A sage once characterized television as "teacher, mother, secret lover." Why, then, would a television show seemingly rooted in the medium, attempt the leap to the big screen? Why should we, as this self-same bald, donut-loving, rotund wise man asks at the beginning of his own familiy's cinematic work, pay for something we get for free every week? Why does The Simpsons Movie exist?
I realized very quickly that this review is actually not a very trivial one to write. After all, an American would have to be home-schooled, living in the middle of the Death Valley, and constantly plugging up their ears with their fingers yelling, "La, la, I can't hear you," to not have heard of The Simpsons. Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie are pop icons, held up as mirrors, both dark and clear, to the modern nuclear family.
Numerous academic papers, websites, and books have been written about the show; the current media blitz I'm sure includes articles like "Springfield's Ten Best Knitting Moments". And I would guess that a topical Simpsons quote could be deployed at least once a day for most people slogging through their normal life.
What that all means: I can't say anything new about the voice-acting, really, except to say that it is the same as it's always been. Most of the voice actors are responsible for seven or eight characters, at least. The closing credits are a litany of Nancy Cartwrights, Tress MacNeilles, Hank Azarias and Dan Castalanettas, each doing excellent work.
Considering the situation over in the TV show, the movie is thankfully limited in its use of special guest voices. Tom Hanks plays himself for a few sharp moments that I don't want to give away (including one during the end credits). Albert Brooks unfortunately does not reprise his Bond-villian parody Hank Scorpio from one of my personal favorite episodes, "You Only Move Twice." Instead, he does get to be the movie's antagonist, an EPA official who puts a dome over Springfield because it becomes the most polluted city in the US.
I can't say anything new about the style of humor. It follows the show's structure of Homer's self-centered bumbling, Marge's long-suffering repression, Bart's chaotic impulses, Lisa's do-gooderism, and Maggie's silent badassery. The absurd cutaways, poorly appropriated by other shows (*cough* Family Guy *cough*), are used sparingly and to good effect.
Yeah, sure, the movie's plot is of the later-season, Homer-is-dumb ilk, as it is his dumping of pig crap into Lake Springfield that brings the EPA's gun-toting special forces down on the city. The torch-bearing mob of residents who seek him out is full to the brim of all the characters we've met over the many years that the show has been on the air, a reminder that the creators of the show know how to form distinct individuals from just a few brushstrokes.
The movie definitely isn't targeted only at Comic Book Guys, the fans that can quote episode number and scene on cue. Its focus is pretty tight on the Simpson clan itself, to the exclusion of most of the pantheon we know. Really, outside of the Simpsons, only Flanders and his sons have a truly significant role. But knowing Milhouse, Nelson, Professor Frink and friends certainly opens up laughs that wouldn't be there otherwise. As with the show, the corners of the film are filled with obscure jokes, references to episodes of the show, signs like "Liberty and Justice for Some" engraved on the local courthouse.
The Simpsons Movie continues the much-mocked "The Simpson Family Goes to ____" tradition by following the family as they escape to Alaska. Which brings us back to the question: Why is there a Simpsons movie at all? The movie itself is distinguished from the TV show by little more than the higher quality animation, its length and the PG-13 rating which lets them pull off a few gags that wouldn't make it past the network censors. The movie itself mocks that point by having a faux "To Be Continued . . . Immediately" pop up at the halfway point. But I guess that doesn't really matter. The crowd I was with laughed throughout and I was certainly joining in.
I wished the movie had a bit more of the pointed commentary of the classic Simpsons episodes. Despite that, the humor runs the expected gamut from slapstick to political to pop culture-oriented. I think that "Homer saves Springfield" is Groening's way of giving the film cinematic scope, but the fact is, it seems within the ordinary for the show. But the complaint "It's only as good as as a very good episode of The Simpsons," isn't much of a complaint at all.