Thursday, 23 May 2013

The Simpsons Movie (2007)

There's a special place in my heart for The Simpsons. I'm addicted to it like nothing else, watching at least half an hour of it every day for the past eight years or so. It's simply the best TV programme ever made, with round about a hundred episodes in the mid-nineties containing some of the best comedy writing ever committed to screen. I'm well aware of the recent decline in its standard, but with such a spectacular high, I believe it was always inevitable. It certainly doesn't make me any less obsessed. If I was to go on Mastermind, my specialist subject would be The Simpsons.

I remember being thrilled in 2007 when I found out there was going to be a movie made. There had been talk of it for a few years, much like there is for Doctor Who just now. Expectation was high, as it should be for a programme of such considerable acclaim. There was very little chance of the film actually topping the series for epic scale, as just about every scenario had already been done. It is well-known that The Simpsons is viewed with a certain degree of contempt in the animation world, as, in its over twenty year history, it has covered just about every storyline you could conjure up for an animated show (as a side note, I blame this fact for the show's recent decline. They've become too reliant on lampooning modern TV shows and storylines involving popular celebrities). Just about every momentous moment of the series, from Homer becoming an astronaut, a mayor and a voiceover artist to him finding his mother and to her eventual death, had already been dealt with. No film would be able to top what had already happened.

And so, cleverly, that's exactly what they didn't do. The writers essentially wrote what was an 87-minute long episode, one that would fit right into the series, but with a plot that could fill a feature-length film. The episodes following the film's release often refer back to it, as if it was just a particularly special show. However, writing such a plot wasn't easy, as you can tell from the ridiculously long stream of writers in the end credits. Many different stories were discussed, many different scripts were written, with the result that the film was released a full decade after it was originally planned out. This comes across in the film. There are so many different parts to it. Like the best of episodes, the entire plot is a huge domino line, a Rube Goldberg machine. It starts by following a minor storyline, which sparks a series of events which eventually grow into the main plot.

This is how we get from Homer daring Bart to skateboard naked through Springfield to the entire family moving to Alaska in order to get away from a baying mob of former neighbours. I could go through each minor event that causes the next u-turn in the story, but I won't, as it would be dull for you, give away spoilers and ruin the movie's golden humour. The minor stories don't always work. For example, Lisa's crush on Colin, a charming Irish boy who she meets at the beginning, remains criminally unexplored at the end credits. It's a section I think the film could have done without, to be honest. I imagine that it was only included as Lisa has very little to do in the film compared to the rest of the family (it mainly looks at Homer's relationships with Marge and Bart) but I know that these, some of the best writers in the US, could have come up with something more creative than a simple, dull love story for Lisa, one of the show's most interesting characters.

The fact that it is The Simpsons does forgive a few of the movie's more minor problems, such as the hilariously frequent continuity errors. I very rarely manage to spot any problems with continuity in movies, but it actually became quite a fun game to count them in The Simpsons Movie. If anything, errors like that only add to the charm of the thing, and its wonderful self-awareness assures you that it's not meant to be taken too seriously anyway. In a way, though, I also think that the fact it is The Simpsons also contributed to the whole relatively quiet reaction following its release. It was good; of course it was good, it's The Simpsons. Excellency was the least we expected from it. If it was bad, there would have been much more of a fuss made over it. Because it satisfied most people's expectations, most people were content. If the same film was made without The Simpsons moniker, I think it would have become a classic. People wouldn't just be content, they'd be heaping praise on it. I still think it was a joke that it wasn't even nominated for the Best Animated Feature Academy Award, though.

The Simpsons Movie didn't disappoint, a major achievement for a film with so much to live up to. I am happy about its unremarkable nature, as it makes no attempt to overshadow the unovershadowable. And even after almost a quarter of a century of unbeatable television, I am pleased that the movie is one of my favourite episodes of The Simpsons.

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