I took a long lunch on Friday to observe the holiest of holy days, The Feast of Maximum Occupancy. Yes, after years of waiting, The Simpsons Movie was finally in theaters, and I was there wearing my Mr. Sparkle t-shirt. The quick review is that it was everything I had hoped the film would be. Spoilers will be kept to a minimum for the longer review below.
The premise of the film has Lisa warning of the pollution levels of Springfield Lake. Dumping any more toxic waste into it will cause a catastrophe. Despite the town’s best efforts, Homer causes that catastrophe by dumping one last, large item into the lake. What follows is Homer’s attempt to save not only the town of Springfield but also his relationship with his family.
That last bit of plot might concern you; is this some weepy, sentimental pap tacked on to pad out the film? Fear not; the PG-13 rating and length gave the writers the freedom to finally bring lingering threads about the family to natural conclusions. Marge questions why she remains with Homer despite his overwhelming flaws; Bart admits that he desperately wants a normal father that shows his love for him.
Yes, that still sounds a bit sappy, but it is written and executed with wit and intelligence. And the writers show the flip side of the coin. While Bart finds himself growing closer to Flanders for a father figure, Todd Flanders wishes for a father like Homer, one who will let him be a normal kid and have some fun. It’s the sort of character exploration and development you can’t do in the ever shrinking half-hour time slot.
The main plot does not disappoint either providing a steady stream of laughs, political commentary and satire, in-jokes, and parodies. They do reuse elements from the series (e.g., a mystical journey for Homer), but it all flows together nicely. It felt like you were sitting down to watch an extended but more mature TV episode.
Is it as great as some of the episodes from the Conan O’Brien days? No, but Conan and the rest of the writers had a lot more freedom to build the characters and stories back then. With the decades of baggage the Simpsons have accumulated, the film managed to breathe new life into a series that hasn’t had the zip in its step for the past few years. It might have even introduced a new secondary character for the upcoming season. I’ll be seeing it again likely on Monday, so I will see if it holds up as well on repeated viewings. My gut feeling is that it will; it has the wit, charm, and laughs that the better Simpsons material provides.