Only Move Twice, Marge vs the Monorail, Kamp Krusty, Homer's Barbershop Quartet, Mr Plow, Homer Badman). However, the most I could realistically hope for is a movie comparable to an above-average episode, which would take advantage of the large scope and PG-13 rating of the big screen, and yet stay true to the hand-drawn and family-first tone of the TV show.

Finally The Simpsons Movie has arrived, and I cannot complain. The plot is classic Simpsons (Homer adopts a pig, Homer causes ecological disaster, Homer goes on vision quest, Homer hammers himself repeatedly), but expanded in scope to fill a movie screen. Homer and Marge's marriage is strained to the point of a heartbreaking emotional climax, and possibly the saddest moment in Simpsons history. Bart and Lisa get their own plotlines: Bart is puzzled but eventually embraces a functional paternal relationship with Flanders, and Lisa is adorable when she has a mini-romance with an adorable Irish exchange student/environmentalist/troubadour. Even Maggie has some key scenes.

The character animation looks all hand-drawn, but I noticed some inconsistency: sometimes the thickness of character's outlines would vary from scene to scene, or even within a scene, and I noticed the character animation occasionally was definitely cruder in some brief shots, especially in non-closeups. I suspect the producers had to budget where they spent their time and money on finesse. The object, background, and landscape animation was highly detailed and very well rendered, with moving cameras much like the animation on Matt Groening's other TV show, Futurama. It's about time The Simpsons got this fancy treatment! The movie does take advantage of its PG-13 rating, with some well-placed strong language, one incredibly belated drug reference, and yes, we get to see Bart completely naked. Completely. (Somerville Theater)