When me and OneDayRetro cofounder Doug came up with our retro-review site, our goal was to take a second look at pop-culture. We’d try to determine how much marketing affects the way we rate things like movies and video games. Once the hype had died down, what were we actually left with? For the most part, we’re either left with something that is a true classic or something that should be forgotten about altogether. But how do you retrospectively review something that for the past 25 years has become a cultural phenomenon? Where would we even start with The Simpsons Movie?
Is it just Okilly Dokilly?
One of the biggest complaints at the time was aimed at the perceived ambition of The Simpsons Movie – “it’s just a long episode of the television show” critics screamed, “there’s nothing special about this“. And they were right – The Simpsons Movie is a long episode of the television series… but there’s nothing wrong with that. Right?
The Simpsons did it
The Simpsons Movie has all of the hallmarks you’d expect from The Simpsons: Homer’s idiotic behaviour causing sit-com friendly shenanigans, Marge’s love for Homer being tested, Lisa’s self-righteousness, Bart being the lovable rogue as well as the entire cast of supporting Simpsons characters each being given their own moment on the Silver Screen. A particular highlight, as ever, is Flanders – the surrogate father-son relationship between him and Bart suggests a genuine affection between the two that Homer could never achieve.
It’s a perfectly cromulent movie…
One of the greatest strengths of The Simpsons has always been its satirical look on the world, and its ability to handle quite heavy subjects, such as death or bullying, with grace and humour.
It’s no surprise then that The Simpsons Movie went for the Big One as its underlying morality tale. The Environment.
Looking back now, The Simpsons Movie actually handles its environmental message remarkable well, and I honestly respect Matt Groening, James L. Brooks Al Jean and the other Simpsons writers for taking on such an important subject for their debut film. But it doesn’t ever feel like The Simpsons Movie moves beyond the yellow family’s usual formula.
If anybody wants me, I’ll be in the Writers Room…
The fact of the matter is that while an environmental backstory does lead to some genuine laughs (Grampa Simpson shouting “EPA! EEEEPA!” in church), most of the truly funny moments of The Simpsons Movie come from the family themselves, and their everyday lives in Springfield. I can’t help but feel that the writers missed the point of what a good Simpsons episode is about – life in Springfield.
Don’t get me wrong, some of the best episodes of The Simpsons see the family traveling beyond the small-town America life of Springfield – prime examples are Kill the Alligator and Run and The City of New York vs Homer Simpson. But the journey The Simpsons Movie takes us on, both across the US and spiritually is… meh. It’s fine. And that’s just not good enough.
It’s simply a fact that The Simpsons, now in its thirtieth series, is starting to show its age. Despite the best efforts of The Simpsons writers, their own phenomenal success has made it more difficult than ever to keep Springfield as fresh and funny as it once was.
Just not “Eeeexcellent”… Sorry
The Simpsons Movie sorely misses the sharp wit and humorous writing of the earlier television seasons. Instead the movie pitches its level of humour right in the middle-zone, seeming to settle somewhere around the season 15-20 mark. Certainly funnier than the crap Matt Groening is doing now, but a long way off from the golden age of The Simpsons.
So while an “ok” episode of The Simpsons is often better than many television shows can ever hope to achieve, more often than not you get the impression that The Simpsons Movie really ran out of jokes about half way through. Take the “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” visual gag about half way through the movie – it’s only about 30 seconds long, but that’s easily twice as long as it needed to be. Hell, even the movie thinks so; the gag ends, only to start up again for two substantially weaker and unnecessary punch lines.
“You tied your best & failed miserably. The lesson is: never try”
The worst example of The Simpsons Movie’s weak script is the Spider-Pig plot line with Homer. It’s almost like the writing team knocked that one out in the last 5 minutes before pissing off the pub.
I can see it now:
“We need a plot device Gregg!”
“I know! Homer falls in love with… Jerry, help me out!”
Jerry, sweating, suggests “Ummm, how about a pig?”
“Genius! What does the pig do?!”
“Eat and shit so much the world nearly comes to an end?” says Jerry, now out of ideas.
“Brilliant! Let’s go home!”.
The Simpsons are guilty of using MacGuffins a lot and Spider-Pig is the ultimate. It serves no purpose other than to start the events of the film rolling and then disappear, only to be obscurely referenced at a later date. Even at the time The Simpsons Movie was released, I could tell that Spider-Pig was pretty lazy writing from a once-astonishing team.
“Worst Episode Ever”*
(*Yes, ODR is Aware of the Irony)
In the end, The Simpsons Movie could have served as the perfect ending to the television series. A final send off. A love letter to The Simpsons from the biggest fans of all – the original writers of televisions longest lived animation.
Instead, through no fault of its own, The Simpsons Movie will forever mark the point at which the tide turned against Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie.