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In recent years, it has been become trendy to say that The Simpsons is past its prime. While that’s almost certainly true, it is interesting to note how this perception has negatively colored the audience’s reaction to the average episode. Take an average episode from season four and die-hard fans will go on and on about how much they love the episode. If you could somehow take that same episode, update the animation, modernize the pop culture references and transplant it into the current season, those same fans are likely to tear the episode to pieces. Modern episodes have to work a lot harder to win fan approval. Because of this higher threshold, The Simpsons Movie needed to be really good if it wanted to earn admiration and respect. Fortunately, the franchise rose to the challenge.
The main plot of the movie sees the Simpson family going up against the awesome power of Russ Cargill and the EPA in an effort to save Springfield. The plot is quite well done and feels like something that could only be handled in movie-form. One of the biggest concerns I had before seeing the movie is that it would be just like watching three or four episodes of the show as opposed to watching a movie.
The most important consideration to consider when looking at The Simpsons Movie is whether or not it is funny. On this front it succeeds fully. If you are a fan of the TV series, or were at one point, you will laugh a lot when watching this movie. On the other hand, if the humor on the show has never appealed to you, it’s highly unlikely that this will do anything for you.
On the visual front, The Simpsons definitely takes advantage of the movie format. For the first time, the franchise is in wide-screen and the design/animation are top-notch.
The voice-acting is excellent. The main cast is great as usual and Albert Brooks shines as Cargill (though it’s a bit odd that Cargill’s voice and delivery is exactly the same as Scorpio’s).
The only major issue with the movie is that it treads over a lot of familiar ground. There have been so many episodes about Homer and Marge’s marriage being in trouble that it is difficult to care when it happens yet again in the movie. The split is well-done and all, but it’s not like anyone watching the movie believes there’s even a remote chance that Marge and Homer won’t be back together again by the end of the movie.
The Lisa gets a boyfriend plot is another one that has been done quite a few times (and often to better effect). And in this case, it had no real impact on the plot of the movie. While the subplot produced a few chuckles, it felt like it was added simply to give Lisa a bit more to do (and even with the subplot she still gets far less attention than the rest of the family).
Admittedly, some of the other subplots have been done before (like Homer adopting an unusual pet) but these other subplots did not give the same “been there, done that” feeling that the Homer/Marge fight and the Lisa boyfriend plots gave.
On the whole, these re-used plot elements aren’t really an issue. If you are a fan of The Simpsons, be it a lapsed fan, a casual fan or a die-hard fanatic, you will enjoy this movie. Of course, as I alluded to earlier, if you’ve never been a fan of the franchise before, the movie is not going to change your mind.
At 2.40:1, The Simpsons has never looked better (or wider). The audio is in Dolby Digital 5.1 and it’s great as well.
Both The Simpsons and Futurama DVDs have been pretty heavy on the special features over the years. I was expecting a similar treatment here but that’s not the case. There are a couple of audio commentaries, but beyond that the release is pretty light on the special features. If special features are important to you, it may be best to wait for the inevitable special edition.
Audio Commentary (with Matt Groening, Richard Sakai, Yeardley Smith, Dan Castellaneta, Jim Brooks, David Silverman, Al Jean, and Mike Scully) – There is a lot of material on this commentary. There is very little in the way of dead air, and when there is dead air it never lasts more than 15 or 20 seconds. The commentators even pause the movie on several occasions so they can talk about a specific topic in detail without missing a chance to comment on other things. As a result, the track is actually about fifteen minutes longer than the movie itself. The commentary has lots of interesting information on how scenes were done, changes that were made and the various iterations some of the jokes went through. I would have liked the pausing to be handled differently (perhaps they could have used slideshows of concept art or something like that as opposed to displaying a still, grayed out image for several minutes at a time) but it’s still a great commentary.
Animators’ Commentary (with David Silverman, Mike B. Anderson, Steven Dean Moore, and Rich Moore) – This commentary covers a lot of ground that the first one covered. There is new information here but a large majority of that new information is just telling you who was respsonsible for the animation in specific scenes. Unless you really care about that sort of thing, there’s not a lot of reason to watch this commentary after the other one.
Trailers – The Simpsons TV series, Alvin and the Chipmunks and Futurama: Bender’s Big Score. There are also a number of trailers for the movie.
Deleted Scenes – There are five deleted scenes here as well as a brief introduction from Al Jean. While there are some funny bits in here, the deletions were probably for the best (with the possible exception of the extended Emperor Moe bit). Most interesting of the deleted scenes is one featuring a markedly different Cargill. He’s still voiced by Albert Brooks, but the character model is different, the voice is a little different and he comes off as far less evil than the Cargill that was eventually used.
Homer’s Monologue on the Tonight Show – A short bit with Homer filling in for Jay on The Tonight Show.
Simpsons Judge American Idol – Simon Cowell performs for the Simpson family. Brief, but amusing.
Homer Introduces American Idol
Let’s All Go the Lobby – A Simpsons-themed recreation of the classic ad. As with all these extras, it’s brief but amusing.
If you are even a casual Simpsons fan, you owe it to yourself to pick up this disc. The only reason to pass is if you are waiting for a more feature-rich special edition to come out. But if you really care about all the extras, you’re probably a die-hard fan, in which case you probably aren’t going to wait anyway.
20th Century Fox presents The Simpsons Movie. Directed by David Silverman. Featuring the voices of Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, and Harry Shearer. Written by James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Al Jean, Ian Maxton-Graham, George Meyer, David Mirkin, Mike Reiss, Mike Scully, Matt Selman, John Swartzwelder, and Jon Vitt. Running time: 87 minutes. Rated PG-13. Released on DVD: Dec 18, 2007. Available at Amazon.com.