'The Simpsons Movie'
By Nina Garin Friday, August 03, 2007, 01:31 AM EDT
Which is to say it's fun, and better than most of the twaddle that's out there, on big screen or (not-so-)small(-anymore).
But in the end - and from the very beginning, for that matter - it's nothing more than a "Simpsons" episode writ, or rather, animated large.
For reasons either not fully explained or not at all memorable, Homer (voiced, as always, by Dan Castellaneta) becomes infatuated with a pig, which he brings home to become the latest member of the Simpson household. Marge (Julie Kavner) is aghast: A twirly tail is one of the ominous signs portended by Grandpa Abe in the speaking-in-tongues vision he experienced in church.
Doesn't take long for the other signs to manifest themselves, and for Homer's blundering selfishness (triggered by - what else? - doughnuts) to engineer what seems will be the destruction of the town of Springfield. Villains include the Environmental Protection Agency and the president of the United States, a man who is currently the governor of a very large western state. Guess.
Various plot lines don't so much intertwine as take turns. Bart (Nancy Cartwright), fed up with his old man at last, eyes Flanders as a possible substitute. Lisa (Yeardley Smith) finds a kindred soul in a young musician/environmentalist from Ireland, whose father is not, he must keep insisting, Bono. With the family in exile and Springfield seemingly doomed, Marge stands by her man - but only up to a point, when ...
All of which comes across as rather, you should pardon the expression, two-dimensional. "The Simpsons Movie," for all of its wit - it's a "Simpsons," remember - and enhanced animation, diminishes its beloved subjects. They fill the screen, but are flattened by it. Homer's instant ditty, "Spider Pig," (Spider Pig, Spider Pig / Does Whatever a Spider Pig Does) is infectious and funny in the TV trailers; at the movies, in the dark, it's just ... silly.
There are, as one would expect, fine moments. American non-idiots Green Day get the Springfield Treatment in a spot-on cameo. Bart's reaction to Flanders' wooing him with an extra-special cup of hot chocolate is inspired, giddy madness. Marge and Homer's Disneyesque sex scene (you heard me) is frame-by-frame perfect.
But too many of the ideas fall short of the high standard the show itself has set. (Eleven writers are credited, which explains a lot.) Bart's nude skateboarding escapade is a shameless - make that, shameful - steal from the first "Austin Powers." Springfield has faced more imaginative threats. Moe is barely even Moe. Apu is all but missing.
And, although "The Simpsons Movie" is rated PG-13, the material has been softened; the characters are like hunks of glass put through a tumbler to blunt their heretofore cutthroat edges.
At the outset, Homer ridicules us for paying for what we get for free on television. For once, Doughnut Man is onto something.
A 20th Century Fox release. Director: David Silverman. Writers: Matt Groening, James L. Brooks, Al Jean, Ian Maxtone-Graham, George Meyer, David Mirkin, Mike Reiss, Mike Scully, Matt Selman, John Swartzwelder, John Vitti. Cast: Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer, Albert Brooks, Minnie Driver. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes. Rated PG-13. 2 1/2 stars.