Monday, July 30, 2007

The Simpsons Movie (2007)

If ever there was a movie destined to disappoint, this was it. I am such a huge Simpsons fan I actually considered getting DVR just so I would never miss a new episode. I own (and have watched) all 9 seasons currently out on DVD, regularly watch re-runs I have seen maybe even a dozen times before, I have been known to pay full price for Simpsons t-shirts...probably the ONLY t-shirts I have ever paid full price for...and I regularly quote classic Simpsons lines. In short, I love the Simpsons. And now we are getting a triple length Simpsons episode disguised as a movie. There is plain and simply no way it can measure my expectations. Practically every line would have to be quotable, every scene a laugh riot, and so forth.

Well...for the first time in recent movie history I found a movie that not only had high expectations, it met and exceeded them...blew them away.

First off, I will start with the bad. There was no couch gag. There was very little Mr. Burns or Apu.

Now to the good. It had all the elements that made the Simpsons great. There were guest stars (Tom Hanks, Green Day), a nice dose of a large number of supporting characters, social consciousness, comedy, crack-backs on the fans, jokes that relied on other episodes to make their full impact, great one-liners, call-backs to classic moments in American life, whether movies, tv shows, or current events, and yes...even more.

It started with an Itchy & Scratchy Cartoon. The Itchy & Scratchy franchise is itself in a commentary on violence in cartoons (Tom & Jerry, the Wile E. Coyote/Roadrunner cartoons come to mind from earlier times and those from today are too numerous to mention) as well as an ongoing crack at the Disney Empire (see the episode where who originated Itchy & Scratchy is debated). It was a funny, funny bit that led to the first crack-back on the fans...Homer pointing at the audience and complaining about paying to see something he could see for free at home. It was this moment, in fact, that replaced the couch gag. Instead of being at home watching tv on the couch the Simpsons were at the theatre watching a movie.

It is this type of biting satire that has kept the Simpsons going strong. He is right...season after season of the Simpsons can be seen for free every afternoon on Fox and new episodes every fall. Yet here were the die-hard Simpsons fans paying 9 bucks a pop (or more) for tickets, another 14 or 15 bucks (or more) for snacks, and watching it. This was a theatre scene, so it was really the couch gag...but because of the Itchy & Scratchy cartoon and it being a theatre instead of couch some of us missed it.

Soon after there is a classic Homer & Bart sketch that shows them at there best...worst...well, with those two it is hard to say what is "good". Their escalating dare contest is hilarious and leads to a recreation of Bart's opening sequence skateboard scene with more perverse (and hilarious) results. Soon we have Homer on one of his tangents, hanging out with a pig (which leads to some classic movie references) and creating larger than life situations.

Meanwhile, the other Simpsons each have their own story lines going...Lisa finds her dream boy, Bart finds Flanders, Maggie is showing her budding intelligence, and marge is trying to keep the family together.

There are two distinct types of comedy; visual and great lines.

The visual comedy is tremendous. It ranges from one scene where panic-stricken bar denizens flee the bar for the next door church to assuage their fears...only to pass the frightened parishioners fleeing the church for the next door bar to assuage their fears. It is a brilliant commentary on how some people regard both alcohol and religion...a crutch to get through life. Even for one such as myself who disagrees with this view it is a very funny bit of visual humor.

Additionally there are numerous sight gags that rely on a knowledge of Simpsons...I hesitate to call it history because placing a timeline or establishing some sort of continuity is both ridiculous and example would be the climactic jump over Springfield Gorge. Long time Simpson fans will remember the classic "Bart the Daredevil" episode where Homer tries and fails to leap the Gorge on a skateboard. At the end of that sequence an ambulance crashes into a tree. In the movie, that ambulance is seen still crashed into the tree in the background, thus providing an extra joke to fans in the know.

For me, however, the real heart of the movie was the classic quotes...

Bart: "This is the worst day of my life."
Homer:"Correction. This is the worst day of your far."

Ned Flanders: "I have something to confess."
Homer (crossing fingers hopefully) "Gay! Gay! Gay! Gay! Gay! Gay!"

Ralphie (after seeing a nude Bart skateboard by) "I like boys now."

Marge (looking at silo labeled "pig crap") "It is full after just 2 days?"
Homer "Overflowing, actually."
Marge" The pig did that in two days?"
Homer: "I helped"

and my personal favorite:
Mr Burns: "Smithers, I don't believe in suicide but it might cheer me up to watch you try."

In the end it was a laugh riot that was instantly memorable. People who have seen it walk around the office bouncing off random lines from the movie (Spider pig songs seem to be a favorite) and generating bursts of laughter. And even in the end credits there was a little gift for us. Ignoring the episode where Maggie says her first and, barring Halloween specials, only word to date, she says her first word during the credits; "Sequel". We can only hope.

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