One character dies violently. Another shockingly takes the Lord’s name in vain. You won’t guess who throws a coup on Mayor Quimby to lead a panic-stricken Springfield. And the city’s fate is, at one point, placed in the hands of none other than Cletus Spuckler, resident Slack-Jawed Yokel.
But those details aren’t tied to the biggest questions of The Simpsons Movie.
Was it worth waiting for more than 20 years after Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie’s debut?
Does it make good on its pumped-up promise of being too big for one TV episode to contain?
Does it prove that it must have been a bummer to premiere the movie all the way out in blah Vermont because Illinois is, after all, home to the one true Springfield?
Sort of. Not quite. You bet.
The Simpsons Movie has been somewhat oversold as something suitable only for the big screen, and futures on its particular brand of light, sweet crude might have topped a decade ago.
Maybe there’s a reason the film lingers on a bit where Homer, clinging to a wrecking ball, is smacked on a rock and a building named “Hard Place.” (People who lament a recent increased focus on Homerian slapstick won’t be happy.) After all, what’s new that Simpsons creator Matt Groening, developer James L. Brooks and a dream team of nine show writers can do after 18 years?
They’ve crafted an environmental-catastrophe story that’s as unceremoniously padded as it is, at times, ingeniously plotted. Still, it’s a moderately funny magnification of what has made the show tick and tickle for so long. And, for a piecemeal production, it has a few forkfuls of meaty laughs.
It is, in fact, a pig that propels the story. At the Krusty Burger, Homer saves the swine from death after it’s featured in a commercial because “they can’t kill him when he’s wearing people clothes.”
Homer takes to his porcine pet (whom he dubs “Spider-Pig” and “Harry Plopper” in two dud gags) more than he ever has to any of his three children. A dismayed Bart auditions Ned Flanders as a potential fatherly replacement. Lisa swoons over an environmentally likeminded new kid in town. And Maggie … well, she makes important use of an un-filled sinkhole at a crucial moment.
Too bad the pig also helps fulfill a gloom-and-doom prophecy foretold in church by Grandpa Simpson. When Homer carelessly disposes of the pig’s droppings in an already-toxic Lake Springfield, it prompts the government to prevent further spread of Springfield’s rancid pollution.
After finding the “D’oh!” in his soul, Homer leads the charge to save a city that now hates him and win back the heart of his wife Marge, who has wearied of covering for his mistakes. Although nothing particularly new, the movie does find some poignant moments in Homer’s redemption.
No reason is really given as to how or why Springfield’s pollution will spread beyond its borders, and the movie misses out on some crucial opportunities. The Simpsons taking on the full forces of the U.S. government would be bigger than the Sunday-night schedule, but it never happens. Nor does power-mad C. Montgomery Burns go into cahoots with the real mucky mucks. Its villainous architect is named Russ Cargill (yep, like the Beardstown meat plant near Springfield, Illinois). Voiced by “A. Brooks” (an alias used by comedian Albert Brooks), Cargill has political-pork interests he’d kill to keep viable.
It’s one amusing bit in a script that retains the show’s punchline-to-a-punchline structure, but too often, has payoffs not much greater than a decent hour-long season finale. Despite a laugh-out-loud scene at the Alaska state line, a long jaunt to that state for some characters is a slog.
Still, it wouldn’t be The Simpsons without a handful of uproarious moments.
Springfield puts its carbon footprint right in the face of pop-punk trio Green Day after the band preaches environmental awareness. One celebrity makes a propaganda-pushing cameo and displays magic hair-tussling power. Bart’s naked skateboard ride through Springfield (shown in the trailers) naughtily skewers the suggestive nudity masking of Austin Powers. And there are plenty of Bush-Cheney digs in the relationship between presidential advisor Cargill and President Schwarzenegger, who misses the humor of Danny DeVito in his new White House gig.
As film versions of animated adult comedy goes, The Simpsons Movie is better than the stitched-together cash grab of Family Guy Presents: Stewie Griffin — The Untold Story. But it’s far from the raised-stakes brilliance of South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut. Obviously, it needs not be as rowdy as South Park, but the spirit of go-for-broke widescreen expansiveness is lacking.