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Springfield comes to Tinseltown in The Simpsons Movie

by Glen Baity

One of the things we’ve lost over the past decade, with the advent of digital cable, Xbox Live and Netflix, is the joy of the shared viewing experience. Simply put, there are so many choices for entertainment that there’s virtually nothing left that everybody is into. That’s why so many people like myself go unrepentantly ga-ga over the latest Harry Potter book, not just because it’s a fun read, but because it’s exciting that so many people are ga-ga right alongside me. Just because most summer blockbusters suck doesn’t mean the common cultural experience has decreased in value. But that sort of commodity has become scarce over the last few years, so when something comes along that everyone has in common, I think it’s worth celebrating. At the top of that short list: The Simpsons. Everyone has seen “The Simpsons,” and not just once. Everyone has seen “The Simpsons” hundreds of times. It’s the one thing my middle school buddies had in common with my college English professors. When you stop to think about it, it’s pretty amazing: Put on your best Homer voice and shout ‘D’oh!’, and everyone within earshot knows, on an almost molecular level, what you’re referencing. When you call anything, as I did last week with I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, ‘the best/worst (something) ever,’ everyone, internally, hears the voice of the Comic Book Guy. “The Simpsons” has saturated our culture to such a degree that even a comparatively obscure reference to a character like Disco Stu or Poochie would make half the people in any crowded room smile knowingly. That’s why it works: “The Simpsons” is an inside joke that everybody is in on. And now, 19 years after Bart Simpson first proclaimed his proud underachiever status to a nation of horrified parents, the most recognizable family in the history of television embarks on its first big screen adventure. At this point, it’s safe to say The Simpsons Movie can’t be judged by any conventional criteria. Much like the series since the beginning of its second season, the movie exists in a self-referential universe, relying on preexisting familiarity with an exhaustive list of characters: Not just Homer, Marge, Maggie, Bart and Lisa, but Mr. Burns, Apu, Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel, Milhouse, Ralph Wiggum, Ned Flanders and about 100 other supporting personalities. All those wide-eyed friends and neighbors converge on the big screen for one of the only event movies this summer that isn’t even a little bit disappointing. Since you know how the show works, you know that where it starts doesn’t remotely suggest where it will end up. The film, therefore, is far more enjoyable if you don’t know very much about it, so I’ll just give the set-up, which is classic Simpsons: Homer falls in love with a pig, which ultimately leads to the trademark Springfield torch-wielding mob banging down his front door. Events quickly unfold from there, and that’s basically all you need to know. So many movies adapted from television shows don’t translate well for a variety of reasons, most prominently because there’s a world of difference between the two mediums that generally goes unrecognized. The pacing is different, the audience’s expectations are different, even the physical size of the screen plays a part. It’s really quite amazing, then, that The Simpsons Movie manages to transcend all that and deliver what is, essentially, a 90-minute episode of the show, and it doesn’t feel anticlimactic. The plot is movie-sized, but it’s also not the Best. Episode. Ever. Stacked up against the rest of the catalogue, however, it’s no slouch, and it delivers exactly what I was looking for: The jokes, written by a pedigree team of longtime contributors, are funny and constant. I didn’t fall out of my seat laughing, but I didn’t stop laughing either, and I didn’t get bored. And when it was over, I wanted to go home and watch “The Simpsons.” Along the way, there are plenty of subtle nods to the obsessive fan, several tongue-in-cheek jabs at the moviegoer for paying to see something he could just as easily get at home for free, but like the best of the series, it’s carried out with just enough self-awareness that it’s playful and fun instead of off-putting. I think that’s really all you need to call this movie a success. It’s virtually impossible to tell how well it stands on its own, since I can’t imagine not having a store of useless Simpsons trivia in my head, but the good news is it doesn’t have to. Above all, it’s just a funny, enjoyable time at the movies, and that’s all it should be. “The Simpsons” is long past its days as a cultural trailblazer, having been copied by dozens of lesser shows for nearly two decades now. But The Simpsons Movie, several years in the making, proves that there’s still life in Springfield, still plenty of good stories to tell, and above all, that the creators of this series remain some of the brightest and wittiest around.

Do the Bartman when you send your e-mail to glen.baity@gmail.com.

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