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Rated 3.04 stars
by 896 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Core Value
by Jeffrey Chen

The biggest challenge facing any TV-show-turned-movie involves not coming across like an extended television episode. Using that qualification, I don't feel The Simpsons Movie particularly succeeds. After 18 years of being on TV, one expects something grander-than-grand for the big screen -- and cosmetically, the look of the flick is much more slick -- but when you look straight at it, the movie's plot is a new version of the now familiar episode formula of Homer Simpson doing something incredibly thoughtless, then having to find a way to make up for it. In this case, the stakes are raised -- the very existence of the hometown Springfield is affected -- but at heart it's an old reliable.  

Luckily for The Simpsons, the source is a successfully funny show, and none of the humor seems lost in translation; thus, the movie provides a fun time for all, or, at the very least, for Simpsons fans. For anyone who doesn't know, The Simpsons is an animated show about a family that has managed to stick together (and, at the same time, become endearing to viewers) despite being wracked with faults; their humanness is one part of their appeal, their face-value frankness is another. They've perfected that tricky chemical balance of communicating sincerity behind a curtain of irony. For as much as the show criticizes the vast range of American follies, it has a core dedicated to pracitcal positive values.

At the same time, The Simpsons humor is lightning-fast, razor-sharp, and no holds barred (arguably, the best examples of the show's craft were its first eight seasons). Its satire has reached all corners of human existence, but in the ensuing years the strokes may have become more broad, more general. Part of this development seeps into the movie -- for instance, I've noticed that the better episodes tend to focus on fleshing out a few side characters alongside the main ones, while the weaker ones turn the citizens of Springfield into a mob, which makes it easier to paint broad statements (and this itself is a general statement, as there are obviously exceptions). Here in the movie, they are the mob again.

But that seems forgivable, as the focus for a feature film ought to be the main family, and not the side characters. The story is well-written, and Homer (voice of Dan Castellaneta), Marge (voice of Julie Kavner), Bart (voice of Nancy Cartwright), and Lisa (voice of Yeardley Smith) face relatively tougher inter-family dilemmas this time out. Marge (and Kavner) in particular really gets a chance to shine.

As usual, The Simpsons sideswipes a few notable issues on the way to redefining the modern loving family. The movie echoes one of the show's earliest episodes, where nuclear waste leaking into the lake produces a three-eyed fish. Here, pollution in general makes the lake so toxic it melts a stage barge, claiming the lives of a famous rock band. The film manages to lampoon An Inconvenient Truth even as it is obviously on the same side as the Al Gore documentary; that pretty much describes the show in a nutshell, bringing up the issues with just enough self-deflation so that the message and not the preachiness gets through.

More immediately appealing is the movie's rat-a-tat gags, exactly falling in line with the show's established rhythm. Jokes inside and out fly fast, none of them losing their punch, but also not gaining more noticeable steam from the new format either. The Simpsons Movie from all angles -- story, themes, delivery -- is an extension of the television show, an outsized episode, and yet the best half-hour episodes would easily eclipse this film. Only the animation gets a more polished treatment, but that's probably the way The Simpsons team would want it: the outside package can be done up as much as anyone would like it -- bigger, more, shinier -- but they'd be the first to deflate themselves and reveal that, inside, it's the old familiar gang.

(Released by 20th Century Fox and rated "PG-13" for irreverent humor throughout.)

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