It’s ironic but the future of hand-drawn animation may have just been saved by the ugliest cartoon family in history. Consider that The Simpsons’ Movie opening gross of $74,000,000 is the largest opening of any hand-drawn animated film in history, and is a larger opening than any digitally animated film by Pixar (Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, Ratatouille etc.). Only two of the digitally animated Shrek films have grossed more than Homer and his family.
On the other hand, The Simpsons has been a cultural touchstone for a generation and, as the tv-show enters its 19th season this fall, it’s hard to imagine that a big-screen version wouldn’t be a huge hit. As such, the movie plays it safe and doesn’t stray much from the formula that makes it work so well on television. Maybe a few of the joke are a little cruder, but they’re still tame compared to what passes as humour in the theatres these days.
And sticking to the formula ain’t necessarily a bad thing. It was the winning formula of balancing family sentimentality and dead-on self-aware satire that has made The Simpsons quite possibly the best tv-comedy show ever. While the later seasons of the show have often veered away from this formula, The Movie returns to the tried and true Simpsons story style of its glory years of the early and mid-1990s.
The first half of The Movie is classic Simpsons’ craziness, and is pitch perfect as it assails the audience with laugh after laugh. Itchy skewers Scratchy, Homer complains that The Bible has no answers, Lisa fruitlessly tries to encourage Springfield’s citizens to save the a lake, and Bart skateboards through town naked (which leads to the film’s biggest laugh as Bart is briefly glimpsed in all his glory). Eventually a plot develops and the laughs become a little less frequent. Homer falls in love with a pig which leads to an environmental disaster for Springfield. The town is quarantined but Homer and family escape and move to Alaska. The family want to return to help their former town folks, but Homer has settled in to the Arctic lifestyle and wants to remain. (There a bar in Alaska called Eski-Moe’s.) They leave Homer to return to Springfield, and Homer must not only save his town, but he must also rescue the relationship with his wife and children.
This has always been the key to the success of The Simpsons, a balance between zany physical comedy, smart satire, and not being afraid to be sentimental and allow the family moments to play without undercutting them with a zinger. The oft-expressed belief the The Simpsons is “anti-family” is belied by the fact that no matter how dysfunctional this family is, it’s clear that they love each other and their relationship with each other is the driving force in their lives. Even “under-achiever” Bart has demonstrated again and again his deep ties to his family. (And how can conservatives complain about a tv family that is seen going to church regularly? Heck, the whole damn town goes to church every Sunday! And the first scene of The Movie is set in a church at Sunday Service! But I digress.)
This is by no means a ground-breaking film, but it is a witty reminder of why we’ve loved The Simpsons all these years. It delivers big laughs in abundance.
Plus we get to see Bart’s doodle.