Combustible Celluloid
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With: (voices) Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Harry Shearer, Hank Azaria, Marcia Wallace, Pamela Hayden, Joe Mantegna, Albert Brooks, Tom Hanks
Written by: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Al Jean, Ian Maxtone-Graham, George Meyer, David Mirkin, Mike Reiss, Mike Scully, Matt Selman, John Swartzwelder, Jon Vitti
Directed by: David Silverman
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for irreverent humor throughout
Running Time: 87
Date: 07/21/2007

The Simpsons Movie (2007)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Last Picture D'Oh

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In an early episode of "The Simpsons," The Itchy and Scratchy Movie became a cultural event, opening to rave reviews, winning awards and earning a place in the cinematic canon and a spot in the hearts of movie lovers. (Lisa Simpson called it the greatest movie she'd ever seen.) As one of the two or three greatest television shows of all time, "The Simpsons" itself aspired to become a movie just as good. For years fans imagined what a Simpsons movie might be like -- as did hoards of screenwriters and producers -- and, inevitably, the cold hard reality is that The Simpsons Movie isn't the greatest movie of all time.

The show broke new ground with its deft combination of social satire, self-aware post-modernism, and brilliantly-timed "Three Stooges"-type physical gags. At first Bart Simpson (voiced by Nancy Cartwright) became an icon with his cutesy catch phrases ("Cowabunga!") but Homer (voiced by Dan Castellaneta) is the true star: a not-so-bright everyman, a man of pure id, seeking immediate pleasure, but always with a good heart. After two decades, all of the show's innovations have been absorbed into the mainstream, and a hundred other movies (The Powerpuff Girls Movie and The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie in particular) have already beat it to the punch. Even so, The Simpsons Movie is a riot, and still feels fresh and bracing, even if it's also a bit classic and cuddly. Shot in widescreen, the movie uses computers to broaden the three-dimensional space, creating an expansive, swirling new landscape, but keeping the same, familiar, flat, hand-drawn characters (similar to how the Fleischer Brothers worked in the 1930s and 1940s on their Betty Boop, Popeye and Superman cartoons).

In the movie, Homer tosses one item too many into Springfield's heavily polluted lake; the EPA, led by the evil Russ Cargill (voiced by Albert Brooks) lowers a huge glass dome over the city to contain its poisons. The town's residents form one of their usual angry mobs and attempt to lynch Homer and family, who manage to escape -- but only temporarily. In a few subplots, Lisa (voiced by Yeardley Smith) finds a new boyfriend, and Bart begins to look up to Ned Flanders (voiced by Harry Shearer) as a father figure. Julie Kavner, as the voice of Marge Simpson, has one beautifully played scene that comes close to heartbreaking, while Tom Hanks and Green Day appear as themselves.

This setup allows the jokes to run the gamut from political to bathroom, and the eleven writers -- including Oscar-winner James L. Brooks -- and director David Silverman (a veteran of the TV show and a co-director on Pixar's Monsters, Inc.) give it their best shot. It contains a few up-to-the-minute jokes and jokes that were meant to be experienced in a movie theater, rather than on DVD or cable, so it may not have the most promising shelf life. But the core of the movie, Homer's ability to seek pleasure and still find happiness, is something quite a bit more timeless. More than just a buffoon, he's an inspiration to us all.

Fox's DVD release comes with a very funny menu; I was sure there would be some Easter Eggs, but I couldn't find any. The widescreen presentation is wonderful, and the film comes with two commentary tracks (to accomodate all the people who worked on the film). Otherwise, there are a few outtakes, and some silly bonus stuff (including some "American Idol" promo stuff).

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