‘The Simpsons Movie’ opens with an Itchy and Scratchy short that the Simpsons clan turns out to be watching in a movie theatre. Homer is unimpressed: ‘Why would I pay to watch something I can see for free at home?’ It’s a confident gag on the part of the cartoon’s creators; perhaps a little too confident, as it turns out, for although this long-awaited big-screen outing for Springfield’s finest is far from disappointing, it can’t be said to represent the quantum leap from the TV series that fans might have been hoping for either.
We open with business as usual: Homer is lazy and dumb, Bart running wild, Marge concerned and Lisa thumping a worthy tub (specifically environmentalism, with a town hall presentation on the state of Lake Springfield entitled ‘An Irritating Truth’). Homer’s devotion of his limited mental energies to an infatuation with a pig instead of his daughter’s words prompts a catastrophe that places the whole town in existential danger, and the family in the path of its wrath.
The movie offers several risqué touches you wouldn’t get on TV, from Bart’s ‘doodle’ to Homer flipping his fellow citizens the bird, and a level of technical sophistication that outstrips the series, with several set-pieces and action shots that achieve real cinematic impact. Overall, however, too many elements are familiar from the small screen, from the threat to the town and the trajectory of the family’s emotional journey to details like a Native American vision and the effects of pollution on wildlife. The main new characters – a government villain, a love interest for Lisa – feel skimpy too.
The Simpsons’ creators may, however, be the victims of their own success in endowing the original show with a more cinematic sensibility than most TV. ‘The Simpsons Movie’ does not feel at sea on the big screen and, crucially, it is very funny. The cartoon’s trademark sharpness and density of gags easily sustains its running time which, in this summer of bloated blockbusters, is mercifully compact. Some of the best gags revolve around failure to learn from painful mistakes: Homer repeatedly shocking himself on electrified foodstuff, for instance. In other words, as long as it’s funny, there’s nothing wrong with more of the same.