It’s taken 18 years, but television’s most famously dysfunctional family has finally made its long-anticipated leap to the big screen, even as their weekly exploits on Fox have begun to run dry of inspiration.
Maybe creator Matt Groening and his dream team of acerbic writers waited too long: “The Simpsons Movie” only sporadically harnesses the boundless creative energy and satirical edge that earned his series its reputation as one of the most sophisticated comedies in TV history. For fans, however, it is a gift long overdue.
Although the story sheds little light on the ever-evolving mythology of a show that has become ingrained in the public consciousness, that should come as no surprise to the fan base. “The Simpsons” has always relied on loose, disconnected narratives that provide the framework for surreal pratfalls and improbable crises, and the movie does the same. It follows the clan as they relocate to Alaska, forced to move after Homer imperils Springfield by polluting its river with pig feces.
Ridiculous? Of course. This is theater of the gloriously absurd, tempered by keen dialogue and sociopolitical commentary sharper, at its best, than anything else on the small screen.
Here, the political satire is aimed not at the current administration, but at President Schwarzenegger, who, by his own, thickly accented account, was “elected to lead, not to read.” It’s a throwaway line, modestly amusing but drawing no blood. Gone are the days when Homer waxed philosophical (in wholly uncharacteristic but oddly incisive fashion) about the machinery of capitalism being oiled by the blood of the workers. These are kinder, gentler Simpsons, the sort that another president, George H.W. Bush, might even have appreciated.
If Groening and company have lost some zip off their fastball, they still bring enough heat to satisfy those weaned on the adventures of Homer and family. Much as it hurts to admit, “The Simpsons” isno longer television’s premiere source of subversive social commentary, even as it strives to remain relevant by tackling hot-button issues such as creationism and global warming. It’s hardly toothless, but it lacks its former ferocity.
Likewise, “The Simpsons Movie” is more sentimental than scathing. More than anything, though, the film is a funny, poignant testament to the strength of an American family that may not always get along, but, even in the worst of times, somehow endures.
The Simpsons Movie ***
Starring Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Harry Shearer, Hank Azaria
Written by James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Al Jean, Ian Maxtone-Graham, George Meyer, David Mirkin, Mike Reiss, Mike Scully, Matt Selman, John Swartzwelder, Jon Vitti
Directed by David Silverman
Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes