After 18 seasons and 400 episodes, what, you may ask, can “The Simpsons” bring us on the big screen we haven’t already seen on the small? The answer is plenty of laughs for the faithful who appreciate the show’s unique brand of humor. For the two-thirds of their original TV audience who no longer watch, it remains to be seen.
The fact that the brilliant writers for the Simpsons throw out better jokes than many sitcoms doesn't necessarily mean that thefunny bone of the masses will be tickled. After a stint as long as “The Simpsons,” the show’s producers and writers have earned a rare autonomy, playing to a select audience, who are on intimate terms with the material.
These folks enjoy a creative freedom that's experienced only by the most successful (or starving) artists. With the added license of animation, where the laws of physics and other realities are suspended, they’ve created their own universe.
We generally experience the Simpson family through a half-hour program, about 22 minutes of material when you allow for commercial time. A movie, four times as long, poses different hurdles, and the show’s producers, justifiably cautious, took many looks before leaping.
All the Simpson characters are here, and in general they do what they’ve always done, their stereotypical roles and the attendant gags giving framework to a loose storyline, alternately hilarious, curious, and flat.
Lisa, the brains and most liberally bent of the family, spearheads a campaign to clean up Springfield’s polluted lake. When the local mobsters try to dump what is obviously a wrapped-up body in the water, undaunted by the presence of law enforcement officers, the police remind them there’s no dumping. When one of the cops comments to his police chief on the probable contents of the oblong package, he’s assured by his superior it’s only a bag of leaves. The gag is classic Simpsons.
Under the cover of darkness, Homer, indifferent to his daughter’s concerns, makes a questionable contribution to the town’s body of water. The result is fish mutations so bizarre that the United States government, in an effort to protect the toxins from spreading, places a transparent dome over Springfield, which turns into a permanent quarantine.
The plot, of which I will reveal no more, involves Homer pulling himself and his family out of the mess he has made.
Such is the world of the Simpsons, with much of its humor riding on society’s dysfunctions. It’s a comedy that provides a release for the ill-at-ease we harbor over a changing world and the consequent behavior we view in others and ourselves. So much has changed in the world since the show started in the 1980s (just stop and think) that current events, for some, have passed the threshold for parody.
So it comes down to a matter of personal taste.
The Simpsons' writers remain on top of their game and the movie stands as a significant accomplishment. Homer has grown more twisted over the years, and Marge, with her patience beginning to wear, remains the loyal and loving wife.
The box-office will most likely reflect a similar affection by the population, because after almost two decades, the Simpsons are, after all, family.
Lester Gray reviews movies for Examiner.com. Read reviews by other Examiner critics.