Sunday, 14 July 2024

'Simpsons Movie' is clever, funny

THE SIMPSONS MOVIE (Rated PG-13)


Fans of “The Simpsons,” arguably the most popular animated show in the history of television, may be asking the question: “What took so long?”


After 18 years on the FOX network, with enough episodes that would require nearly a week to watch in an around-the-clock marathon, “The Simpsons” is so ingrained in pop culture that it’s hard to imagine anyone not familiar with the Simpson family, Homer and Bart, Marge and Lisa, and even baby Maggie. You could have watched only a couple of episodes years ago or perhaps caught all 400 and counting, and still there is something delightfully, amusingly familiar about “The Simpsons Movie,” a full-length feature that is at once in the typical comfort zone and also a bit daring.


Other TV cartoon shows arrived on the big screen in a more hurried fashion. “South Park” comes to mind, but it seemed in a rush to be more crass, rude and offensive, and so the movie title was fittingly “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut.” Aside from some crude language and one amusing bit of cartoon nudity, “The Simpsons Movie” dares to be irreverent in a sensible way that keeps the film in a more family-friendly mode, albeit one that skews in favor of adult appreciation of its offbeat humor. With slightly judicious editing, “The Simpsons” is merely a DVD release away from running as the movie of the week on a TV network.


More by happenstance than choice, I have been out of touch with “The Simpsons” for many years. Complacency may have set in because this is a program that seems destined to remain on the air forever, and so I have taken it for granted. Nevertheless, even the most casual viewer has every reason to rejoice in the sheer fun of this smartly satirical romp through the Simpsons universe, because it all boils down to a few simple truths about the Simpson family.


Homer (voiced by Dan Castellaneta), a simple boob with low expectations in life, is easily sidetracked by donuts and a visit to Moe’s Tavern. His wife Marge (Julie Kavner) is relentlessly upbeat and supportive of the family. Mischievous son Bart (Nancy Cartwright) engages in high-energy escapades, while daughter Lisa (Yeardley Smith), a model of good conduct and book smarts, finds it difficult to fit in with this dysfunctional clan. Baby Maggie has no words of complaint, but may be wiser than anyone else.


The movie opens with the Simpson family attending an “Itchy and Scratchy” movie at the local cinema, which prompts Homer to loudly wonder why anyone would pay good money to see something in a theater that they could easily see at home for free. This is the kind of irreverent jab at its own movie that makes “The Simpsons” a satirical treat. And the pointed humor doesn’t stop there. The filmmakers take a few swipes at the FOX network for assertive self-promotion, and throw in a few pokes at the Disney kingdom as well.


Even though it is Homer Simpson’s epic stupidity that is the brunt of most jokes, there are numerous targets for parody, such as the religious fervor of Ned Flanders, the trendy environmental movement that relies on rock bands and obtuse government bureaucrats. The latter target is very much in play when Homer’s witless plan to dispose of a silo full of pig excrement causes a monumental toxic disaster at Springfield Lake, which draws the unwanted attention of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Russ Cargill (Albert Brooks).


That EPA chief Cargill is an overzealous fool comes into play when he convinces U.S. President Arnold Schwarzenegger (Harry Shearer) to allow a quarantine of Springfield by a diabolically ingenious plan to cover the entire community with an unbreakable glass dome. A vengeful mob descends on the Simpson household, and the family makes a narrow if wildly improbable escape that has them relocating to Alaska.


Homer is anxious to start life anew out in the wilderness, but when word arrives that the government will take drastic action against Springfield, everyone but Homer wants to return home. As is usually the case, Homer comes to his senses at the last possible moment in order to do the right thing.


Running at a length approximately four times that of one TV episode, “The Simpsons Movie” deftly keeps its gags, jokes and wacky ideas moving at full steam from start to finish, thus putting together its irreverent and satirical humor in a coherent frame. The laughs are as consistent as Homer’s innate foolishness, and the energy level is higher than any mischief that Bart could cook up. Despite Homer’s musings, this is one TV-inspired movie well worth the price of admission.


Tim Riley writes film reviews for Lake County News.


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