Ever since it debuted in the late '80s, The Simpsons are what you use to prove that you've got good taste to people who don't know you. Proclaiming fanship of the show gives you street cred from the pop-culture intelligentsia, and it's always a good idea to keep a funny quote from an episode or some other proof of bona fides handy, just in case. For example: I named my daughter Maggie in part after The Simpsons character. See, I just proved to you that I'm smart — or lame, your reaction depending on if you yourself are smart.
So it's curious that with The Simpsons Movie, the eagerly awaited, long-in-development big-screen version of the beloved boob-tube show, the final product isn't the screamingly sharp, layered comedy of the smaller format writ large. Instead, the series' cleverness has been watered down for mass consumption — it's the dumbing down of a formula that was smarted-up mainstream humor in the first place. And this comedy by committee (15 people get writing credit for a script that reportedly went through over 100 drafts) doesn't draw nearly enough blood.
If nothing else, the breadth and scope of The Simpsons Movie plot is suitably large. After years of environmental abuse, Springfield — the home of the Simpsons and a microcosm for all things American — is considered the most polluted town in the history of the world. This is thanks in part to Homer (Dan Castellaneta), whose dumping of a silo full of pig crap in Lake Springfield turns the water from toxic to gene-altering. On the advice of Environmental Protection Agency head Russ Cargill (Albert Brooks), a glass dome is placed over Springfield so that the city and its citizens can't contaminate anything else. After escaping a lynch mob and the dome, the Simpsons relocate to Alaska — before the call of duty compels the family back home to save the town from destruction.
With broadsides against people of any political, religious, or cultural bent, The Simpsons Movie is suitably snarky in taking no prisoners. And by giving preference to the talents of the TV show's regular ensemble cast of voice actors instead of bringing in a series of flash-for-flash's sake celebrities (Albert Brooks in a significant role and Tom Hanks and Green Day in cameos are the only exceptions), the film pays tribute to the folks who got them there in the first place.
But The Simpsons Movie is written mostly for the uninitiated, with occasional insider nods to the fanatic. Tellingly, Arnold Schwarzenegger-spoof Rainier Wolfcastle, a recurring character on the TV show, has been replaced — with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The Simpsons has always been a kitchen-sink comedy effort, with gags that can cross from high- to low-brow and back in the space of a joke. Accordingly, not every goof is guaranteed to hit your particular funny bone. But by casting a wide net, each episode promises a whole slew of chuckles and usually a number of real bellybusters.
The Simpsons Movie underwhelms. Those expecting a laugh riot will likely be disappointed. It's still The Simpsons, and that still carries with it a certain level of quality. But expect more bemused smiling than anything else. And it must be said: Flat jokes are much more forgivable when they're free.
The Simpsons Movie