I rarely see the same movie twice in the theater, let alone three times. The infrequent first-run exceptions: Jumanji (two times in one day, in fact; such is the joy/horror of having divorced parents); The Dark Knight, because I was a college student with too much free time; and The Simpsons Movie. Not unlike Lisa calling The Itchy & Scratchy Movie the “defining event of our generation,” I felt like my whole life up to that point had been leading to seeing The Simpsons, my favorite show of all-time, a series that I quote with such annoying regularity that it’s basically a second language, on the big screen.
And 10 years ago today, my dream came true. Then I saw it again. And again.
I don’t remember much about the first viewing, other than I enjoyed being in a late-night crowd with lots of Simpsons fans (and the two people I saw it with, only one of whom knew the difference between “d’oh” and “b’oh”), and that I didn’t hate the movie. In fact, I really liked it. Of course, I wasn’t considering the film in a critical capacity — I was just happy The Simpsons Movie (THE SIMPSONS MOVIE) existed. The second time, a few days later with my girlfriend at the time, I was able to step back from the initial rush of hearing Green Day playing the theme song and “The Simpsons are going to Alaska!” and consider the jokes, plot, and whether the characters acted like themselves. (More on this later.) Finally, the third time was with my mom, who I grew up obsessing over the show with. It was like watching a home movie, or a scrapbook filled with Knightboat photos, of my childhood.
Since 2007, though, and despite owning it on DVD, I haven’t rewatched The Simpsons Movie all the way through. I’ve caught snippets of the film on FX, and know it well enough to reference “tousle my hair, Mr. Hanks” and “if you can find a greasier sandwich, you’re in Mexico” more than the average person. But whenever I want to watch The Simpsons, I’ll watch The Simpsons, not The Simpsons Movie. It’s the same way that I’ve seen “Scott Tenorman Must Die” a dozen times, and South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (the greatest show-turned-movie of all-time, mind you) only three, maybe four times.
So for the 10th anniversary (that’s an incredible 217 episodes of the show ago), I decided to re-watch The Simpsons Movie in full to see whether I liked it more, less, or the same. I divided my thoughts into 10 separate items. It’s time to grab your garbage bag full of popcorn now, because here we go.
The Itchy And Scratchy Opening
It has nothing to do with the plot, but opening The Simpsons Movie with an “Itchy & Scratchy” short was immediate reassurance to long-time fans that the movie was going to work like The Simpsons, especially the numerous episodes that opened with the show-within-a-show (I could have done without Homer breaking the fourth wall, although I do enjoy Dr. Frink adding a “Movie” banner below the familiar “The Simpsons” in the clouds intro).
Marge And Homer’s Relationship Really Works
Homer Simpson should be sleeping in a race car. I wrote an entire post on what’s obvious to everyone except Marge, and didn’t even include the time Homer was so lazy that he threw a silo full of pig poop into Lake Springfield, causing a chain of events that leads to a dome being placed over Springfield and the Simpsons fleeing their hometown before an angry mob murders Homer. He means well, or at least he tries to mean well, but Homer, especially in the later seasons, generally comes off as a “jerk-ass.” And yet, Marge still loves him. The Simpsons has gone to the well of Marge and Homer almost divorcing numerous times, but rarely as effectively as in The Simpsons Movie.
It’s hard to set up a make-or-break-a-marriage dilemma in a 22-minute show when you still have jokes to tell, but in a feature-length film, there’s space to let the conflict build naturally. Julie Kavner’s voice already has a natural crack after thousands of hours in the recording studio, but it sounds broken in her video message to Homer. “Lately what’s keeping us together is my ability to overlook everything you do. And I overlook these things because,” Marge pauses, “well, that’s the thing. I just don’t know how to finish that sentence anymore. So I’m leaving with the kids to help Springfield and we’re never coming back. And to prove to myself that this is the end, I taped this over our wedding video. Goodbye, Homie.” You can actually pinpoint the second when my heart ripped in half. It’s 55 minutes and 40 seconds into the movie.
Tom Hanks Is Magical
I mentioned it earlier, but the best scene in the movie is the commercial where a young boy, who’s tired of the same ol’ boring Grand Canyon, asks Tom Hanks to tousle his hair, and stars fall out like magical dandruff. Not only is it hilarious, but because The Simpsons is famous for its guest stars, The Simpsons Movie needed an even bigger guest star. And they don’t get much bigger than five-time Oscar nominee Tom Hanks. Best of all, he’s using his lovable personality to mask an evil cover-up devised by the United States government. He’s playing against type, but also not really. Green Day was a good get, too. They’re maybe not the biggest rock band on the planet, but the show already got three out of four Beatles and U2, so… Simpsons did it?
The Simpsons In Alaska
If that’s the best scene, here’s the worst decision: taking the Simpsons out of Springfield. It was smart to ground the film around America’s Favorite Family, and not have it be another “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” mystery, but part of what makes The Simpsons, well, The Simpsons is Springfield. By having a solid chunk of the movie be set in Alaska, with only Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie around, that leaves little time left for Springfield regulars, like Moe, Chief Wiggum, or Krusty, to get anything more than a stray (pardon my) zinger.
An impressive 94 characters have speaking lines, but they’re reduced to their most obvious, play-to-the-back-of-the-theater personality traits, like lovably gullible Ralph seeing Bart’s penis and saying, “I like men now,” or stoner Otto smoking from a bong. Much better are the visual-based gags. Milhouse accidentally swallowing his inhaler out of fear and boxer Drederick Tatum landing low-blows on the dome, for instance, say more than words could. There are also two characters who don’t belong in the movie at all.
“He just said if you’re doing a movie, I’d like to do this. And we just jumped on it and he ended up working so hard.” That’s executive producer James L. Brooks discussing Albert Brooks’ involvement in The Simpsons Movie. It’s understandable why he has such a large role in the film as chief bad guy Russ Cargill (not to be confused with Larry Kidkill); Brooks was an integral part of the early seasons, and Hank Scorpio is the show’s best one-off character. Russ is no Mr. Burns, but Brooks’ line-reading of, “You ever try going mad without power? It’s boring, no one listens to you” is superb, so I get it.
What I don’t get is the toothless political satire of President Arnold Schwarzenegger, or why Colin exists. Lisa doesn’t have much to do in The Simpsons Movie (in the 659-word plot summary of the movie on Wikipedia, the word “Lisa” appears once), except for a flirtatious relationship with her new Irish friend (who’s definitely not related to Bono) Colin. It’s a shame Lisa has such a shoe-horned plot, while Bart gets an extended naked skateboarding scene. Hard to believe it took them 20 years to get there.
Let’s Talk About Spider-Pig
If The Simpsons Movie is known for one thing, it’s the introduction of Spider-Pig. Not Plopper, which is the pig’s real name (inasmuch as a pig can have a “real” name), but Spider-Pig. It’s not a great joke, but it’s one everyone can understand, from long-time fans who know about Homer’s history with pigs to movie-only newcomers who think it’s funny to see a pig dressed up as a superhero. Which, to be fair, is pretty funny. But there’s better stuff in The Simpsons Movie, like Homer staring into Plopper’s eyes and suggesting, “Maybe we should kiss to break the tension.” That’s the kind of weird humor that wouldn’t feel out of place in a season five episode.
And Now, A Random Collection Of Moments That Still Make Me Laugh
The Simpsons Movie was somehow both better and occasionally more frustrating than I remember. Most of the jokes land (which isn’t surprising considering the writers’ room dream team of [takes deep breath] James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Al Jean, Ian Maxtone-Graham, George Meyer, David Mirkin, Mike Reiss, Mike Scully, Matt Selman, John Swartzwelder, and Jon Vitti, that was assembled), and the Marge and Homer stuff is effectively sentimental. I also appreciate the restrained use of fan service — the entire movie could have been callbacks, but the biggest nod (Homer jumping over the Springfield Gorge) comes during the action-heavy climax, where it works.
But the film is also sloppy at times. Plots, like Bart cozying up to Ned Flanders or Lisa and Colin, come and go, and the Alaska diversion could be shorter, if not taken out of the movie entirely. (The less said about the big-boobs lady, the better.) Those are minor complaints, though. Overall, The Simpsons Movie is very watchable – even (especially?) in snippets on cable — and at only 87 minutes, it goes down easy. Could it be better? Of course. Is it as good as something like “Marge vs. the Monorail” or “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show”? Of course not. But I’d argue it’s stronger than the average season 18 and 19 episode (it came out the summer between the two), and there are enough moments of genuine reflectiveness sprinkled among the jokes to make it feel like an actual movie and not just a longer episode.
To paraphrase Bart, The Simpsons Movie neither sucks nor blows.