Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Simpsons Movie and Me

There are moments in ones life that stay with you forever. Ask anybody alive in 1963 and they should be able to tell you where they were the day JFK was assassinated. A similar claim can be made about September 11th 2001. I had my “JFK” moment at 7pm on a rainy Wednesday evening in April 1992, the day we got satellite television, when I sat down to watch my first ever episode of The Simpsons. I had heard of the Simpson’s before of course, owning a couple of t-shirts and having seen the music video for “Do the Bartman”. However, this was different and although I was only 9, as I watched Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie electrocute one another I knew I was watching something very special.

As usual, I was right.

In my opinion The Simpsons falls just shy of the wheel in terms of human achievement. Running now for over 18 seasons it is not only the greatest sitcom or TV show in history, it is a fully fledged institution of popular culture that has not only profoundly impacted our television and comedy but also our language. By a happy coincidence I found myself in Chicago this past weekend allowing me to see the movie, in America, on opening weekend and with a hopefully suitably enthusiastic American audience. So at least I had the perfect setting.

Nevertheless, as the lights dimmed I held a number of reservations that a worthy movie could be made after over 400 episodes, over 146 hours of storytelling, especially given the considerable drop in quality of the last number of seasons. I’ve waited 10 years for this moment and it’s a little strange to be able to say that I finally got to see the Simpsons on the big screen. On a purely visual level the larger canvas afforded has been utilized superbly with animation that is grander whilst remaining familiar. Gone are the repeated backgrounds and animation of the TV series and, although not at the level of Pixar, a richly developed environment has been created for the characters to do their thing in.

I’m delighted to report that I had a ball with this movie. The leap to the big screen feels effortless right from the opening scenes. It’s “The Simpsons” only on a bigger canvas. The love and effort that went into making this movie is evident in each and every frame. I love the rhythm and tempo of the movie, how it sets its own pace and maintains it throughout. As is tradition the movie starts in a very different place to where it ends up. The opening scenes give no clue of the mayhem and lunacy that is about to unfold, but its character driven and not lunacy or mayhem just for the sake of it.

For the entire running length the jokes arrive quick and fast and although some don’t quiet hit the mark the wait for the next one is never long. There is diversity to the laughs from big set pieces, to slapstick, satire and razor sharp one liners. The jokes are also some of the funniest I’ve seen in the cinema in a long while and I laughed out loud for the vast majority of the movie. It kept me engaged throughout.

I was not alone. The audience I saw the movie with was into it in a big way. Every big gag received a suitably large reaction. However what I loved about the audience was how diverse the experience was for different people. Different people reacted to different parts of the movie with maybe only 1 or 2 people laughing at certain points. The Simpsons have always meant different things to different people. People have different reasons for liking it. Seeing the movie with this kind of audience was a big thrill.

Sure it’s pretty to look at, but looks are nothing without some soul. The Simpsons have never had to rely on cutting edge animation to weave their magic. Its greatness lies in its ability to marry biting satire, razor sharp one liners, parody and slapstick, all layered so kids of all ages can find something to enjoy, with an emotional punch and empathy that few other sitcoms can even approach. The Simpsons are never afraid to allow the audience to feel more than the urge to laugh. Nonetheless, I was surprised by how genuinely touching the movie is in places without ever turning to mush like so many other comedies who try to add some emotionally depth. Marge has always been the emotional soul of the show and without spoiling it, the movie is no different.

The family is front and centre throughout the movie with the secondary citizens of Springfield generally only getting a look in as a collective rather than individually. I personally don’t have a problem with this as the Simpson family should be the focus of their own movie. Simpson regular Al Brooks is back doing stellar work as the baddy, Russ Cargill. As the man behind Hank Scorpio, Brad Goodman and Jacques, the French bowler, I’m personally ready to give the man a medal for his contribution to the series.

I’ve been watching The Simpsons for 15 years, I’ve grown up with it. I’d rather sit and watch Homer go to college/ go into space/ gain weight to get disability etc. for the millionth time than most of the so called must see TV produced today. It’s still easily the best show on TV, just watch an episode more than 5 years old. Like the best episodes, the movie bears repeat viewing and I cannot wait to see it again to see some of the things I missed the first time through. I feel it will take numerous viewings to fully appreciate it. Whilst never quiet scaling the heights of the best of the TV show (an almost impossible feat) it is a worthy addition to the franchise and for that I’m thankful.


Unknown said...

Nice post and great movie

CK said...

A fine review Tuathal of a fine movie.