"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Movie Review: The Simpsons Movie

Films that make me laugh within two minutes are very rare. Those that manage to do so within twenty seconds have practically never existed. Until now. The Simpsons Movie is a cracker right from the 20th Century Fox logo, where Ralph Wiggum pops up and does his own rendition of the company's celebrated fanfare. This shouldn't be unexpected, given the TV show, the most popular animated program of all time, has made fun of Fox countless times over the course of 18 seasons and 400 episodes.

Now that the world's favorite yellow family has finally made the transition to the big screen, they even have the guts to do some self-spoofing, as the most famous dumb-ass in animation history, Homer Simpson (Dan Castellaneta), in a moment of truly inspired meta-cinematic madness (another one being Bart writing "I will not illegally download this movie" on the chalkboard), states while watching an Itchy & Scratchy movie with his kids: "Why pay for something we can get for free on the TV? I say everyone in this movie theater is a sucker! Especially YOU!". The last sentence is accompanied by his finger pointing directly at the camera, before the familiar title sequence begins, proving beyond any doubt that: a) Homer is deservedly considered the greatest television character ever aside from Fonzie; b) It was totally worth waiting 18 years for The Simpsons Movie.

Having been kept a secret for months prior to the film's release, the plot is actually ridiculously simple: because of the growing concern for the environment, no one is allowed to dump garbage in Lake Springfield anymore. However, someone ignores this and dumps a load of pig, uh, crap in the water, causing a major pollution and prompting the President, Arnold Schwarzenegger (!), to charge Russ Cargill (Simpsons veteran Albert Brooks) with securing the area.

Hence a gigantic glass dome that isolates Springfield from the rest of the world, prompting the inhabitants to put a price on the responsible's head. His name? Homer Simpson, of course ("D'oh!").Naturally, he chooses to run off to Alaska, only to realize he will eventually have to deal with what he has done and seek forgiveness. But given he is Homer, he might as well try to have some fun on the way, leaving it to Marge (Julie Kavner), Lisa (Yeardley Smith) and everyone's favorite TV brat, Bart (Nancy Cartwright), to actually save the day.

Considering the differences in creative freedom between big and small screen, one might think, even hope, The Simpsons Movie will be edgier than the TV version. Those people will be sorely disappointed, as the film tries to be nothing more than a 90-minute version of one of the best episodes of the show, and succeeds. Then again, it's not like the feature length counterparts of Beavis & Butt-head or South Park were that different from the network originals (aside from the swearing not being bleeped out in South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut). And in the particular case of The Simpsons, its longevity has made it an indelible, recognizable part of everyday life, meaning any changes in tone or themes would be like betraying the show's spirit.

Thus, except for a few PG-13 gags regarding sexual orientation (Ned Flanders: "The Lord invites me to confess to something" Homer: "Gay gay gay gay gay gay gay...") and bestiality (Homer's weird relationship with a pig), everything is just as all remember it: Lisa is still an annoying smart kid, Bart is still a master of mischief, his dad is still incredibly, deliriously moronic, Mr. Burns (creepy, despite only two scenes at his disposal) is still a vicious evildoer, and the movie is a rock-solid reminder of why the series is the ultimate cult program.

All a die-hard Simpsons fan is looking for, he will find here. Hilarious physical gags? Check, in fact the bigger screen allows the 11 writers (just imagine if this gets an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay), including creator Matt Groening, to come up with more spectacular stuff than usual (just watch as Homer finds himself between a rock and a hard place - literally!). Tender moments between Homer and Marge? Heck, probably the best in Simpsons history! The big, fat bloke strangling Bart? Check ("I'll teach you to laugh at something that's funny!"). Movie spoofs? Check ("Spider-Pig, Spider-Pig..."). Celebrity guest appearances? Just one (Tom Hanks), but it is priceless.

In the end, all these things turn The Simpsons Movie into an unstoppable gag-machine, a film that will make you laugh for the entirety of its running time, the most fun anyone will have in a cinema this year. It is so good it is hard, if not impossible, not to say: "Yeah!" once baby Maggie pronounces her first word: "Sequel?"

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