- The Washington Times - Friday, July 27, 2007

Whether you’re perusing the TV ratings or browsing through D.C. street vendors’ offerings, it’s clear that “Simpsons” fever isn’t as potent and widespread as it once was. (Forget those temporary Kwik-E-Marts and think: When was the last time you saw someone wearing a “Don’t Have a Cow” T-shirt?)

Not even “The Simpsons Movie” — which arrives 20 years after the animated clan’s first appearance on “The Tracy Ullman Show” and 18 after they won their own half-hour slot — can spur the kind of contagion that had us in its grip more than a decade ago.

But the well-scripted film does remind us why we let this dysfunctional family into our homes and why they became such a phenomenon: They’re silly yet smart, snappy yet slapstick, satirical while somehow allowing us to escape from reality.

The film was helmed by the show’s supervising animation director, David Silverman, and penned by 11 golden-era “Simpsons” writers, including producer James L. Brooks, creator Matt Groening and former show runner Al Jean.

As you would expect from these veterans, they haven’t messed much with the formula. Small tweaks include adapting the action to cinema’s wider canvas, working with a greater array of colors, adding more nuance to the animation, creating a more epic story line that merits a 1½-hour film, and giving Homer and his family most of the spotlight while keeping series favorites such as Ralph and Apu in the wings.

The exploits themselves feel more or less familiar. They kick off with a cameo by Green Day, whose two-dimensional counterparts are playing a concert to draw attention to pollution in Lake Springfield, which promptly swallows the band and the stage whole.

Little Lisa Simpson (voiced by Yeardley Smith), always the leftist do-gooder, initiates a campaign to save the lake that includes a lecture titled “An Irritating Truth.” (Brilliant.)

Eventually, the town concedes and bans dumping in the lake.

Meanwhile, Homer (Dan Castellaneta) adopts a pig that’s about to be slaughtered and becomes as enamored with it as he once was with a giant, long-expired hoagie. Bart (Nancy Cartwright) grows jealous of all the attention his dad’s bestowing on the pet and finds himself increasingly drawn to doggone-diddly-devout neighbor Ned Flanders (Harry Shearer).

The pig’s also giving Marge (Julie Kavner) some sleepless nights because she has the funny feeling that it may be the source of evil to which Grampa (Mr. Castellaneta) referred in a spastic outburst in church. When she discovers Homer has been storing the pig’s “leavings” in a leaky silo behind their house, she’s even more disturbed and orders Homer to get rid of them.

A funny thing happens on the way to the dump, however: Homer learns of a free doughnut giveaway that he just has to get to ASAP. It couldn’t hurt to chuck the waste silo into the lake just this once, could it?

Based on the “thousand-eyed” beast that emerges from the now-toxic pool, Environmental Protection Agency head Russ Cargill (Albert Brooks) and President Arnold Schwarzenegger (Mr. Shearer) say “yes.”

“I’ve narrowed your choices down to five unthinkable options,” Cargill tells the president, who, in turn, picks option No. 3: encasing the Simpsons’ hometown of Springfield in a huge dome (manufactured by a Cargill company, of course). Later, a second round of options may erase the town from the map.

Homer’s oafishness has once again ruined the day. He should have listened to Marge. Now his marriage is at stake, and the fate of the whole city rests in his hands.

We won’t spoil it much more for you or give away the punch lines that await, but we can tell you it’s an entertaining adventure that has a lot of heart and a lot of laughs that come in both conventional and nonconventional varieties. The film’s barbs are timely for sure, yet overall, the project preserves that timeless Simpsons spirit.

“The Simpsons Movie” certainly could have been one big “D’oh!” after all the hype (the idea has been tossed around since the show’s first season) but, thankfully, it’s closer to what the dastardly Mr. Burns would call “Ex-cellent.”

(Smithers, release the hounds.)


TITLE: “The Simpsons Movie”

RATING: PG-13 (Irreverent humor throughout)

CREDITS: Directed by David Silverman. Written by Matt Groening, James L. Brooks, Al Jean, Mike Scully, Ian Maxtone-Graham, George Meyer, David Mirkin, Mike Reiss, Matt Selman, John Swartzwelder and Jon Vitti, based on “The Simpsons” television series. Musical score by Hans Zimmer.

RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes

WEB SITE: www.simpsonsmovie.com




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