I don’t think I’ll ever be able to properly explain how big of an influence The Simpsons has had on my life. Rather than learn any useful skills, go out on dates with cute girls, or have a social life in general, I watched episodes of The Simpsons. When I was through with a season, I’d buy more on DVD and watch them again. Basically, I’ve invested at least 60-65% of my 25 year run into this show.
That’s why The Simpsons Movie was a huge disappointment. Not because I’m a fan who wanted more (I saw this in theaters five times when it originally released), but because I’ve gotten a fancy education and look at films in a different light. Sure The Simpsons Movie has some good gags and gets a lot of credit for being better than the recent glut of seasons when it released, but it’s just not a good movie.
Watching it again, I can’t defend it like I used to.
The Simpsons Movie
Director: David Silverman
Release Date: July 27, 2007
The Simpsons Movie has the town of Springfield face its biggest problem yet. After their lake became so polluted it transformed into a hazard to the rest of the US, the Environmental Protection Agency, under the leadership of Cargill (Albert Brooks), seals off the town in a giant dome. When the town finds out Homer is the cause of this, they kick the Simpsons out of town. With the Simpsons drifting apart in Alaska, Cargill threatens to blow up Springfield. Then it’s up to Homer and the family to save the day.
The Simpsons Movie was in production since about 2001, due to multiple script issues (the showrunners were never quite satisfied with any film script brought forward), and had to be made concurrently with the TV program. Since the TV program already caused much duress (each episode still had to be in the works at least 8-9 months in advance), the film was in hell for years. Many ideas were thrown out (such as a parody of Disney’s Fantasia, a live action Troy McClure film, an extended version of that episode Bart and Lisa stay at Krusty’s summer camp), and the script came together like many episodes of the series: a rough draft crafted by several different writers in a “think tank” like fashion.
After the script was finally decided on, the film finally ran into production in 2006, with animation and casting got underway. But even then, the film constantly went under edits. Jokes were cut, and then added, guest stars were brought on and then cut. It’s sort of like the final product is a Frankenstein’s Monster of ideas the staff was okay with. Leading to half baked, dated commentaries on pop environmentalism and religion. This was all during the show’s three/four arguably worst seasons (16-19) also, so even the think tank wasn’t running on full. And the problem with think tank writing in general is that even if you bounce ideas off each other, eventually an idea will wear down the writers to the point where they don’t understand good work anymore.
Why does all of this production hassle matter? It’s because then current audiences would take even remotely mediocre Simpsons material and herald it as a classic. That’s where The Simpsons Movie lies. Somewhere in the void between mediocre and good. It’s hard to explain where my fandom lies within all of this too because I still don’t know exactly how much of this editorial rant is fueled by that fervor. But after all these years of thinking about it, I’ve come to the conclusion that The Simpsons Movie is a good episode of The Simpsons, but bad movie. You see, when the best thing I can say about the movie is “it’s like an extended version of a good episode” then we’ve got a few problems.
First of all, it’s incredibly dated. While that seems like it’s easy to state in retrospect, it’s just all of the jokes that date it are just victims of happenstance. Take for instance Green Day performing at the open. It’s a band that’s unpopular now, but huge back then so it’d make sense for them to be in the film but that’s not the issue. It’s just the staff was lazy. They wrote for a general band to play a concert in the town and just sort of picked Green Day because they had expressed interest in cameoing in the show at that time. It’s decisions like that which dampen the rest of the experience. Oh Environmental Protection Agency is the big villain? The show has a history with EPA villains (The Frying Game and Marge vs. The Monorail). Albert Brooks as the villain? That’s fine, and as talented as he is, it’s really just Hank Scorpio again. PG-13 rating? Show Bart Simpson’s penis and use a few more crude words. Basically, it all amounts to the same lethargic storytelling that’s marred the series for some time.
Now that I’m winding down this editorial rant, I’m having trouble remembering if I even made a point here. And that’s my main problem with The Simpsons Movie. It’s neat that it happened, but nothing really goes anywhere. It’s a movie that expects you to already be aware of its characters (although it seems impossible, there are plenty of folks who aren’t that familiar with the material), it doesn’t tie into the rest of the series or garner any significant changes (like any episode of the show), and your enjoyment is entirely based on fandom. If you love The Simpsons, there’s a chance you’ll love the movie.
It just expects to work. If this were any other film, it would’ve been torn to bits by now. What happened?