Monday, March 18, 2013

#945. The Simpsons Movie (2007)

Directed By: David Silverman

Starring: Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright

Tag line: "For years, lines have been drawn...and then colored in yellow"

Trivia: Work on the script began in 2003. 158 drafts were written

My love affair with The Simpsons stretches back to January of 1990, when my friend and I caught the first season episode, "There’s No Disgrace Like Home", where Homer takes his family to the company picnic, only to realize they’re in dire need of some therapy. We both laughed our asses off as we watched it, and were especially impressed with Homer’s evil boss, Mr. Burns (voiced by Harry Shearer), the proprietor of the town’s nuclear power plant who, over the years, would become our favorite character.

For those who aren’t familiar with the show, The Simpsons is an animated TV comedy about a family of misfits living in the generic American town of Springfield. Dim-witted yet lovable Homer [voiced by Dan Castellaneta] is the patriarch. He's married to the sensible Marge (Julie Kavner), and together, they have three children: the fun-loving juvenile delinquent, Bart (Nancy Cartwright); the brainy Lisa (Yeardley Smith); and baby Maggie, who spends most of her day sucking on a pacifier. Their various adventures have been broadcast on the Fox Network for over 23 years now, during which time the characters haven’t aged a day (Lisa, who’s still in grade school, should have graduated from college about a decade ago). In 2007, Homer and the gang brought their shenanigans to the big screen in the aptly titled feature film, The Simpsons Movie, a motion picture that proved every bit as funny as the series’ finest episodes.

Springfield has just been declared the most polluted place on the planet, a condition that only gets worse when Homer dumps a silo filled with pig poop into Lake Springfield (he adopted a pet pig at the start of the movie). As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency, headed by Russ Cargill (Albert Brooks), convinces U.S. President Arnold Schwarzenegger (Harry Shearer again) to construct an enormous glass dome around Springfield, trapping the pollution, as well as its entire population, inside it. Many blame Homer for this tragic turn of events, and, in angry mob form, march on the Simpsons’ home to exact some revenge. Fortunately, Homer and the rest of the family are able to escape the dome by way of a sinkhole, and set off for Alaska to start a new life. But when they learn the government intends to level Springfield to make way for a National Park, Marge and the kids head back to town to warn their former neighbors, while Homer, still bitter about how he was treated, remains behind. Will Homer have a change of heart and try to save Springfield, or is he destined to live out his days all alone?

This is the basic story, but like the show, there are plenty of little asides in The Simpsons Movie that keep the jokes flowing. In one hilarious scene towards the beginning of the film, Homer dares Bart to ride a skateboard through town wearing nothing but his birthday suit (which, as you can imagine, doesn’t end well), and I laughed out loud when Russ Cargill presented President Schwarzenegger with five envelopes, each containing a different plan to deal with Springfield, and told him to choose one (only to manipulate him into picking envelope #3). There are some funny lines as well, like when Homer makes the announcement “We have a great life here in Alaska, and we’re never going back to America again!” The film also follows the show’s lead in that it features a number of celebrity cameos, including Tom Hanks (as a spokesman for an infomercial) and the members of the band Green Day (all of whom are killed off early on). The Simpsons Movie is, in many ways, an extended episode of the TV series, and captures all the humor and charm that’s made it the longest running prime-time animated program in television history.

The film was released when The Simpsons was heading into its 19th season, by which time most diehard fans felt it had lost its edge. But as The Simpsons Movie showed us, there are still plenty of laughs to be found in the small town of Springfield.

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