As you’d expect — doh! — The Simpsons Movie has some glorious lines in it. Lisa to Marge: ‘I’m so angry.’ Marge to Lisa: ‘You’re a woman. You can hold it in for years.’ Bart to Homer: ‘This is the worst day of my life.’ Homer to Bart: ‘No, son. This is the worst day of your life so far.’ No one, by the way, says: ‘When writing about the Simpsons, there will always be a “doh!” so get it out the way quick’ but you will note that I have been clever enough to do so, all the same. There are no flies on me.
Yes, yes, yes…almost since day one back in 1990 The Simpsons has proved itself a masterpiece and at some level you could even say that I now live according to Simpsonian wisdom. As Homer once said to Marge, ‘Marge, stop blaming yourself …blame yourself once and get over it’ and, ever since, I have blamed myself once and got over it, and you know what? I find it has not only made things much more pleasant all round but I also like myself a great deal better. Still, though, I found this long-awaited movie something of a let-down, possibly just because it’s been so long-awaited. Could that be it? I should add that I did not find it a tremendous let-down, which would still probably be a vast improvement on most of the stuff that now comes out of Hollywood, but a let-down, all the same. I loved it, but not enough.
I’m still trying to work out why, but think Homer probably captures it best when, in the opening scene, the Simpson family is itself sitting in a cinema and he says, ‘I can’t believe we’re paying to see what we can see on TV for free.’ In this step-up to full-length, big-screen movie I’d expected, I think, that it would have more point to it; that it would be more than just an 85-minute Simpsons episode, as brilliant as the episodes are. On the other hand, if Homer can sum up what I found disappointing, who is the smarter? And who may have flies on them, after all?
The story is much too silly to summarise properly, but it involves the pollution of Lake Springfield, Homer’s new pet, ‘Spider-Pig’, Bart’s longing for a proper dad, like Mr Flanders, and a conspiracy by the Environmental Protection Agency and President Schwarzenegger to deal with Springfield’s toxic status by blowing it up. (Homer to the head of the EPA: ‘You’ve gone mad with power.’ Head of the EPA to Homer: ‘Have you ever tried going mad without power? No one listens.’)
Part of The Simpsons’ genius — note the ‘part of’; entire 12-book dissertations have been written on the genius of The Simpsons — is that while lampooning everyone and everything, but most particularly authority figures and America itself, it is also peculiarly conservative. Ultimately, nothing matters more than family. Homer may think he loves doughnuts and Duff Beer the best, but we know he doesn’t, and that’s why we love him and his workshy über-slobbiness. Here, the conservatism, alas, plays considerably louder than the subversion, or at least that’s the way it played to me.
There’s a scene in which Homer rewatches his and Marge’s wedding video that’s too mawkish for words, and as for the sentimental father-son bonding business, come on. How many times has The Simpsons done father-son bonding? You can be more imaginative than that, surely. Meanwhile, the entire green movement is allowed to get away virtually scot-free, as is President Schwarzenegger, who is keen to hang on to power so he doesn’t have to go back to making family movies with Danny DeVito, but that’s it, more or less. I wanted more meat, as well as a lot more of my favourite characters — Police Chief Wiggum and nuclear-plant sup later remo Mr Burns — although I do accept that in a movie minor characters often have to be pushed aside.
But did I laugh? You bet. Are there sight gags aplenty? You bet. (Watch out for the slogan on the Duff Beer’s advertising blimp.) Is there something of a thrill in seeing those familiar yellow heads blown up to giant size? You bet, at least initially. Perhaps my reservations aren’t so much reservations as mere quibbles. Perhaps I’ve got it wrong but that’s OK because I’ll blame myself once and then get over it. I will say this, though: even if you don’t normally sit though the credits at the end of a film so you can find out who provided the director with his favourite Walnut Whips, you must on this occasion. If you don’t, you will miss Maggie’s very, very funny first word, and if you miss Maggie’s first word you will only have to think later: doh! It is also compulsory to end with a ‘doh!’ although I could not tell you why.