The Simpsons has been running for 19 years and 409 episodes, so the surprise here is that the show didn’t make the transition to the big screen earlier. With all those years of experience it’s certainly not going to come as a shock to anybody that Groening et al have created a film that is both funny and clever. The real test was always going to be whether they could successfully make a movie, rather than just an extended, feature length episode.
Well, I’m happy to report that this absolutely is a movie. In fact, it’s very self-consciously a movie, and the writers have inserted plenty of film references and an array of self-referential movie gags. There are also a lot of big screen action ‘movie moments’, my favourite of which is a Matrix-esque slow-time bullet shot. These moments go a long way to making the film feel bigger and more epic than a TV episode. The film starts out in the normal Simpsons aspect ratio but then, with the opening credit sequence, it switches to wide screen. This sudden transition, perhaps more than any other part of the film, sent an ‘I’m watching The Simpsons and it’s a movie! Wow!’ thrill of revelation up my spine.
The score, too, has really stepped up to the cinematic plate here, and Hans Zimmer has done a wonderful job of taking the familiar Simpsons themes and upscaling them to movie dimensions.
The most important thing, though, is that the story itself is big enough to feel at home on the big screen. The central characters are set on suitably important journeys of self discovery, and the themes that are explored go to the heart of what The Simpsons is all about; family, fatherhood, and community. These themes come complete with genuinely emotional high- (and low-) points that provide essential breaks from the gags.
The other notable thing about this film is its restraint. Almost two decades of writing 22 minute television shows has obviously taught the Simpsons writers a lot of storytelling discipline. This film runs at a trim 87 minutes and every single line of every single scene is either a joke, a set-up, plot progression, or character development. There’s no waste. It’s very tight, and even though the movie is short, it doesn’t feel like we’re being short changed.
This is unarguably a success, and all the potential pitfalls that this film might have fallen victim to have been deftly sidestepped. Can there be any doubt that The Simpsons Movie II is just around the corner?