After 19 years on the air – and still going – it seemed inevitable that The Simpsons would eventually be turned into a big-screen movie. In fact, most people would have expected it to happen a long time ago. Shows don’t normally run for 19 years, and even if you could know in advance that it would, it’s still best to position a theatrical release around a period of overall peak popularity. If anything enthusiasm for The Simpsons has flagged somewhat, with most of the good episode ideas seemingly produced in years past and only rare moments of brilliance now hitting the small screen.
Obviously someone still thought that there was enough interest to make a movie a worthwhile endeavor, and were they right: a half billion dollars in ticket sales worldwide is a hit by anyone’s standards... so as they say, better late than never!
The Simpsons movie is approximately (and perhaps not coincidentally) the length of four average episodes. For the film Groening and company have corralled the best writers into a small room for maximum creative density, and pulled out all of the animation budgetary stops. There’s no denying that this is the best that The Simpsons have ever looked and sounded, and while it deserves its PG-13 rating it doesn’t run wild or go off-character with it.
For the plot, pollution in Lake Springfield has reached epidemic proportions of extreme nastiness. After vowing to stop polluting and finally clean it all up, the town figures they’ve staved off environmental disaster. But Homer, always in a rush to get to free donuts, decides that the best way to quickly dispose of his overflowing silo of “pig crap” is, well, in the now cordoned off lake. With the new pollutionary addition the chemical tipping point is reached and the lake goes caustic. What used to be home to only one natural oddity, namely good ol’ three-eyed Blinky the fish, is now spontaneously producing twenty-eyed saber-toothed squirrels, and the EPA won’t have any of it. With the federal government allowing the EPA to impose “Option 3” on Springfield, and everyone blaming Homer and family for their plight, how will they pull together to save the day?
Now I’m a Simpsons fan. I watch new episodes every Sunday, I own all of the season DVD releases, and I also have the world’s most expensive Simpsons collectable (an arcade pinball machine). So it’s no great surprise that this movie would be on my “must watch” list, and it’s also likely no surprise that as a true fan I would manage to find some things to complain about. Overall, given my high expectations going in, the movie is merely adequate – nether bad, nor fabulous.
The kind of trademark and haphazard plot style that works fine for a 22 minute (or less) Simpsons TV episode tends to feel disjointed when spread over a nearly 90 minute film. And yet I feel that the movie could have benefitted from being even longer. Some of the material felt rushed, with too little time spent on the otherwise popular side characters... as well as a particular plot line that could have been much more touching and poignant (yes, even that can happen on The Simpsons). The overall quality level is certainly there, and yes there are moments of laugh-out-loud hilarity, but they’re not nearly as frequent as I would have hoped.
But after all is said and done I really did enjoy myself, and I’d certain take to watching this a second or third time compared to many of the other films I’ve seen lately. And with The Simpsons Movie a bona fide smash hit, I’m sure we can all look forward to an even better box office sequel!
Although the packaging lists The Simpsons Movie with a high bitrate 1080p MPEG2 encode, the movie in fact uses the even better AVC codec. With a big 50 gigabyte disc to work with and few lengthy extras, the average video bitrate is very high and hovers around 35-40mbit, with peaks reaching above 45mbit, resulting in an absolutely crystal clear video presentation no matter what’s going on. Solid cell animation can be difficult to encode cleanly, but I saw nothing not to like with this release – it’s crisp and clear, with absolutely pristine back lines surrounding the characters and artwork, deep vibrant colors, fantastic shadow detail and no noticeable grain, compression artifacts or encoding issues.
The often subtle color graduations seen in the background artwork were all smooth and seamless, with no posterization. Despite being advertised in “glorious 2-D”, with its bright primary colors and tack-sharp animation The Simpsons Movie has an almost 3D appearance, and even if it’s not the gloriously detailed animation you get from Pixar it’s still beautiful to look at.
Although The Simpsons Movie is presented in lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, my equipment cannot yet make use of that so I was “forced” to listen to the 1.5mbit DTS core track. And I certainly didn’t feel oppressed for having to do so – audio is crisp and clear, with a pristine studio-recorded dialogue track that’s always easy to make out above other sounds. The full orchestral score comes though deep and enveloping with a truly epic feel that far surpasses anything heard on the television show. General bass levels are rich and well balanced. Surround channel usage is frequent, although sometimes erratic, mostly used for music and general ambience – there’s almost nothing that will make you think “oh, that came from the back left”. As for subsonics, there are a couple of moments of room-rattling subwoofer bass, but overall they’re few and far between. This is, after all, animation, and it’s not action or sci-fi themed.
While not a showcase soundtrack to use for demonstrating your system, it’s nonetheless technically well done and pleasing to listen to. It just goes to show that every movie can benefit from high quality audio, and it’s no surprise that Skywalker Sound gets the final credit for this one.
Alternate feature soundtracks include Spanish and French, both in Dolby Digital 5.1.
Considering what I’ve come to expect from television season box sets of The Simpsons, the extras provided for this movie release aren’t exactly overwhelming – indeed there isn’t a single “making of” featurette – but the ones included are more likely to actually be seen, and are also provided in full HD quality.
- Commentary tracks: There are two separate commentary tracks provided for this release. One features Matt Groening, Richard Sakai, Dan Castellaneta, Jim Brooks, David Silverman, Al Jean and Mike Scully, and is very similar to the type of jovial episode commentaries you’d find on the DVD box sets. The second track is labeled as a “Director’s Commentary”, although the participants call it the “Animator’s Commentary”, and features director David Silverman along with sequence directors Mike Anderson, Steve Moore and Rich Moore. This one delves into the more technical details on production.
- Special Stuff: This section includes a number of miscellaneous animated skits created to promote the movie, including Homer’s monologue on The Tonight Show, The Simpsons judging American Idol, Homer introducing American Idol, plus a short “let’s all go to the lobby” parody. All are presented in 1080p AVC video and stereo sound.
- Deleted scenes: 7 almost completely finished deleted scenes are included, all in 1080p AVC video and stereo sound.
- Trailers: There are a total of 5 theatrical trailers for The Simpsons Movie here, all with 1080p AVC video and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Also on the disc are two preview trailers for Alvin and the Chipmunks and Futurama: Bender’s Big Score.
- Easter Eggs: Hidden on the disc is a rather odd low framerate parody of the THX robot introduction, along with photo galleries for model development of new characters Lisa’s Boyfriend, Phil Cargill and the multi-eyed creature.
While not demonstrating the Simpsons at the very best of its story telling or character development periods, The Simpsons Movie is a fun romp that makes the jump from the small to big screen rather well, with immensely enhanced visuals and a boosted soundtrack worthy of a Blu-ray Disc release. If you’re even a little bit of fan of The Simpsons you already know that this is a must-buy release, but even non-fans will enjoy their time in Springfield – perhaps even more so as their expectations may not be so high.
- Daniel Tonks (Remote Central, 03/11/09)