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The Simpsons Movie
voice cast: Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, and Yeardley Smith

director: David Silverman

83 minutes (PG) 2007
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
20th Century Fox DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Jim Steel
What can one say about The Simpsons? That they jumped the shark years ago through the natural turnover of writers? That Futurama was better and sharper? That they provide a human face for the Murdoch corporate behemoth? All of the above points have some claims for validity, I suppose, but are of precious little relevance to this movie. There is also the observation that the movie is merely an extended episode. Given that most of the episodes fall into a first quarter set-up, followed by a right-angled plot turn that then produces the main storyline to fill the other three-quarters of the show, then - yes - it is an extended episode. All your old favourites are here as well: the 'Jebus' joke, the 'leaping Springfield Gorge' joke, and so on. It skirts a fine line between pleasing the audience and being self-indulgent.

What's new? Well, obviously being spread across the big screen has meant that the animation has had to be tidied up. Those early seasons with their quaint, wiggly 1970s' style animation would make one's eyes bleed if spread across the side of a building. The background animation in the movie is reminiscent of manga in its use of line work and perspective. This occasionally means that the characters look as if they have been placed flatly on top of it, despite the occasional piece of shading that they've been given. What else? The luxury of an extended running time has meant that the punch lines for some jokes arrive just half-a-beat too late, but fortunately this isn't too frequent a crime. One remembers with horror the films of British sitcoms that tortured us in the last century to see how bad this could have been.

But what about the movie itself... what happens? Well, it starts off with an extended pre-credit Itchy & Scratchy film that enables Homer (Dan Castellaneta) to stand up in the cinema and demand to know why we are paying to watch something that we can see at home on TV for nothing. This being the DVD release, the joke is somewhat wasted. However, being on DVD, we can skip Itchy & Scratchy - they always were one-joke characters that were painful to sit through more than once at best. The film gets underway with a rock concert at Lake Springfield - Green Day are playing on a barge which erodes because of the pollution, killing the band. A great start to any film, if you ask this critic, as Green Day are symptomatic of all that went wrong with punk.

Eventually even Springfield realises that enough is enough, and the townspeople clean up the lake and ring it with concrete barriers to prevent further dumping. Homer, meanwhile, seems oblivious to most of this. He is, instead, destroying his son's trust in him. There is a scene of certified genius where Bart (Nancy Cartwright) skateboards nude through town (I won't spoil it for you, but you will laugh). Homer's misguided attempts to patch things up backfire badly, with Bart bonding instead with annoying God-bothering neighbour Flanders (Harry Shearer), who comes across remarkably sympathetically in the movie, and Homer adopting a pig. Hey, it's The Simpsons - these things happen.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, pigs produce pig shit. Homer, who was never the most patient of people, can't be bothered waiting in the queue for the official dump and instead dumps the piggie poo in the lake. This turns the lake toxic, and Springfield becomes, officially, the most polluted place in America. The Environmental Protection Agency, under the crazed leadership of Russ Cargill (Albert Brooks), swings into action, rubber-stamped ("I was elected to lead, not to read.") by President Schwarzenegger (Harry Shearer, again). Their solution is to drop a giant, transparent dome over Springfield. (In scale, if not in detail, this is reminiscent of the episode where the town becomes so clogged with rubbish that it has to be relocated five miles away - typical of the problems facing the writers of a series that has been going for decades.)

The people of Springfield find out that Homer is the author of their evils and, not unnaturally, try to lynch him. The family escape the sealed dome and try to make a new life for themselves in Alaska, but then they discover that Cargill has even worse in mind for Springfield. Can they save the town? Will Homer redeem himself? Of course, but it's the journey that makes it worthwhile. The sheer density of the plotting makes the above a very basic skeleton indeed but, as with the TV episodes, it is the details that make for repeated viewing pleasure. The frequent crowd scenes means that almost all of the surviving secondary characters get a cameo - the one exception probably being Schwarzenegger's Springfield avatar, Rainer Wolfecastle (another Shearer character), although I could be wrong. Those crowd scenes looking annoyingly comprehensive. It's the smaller pieces that entice, though. Who's attending the AA meeting, for example? Barney Gumble's (Castellaneta) there, of course, but some of the others may initially surprise.

There are plenty of extras, including a variety of commentaries from a soccer team's worth of directors, writers and actors. There are a few deleted scenes that, judging by the polished look of them, must have been chopped at the preview audience stage. Some of them don't enhance the movie and fall flat, so don't expect too much. There are a few bonus clips of Homer messing around on American Idol and The Tonight Show (dire), and five varieties of trailer for the movie. There are also a few trailers for other films packed in here as well, but the only one with any relevance is the one for the Futurama film. Yum.
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