Sunday, 4 September 2011

The Simpsons movie

The timing of The Simpsons’ movie adaptation was a little bizarre. Though the story goes that Matt Groening had been eager to make a film since the series’ early days, it certainly seemed to me that the right time had long come and gone without one, so there was real desire to get the hugely successful animated family up on the big screen, where other adult-oriented animated franchises like South Park and Beavis and Butthead got their shot. By 2007, when this film finally found release, The Simpsons was beloved more for what it was than what it had become: generally even its fans believed it had jumped the shark and its glory days were long past.

But perhaps holding out was a shrewd decision. Releasing the film at the height of its initial popularity in the early nineties or in the glory days in the run-up to the Millennium. Supposedly there was a very long production time, from signing on the actors in 2001, through development from 2003 and over a hundred different script drafts before the final version. Releasing in 2007 probably still got as many ticket sales as opening in 2000 would have, with so much of the English-speaking world still loyal in some way to the production, but also had the effect of reviving interest in a flagging series and reminding a younger generation that the franchise was still relevant.

I had low expectations. I went in expecting something atrocious, but I could not call the Simpsons movie that when I left the cinema. With animation coming from the usual US-Korean studios behind the TV show – Rough Draft, AKOM and Film Roman - it broke almost no new ground visually other than having some nice CG shots, and really was just an extra-long episode of the TV show with more high-budget sequences than could usually be justified.

But it was entertaining, that’s undeniable. A lot of it relied on familiarity built up by the show – unlike what happened with the South Park movie, I couldn’t imagine many who were unconvinced would change their opinion of the show after seeing this – but there was some funny writing, interesting action setpieces and some good character moments, especially from Marge, though anyone who’s seen the series has seen her be the affecting voice of reason dozens of times already. Bart and Lisa’s little plotlines were totally undeveloped and the satirical bite that the series often utilised was absent, even with sequences based on government decision-making. Some of the jokes fall flat, especially the ones that are overly surreal yet too obvious, like the people Bart draws or Homer’s commentary on moviegoers, and there was really too much reliance on slapstick (that wrecking ball wasn’t funny in the trailer, so it definitely wasn’t gonna be funny in the movie). But hey, at least a good portion of it was amusing, and the moments of pathos work fine. Not life-shattering, not especially impressive, but no disaster. Still, it cannot hold a candle to South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut.

(expanded from impressions, 5.8.07)

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