Extending a story … A review of the Simpsons Movie

Simpsons ImageBack in 1989, when there was talk of the quirky, dysfunctional family from the Tracy Ullman Show short animations moving from their tiny 1 minute spots on Ullman to a full half-hour show of their own on the Fox Network, the main question everyone asked was whether Groening could sustain the Simpson’s story lines over a full show. One liners are far different from story telling, and there was legitimate concern that an idea that works extremely well as pithy, one minute clips would have trouble finding the range over a full 22 minutes of television. Of course, when the first season debuted in 1989, it was clear that Groening, and the Simpson’s themselves, were up to the challenge.

Over the last 18 or so seasons, the genius in the “sitcom form” has been fully demonstrated. Its practically impossible to over-estimate the pop-culture significance of the Simpson’s over the past 2 decades and even a simple laundry list of defining moments would go on for several pages likely (just to mention ONE example, Homer’s bastardization of the Flintstones’ song “Homer, Homer Simpson, He’s the greatest guy in history … from the town of Springfield, he’s about to hit a chestnut tree!!” is a multi-layered example of the best of the Simpson’s). But when the announcement finally came that the Simpson’s would be going from 30 minute sitcoms, to a full-length movie, the question inevitably rose about whether they could “sustain the concept” over 90 minutes.

Once again, Groening and company show there was little reason for concern. The fascinating thing about Groening’s version of “extending the concept” is that he realizes different forms demand different pacing and different conventions. The 30 minute sitcoms, from the start, were substantially different from the 1 minute shorts, in more than just length. The very form of sustaining a story over 22 minutes of TV, with a commercial break or two in the middle, demands a specific kind of story telling which is different from a quick, one-minute story-point. The same is true moving from the 30 minute sitcom form to the full-length movie, and Groening navigates the differences very well.

Beginning in classic form, with Ralph helping out the 20th Century Fox theme music, the movie gives us a bit more detail in Marge and Homer’s strange relationship. People wondering how Marge can ever put up with him might find some answers in this film … certainly it deals more directly with those issues than the sitcom usually does. One of ways I expected Groening to expand the concept was to have more detail about the town’s people, possibly focusing on several story lines, but instead, he focuses almost exclusively on the Simpson’s themselves for practically the whole movie. Without giving away too much of the plot, Homer needs to save Springfield from a disaster of his own making, and the majority of the plot centers around how he and the family go about that task.

I’d say its well worth your time, whether you are a fan already, or new to the dysfunctional family. The pacing is great for a movie … at just under 90 minutes, I felt it was just the perfect length … and Groening manages to do a great job keeping a balance of story, and classic Simpson’s gags, that keep you interested in the story and laughing your ass off most of the way through. The animation is gorgeous and modern, without losing any of the classic Simpson’s flavour as well, and overall, the movie is an excellent homage to a show that has delighted us for nearly two decades.

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