PG-13. I want to see how much fighting went on between 20th Century Fox and the MPAA in this one. This movie totally deserves to be PG-13 and I respect this final decision. But you know that someone went to bat and tried defending child nudity within the context of this film. Someone had to full on say that a ten year old's animated genitalia still deserved a PG-13. He or she probably lives in a big house and sleeps on a comfortable bed.
DIRECTOR: David Silverman
The best thing that this viewing of The Simpsons Movie was to get my wife excited about The Simpsons. We recently did a podcast on the best "Treehouse of Horror" segments on our podcast. (Listen to it here!) Since then, Lauren has been excited to watch The Simpsons. Do you know how long I've tried to get my wife into The Simpsons. It was always that show I cracked up about while my wife tried tuning it out as she worked on her notes for work. It was a burden to her before, but something switched on in her and I'm going to ride these two weeks out until she proclaims it dumb again. So we watched The Simpsons Movie and it filled a perfect hole in our evening: the one that we can't decide what kind of mood we're in.
I first saw The Simpsons Movie in theaters at a time, like many of the viewing audience of the show, when I didn't think that The Simpsons had very much value. Matt Groening had gone off to work on Futurama and the television show went to pot. (I imagine this is still a pretty accurate description of the show today.) I remember cracking up and having tears run down my face on that viewing. The movie is still very funny, but I didn't get that experience from watching it this time. How can I complain about a movie that still made me laugh? Like many comedies, it definitely benefits from the communal experience. There's something special about watching this movie with a packed house. With my wife and my sister-in-law, I laughed and laughed a lot. It did its job and it did it in spades. But it also didn't feel special. The first time I watched it, the movie granted me insight into a pop culture staple. The Simpsons has been around long enough that it has permeated the cultural landscape. I believe that Fox keeps it on the air not because of ratings, but mainly because it defines the Fox Network. I'm almost sure that if Fox did eventually drop it, some other network, streaming or otherwise, would pick it up just to say that they owned the property. There's something special about that and the first time I viewed the movie, I saw that The Simpsons were something larger than the narrative presented on screen. It's not like the film treats the characters as if they are ultimately more important than the archetypes they represent, but it does play up on the chemistry established by the series. But it gets a little smarter than that as well. The movie, despite the fact that The Simpsons are as accessible as they come, present a movie that anyone can watch. My sister-in-law never got into The Simpsons. I kind of think that my wife only got into The Simpsons tangentially. (She knows basic character catchphrases and running gags, but I don't think she ever watched it religiously like I did.) But everyone in the garage seemed to enjoy it. That's awesome, but it also creates an interesting secondary experience.
The one real beef I have with the movie is that it feels kind of disposable. Perhaps this comes from all tv-to-film spinoffs is that it kind of just is an extended, big-budget episode. I want it to be both slavish to fans and perfect for the common man, and The Simpsons Movie is as close as we're going to get to seeing that. But it is still lightyears away from reaching that paradox. There are characters all throughout the movie reminding audiences about the oodles of canon that exist, but these characters don't really matter. There's a shot where the camera flies through an angry mob full of established characters from the television show. I like that a lot and it is a nice nod to fans, but it really doesn't matter in the long run. It's a fun moment, but like candy, it isn't exactly filling. (I just ate some candy because it is near Halloween and I really want some more. Pray for my self-control.) On the other hand, can anything really be said about Homer and his relationship with the family at this point? Their characters have been firmly established and because their adventures are episodic with the intent of lasting forever, these characters honestly can't make any real growth. Homer has let down the family weekly before having an epiphany that his shannigans and laziness affects others. Marge is always close to leaving him with the kids and Homer's grand gestures eventually reaffirms Marge. That's a great story to tell, but the cynical part of me knows that the traits that he learned in this film won't stay with him more than a week. Television has some great character arcs, but situational comedies play up on the idea that people don't really change. The only difference between Lisa of season one and Lisa of today is that she's a vegetarian. (I think...I haven't seen SO much of The Simpsons at this point.) All of this leaves The Simpsons as a fun comedy and how critical can I be of a fun comedy?
The best part about The Simpsons Movie is the return of Matt Groening. One thing that the television show has struggled with is the idea that the show has to be a smart comedy without seeming that it is a smart comedy. What ends up happening is that the show tries to pull of what it did in its hay-day, hire guys out of the Harvard Lampoon (like Conan O'Brien) and have them write genius things. But Conan O'Brien was a wunderkind in himself. The Harvard Lampoon was a vehicle for him to tell his jokes, but I think much of that came from him. Instead, I hear all of the current jokes are so inside that the only people really laughing at the show are the writers themselves. That's where Matt Groening comes in to fix things. His understanding of his audience is absolutely perfect. His humor, which on paper looks effortless with the archetypes he's presenting, actually seems effortless again. (That sentence got away from me.) Oddly enough, the perfect mix of humor should be this: people who never got The Simpsons should think that the show / film is full of dumb jokes for dumb people. The real audience should laugh at the high brow and low brow alike without feeling like they are the snobs who are getting the high brow stuff. Everyone continues on with life. That's what the movie provides again. When the credits roll, there's a million writers. I know that Groening and his crew knew that they needed to get this one right. The Simpsons Movie was teased for far too long to not deliver a slam dunk. This group got the characters and got the narrative. It does get completely bombastic (pun intended) and removed from any semblance of reality, but that's kind of what the movie should have been. Perhaps audiences needed more than Bart trying to buy a copy of Radioactive Man, so the completely over the top plot works here.
The movie is as self-aware as it can get. I like it. It's fun. I don't know if it is kicking me in pants and hurry through my slog that is watching season ten, but I do (with a bit of a gun to my head) like The Simpsons and want the characters to endure. I just don't know if I absolutely love them anymore.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.