Look, there’ s no way you can go wrong spending ninety minutes at the multiplex with animated characters who have raised the bar sky-high on quality TV. Created by Matt Groening and produced by James L. Brooks, who could be buried alive in their justly won Emmys, The Simpsons is TV for the time capsule. For two decades and counting, this dysfunctional Springfield family, drawn in yellow and dripping with comic irreverence, kept us in whoo-hoo euphoria.
So why did I leave the film version feeling entertained but frustrated? Expectations are part of the problem. How do you please rabid fans, me included, who pore over the past 400 episodes like holy writ? As for new audiences who never bothered to watch the show and wouldn’t know Krusty the Clown from Apu, frankly I don’t give a damn.
The larger problem relates to wrapping the movie in a veil of secrecy that rivaled the last Harry Potter book. I mean, does Homer die? Does Marge kill him? If The Simpsons Movie were allowed to just sneak up on us like another episode to be enjoyed in a new format, nirvana might have been achieved. Hey, it worked with the film version of South Park.
But this movie had to be touted as an event. No early screenings. No leaks. And so you watch it panting. What do you get? Without giving too much away, it’s an Al Gore movie with jokes. Director David Silverman, a Simpsons veteran, aims satirical darts at politics, religion, celebrity causes and related pomposities. The pollution in Springfield lake — a dumping ground for the frequent dumps taken by Homer’s pet pig — points to a global problem. Simpson daughter Lisa aptly calls it “An Irritating Truth.”
The core TV characters are all on hand — Homer (voiced for the ages by Dan Castellaneta), wife Marge (the irreplaceable whine of Julie Kavner), son Bart (bratty Nancy Cartwright), daughter Lisa (smarty-pants Yeardley Smith) and baby Maggie (she doesn’t speak) — but other favorites merely make cameos. Any real Simpsons devotee knows Springfield is teeming with great personalities. The man-crush Smithers has on Mr. Burns deserves a movie of its own.
Am I being unfair? You bet. No movie could encapsulate the Simpsons world. But this one feels incomplete, an underachiever still searching for a real reason to exist beyond enriching a fat franchise. Homer even jokes that it takes a sucker to pay for a show you can get for free on TV. D’oh! That hurts.