The Simpsons Movie
In a very direct and concrete way, I almost feel like my life has led up to this very moment, where a troubled and trying 18 years after watching the very first full-length episode, "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" (sorry, but I didn't then, and never will, watch The Tracey Ullman Show), I now have the pleasure of reviewing, for the incomparable benefit of all peoples, races and creeds, The Simpsons Movie here for the Movie Binge. It is both a blessing and a burden, to have seen the loving face of G-d, but now obliged by destiny and desire to share what I saw on top of that mountain with my weakly imperfect human voice.
What must our grandparents have felt to know that victory had been declared over the forces of Nazism and Fascism in the second World War? What must our parents have felt as they witnessed humans, flesh and blood like themselves, walking on the surface of our once-distant Moon? Surely these examples pale by comparison to the global flood of feeling, ranging from exalted joy to accomplished vindication, when our generation's lucky few sat in darkened theaters at the stroke of midnight on July 27 and witnessed the herald of a new age of peace, laughter and prosperity being born, like a blood-and-mucus-spackled babe, from the womb of our collective hopes and most deeply cherished beliefs. That child is The Simpsons Movie, except that it's a movie and not a child and you have to pay money to go see it.
Magnanimous bullshit aside, I really was delighted at how the final product came out. The Simpsons is consistently the best show on television, even, paradoxically, when it's not. The creators still manage to deal openly and confidently with every social stigma that comes our way, micro or macro, with levity, wit and a continuously endearing and complex cast of characters, one that rivals even literary masters like Dickens or Dostoevsky. The movie retains all the best attributes of the series: The theme has a decided (and generally unassailable) progressively liberal bent, geared toward environmentalism but unafraid to poke fun at itself; our religion, our government, and our uniquely American sense of propriety are all given a vigorous shakedown; and the breaking points of the family, Homer and Marge's marriage, and Homer's own brutalized body are all tested.
Although it's a surreal experience to see them on the big screen, without the constraints of the censors or the half-hour sitcom format, the writers are allowed to more fully investigate the Simpsons's universe. Surprisingly, most of what would have been throw-away jokes on the show actually come together here to create a story that holds together rather nicely. The animation is better, and they have more time to develop character and jokes. Since this is also one of the most anticipated films of the decade, a true landmark event, there was obviously an impetus to go above and beyond in the scope and execution of the plot. As a result of this cinematic one-ups-manship, Springfield itself is threatened, as is Homer and Marge's marriage, and more dramatically than either ever have been. Especially moving is a video-taped message from Marge to Homer, brimming with more emotive inflection than I've ever heard Julie Kavner's gravelly voice achieve. All of this stake-raising works in the service of a triumphant conclusion where Homer gets to play the hero, fulfilling our sensitive audience expectations. In the end, in good times and bad, the Simpsons are an appreciative reflection of ourselves, and we'd all do well to hold together as well as they do.
It needed more Ralph Wiggum, though. Just sayin'.