More than 400 episodes after its debut, The Simpsons finally comes to the big screen with a hefty weight of expectation. The shows have been going downhill since its peak years ago, partly because of such high standards set in the early seaons, but it remains a highlight to any evening’s viewing. There was never a worry about whether The Simpsons Movie would be financially successful, but there has always been a fear that the end product would lack the freshness it once had in abundance. I’m happy to say, on the evidence here, The Simpsons is still as strong as ever but the feature-length time takes its toll as a classic opening 45 minutes leads to a laboured second half.
All is well initially. Better than well, in fact — superb. Concerns for the environment, namely the amount of pollution in Lake Springfield, plays second fiddle to typical Homer and Bart mayhem. Their dubious DIY methods on the roof of their house and Homer’s saving of a pig from the butcher’s knife bring the usual mix of slapstick comedy and dysfunctional family comedy in the vein of the early episodes. It doesn’t get much better than the wall-to-wall laughter which creator Matt Groening and his band of scriptwriters have produced here. However, to meet the requirement of a movie running time that nears 90 minutes, they overstretch ever their considerable talents.
When Homer dumps his pig’s waste (which he helped add to in a specially-made silo), he causes the US government to take drastic action. The place a dome over Springfield, cutting the town off from the outside world. Targeting Homer as the culprit, the Simpsons flee to Alaska thanks to a conveniently placed sink hole that then consumes their house. As Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie try to start their lives again they discover the White House intends to cut global warming by destroying Springfield altogether.
It doesn’t get much better than the wall-to-wall laughter which creator Matt Groening and his band of scriptwriters have produced here.
At this point The Simpsons Movie loses much of its free-wheeling spirit it has become famous for and settles for the more scattergun approach to zany antics. The attempted imitation of more recent successful animated shows such as Family Guy and American Dad with their often very random moments has been plaguing The Simpsons for years, losing the wit and story-based episodes that made it a hit in the first place. The same happens here. When Homer convinces his family to move Alaska and the subsequent snow-covered scenes are the dullest moments of the movie. Groening once said that taking the Simpsons to other countries rarely worked so why he has opted to do it for the most high profile episode ever seems an obvious mistake to avoid.
As the film reaches its conclusion, it is also sad to say the writers bow to a race-against-time moment to reach a resolution of the status quo. Perhaps it was impossible to expect the super sharp first period to continue all the way to the end, yet given the years of planning it is hard not to walk out of the cinema with a small feeling of disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, though: even with this lingering sense it could have been better, there is also the joy that The Simpsons Movie is hugely entertaining and will have you in stitches…for at least 45 minutes.