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'Simpsons Movie': Bigger, Longer, Underwhelming

Film critic David Edelstein reviews “The Simpsons Movie.”

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Other segments from the episode on July 27, 2007

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 27, 2007: Interview with Steve Cropper; Interview with Isaac Hayes; Review of the film "The Simpsons Movie."

Transcript

DATE July 27, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: David Edelstein of New York Magazine on "The Simpsons
Movie"

DAVE DAVIES, host:

Eighteen years after "The Simpsons" made its debut as a weekly half-hour
sitcom, there's finally a feature-length movie. Film critic David Edelstein
has a review.

Mr. DAVID EDELSTEIN: "The Simpsons Movie" is longer, more plot driven and
has more showy animation than an average episode, but it rarely captures the
show's magic: the lunatic free associations, the madcap highs. Like the
"SpongeBob SquarePants" movie, it loses something when it's padded and ironed
out to conform to a standard Hollywood story template.

I'm frankly more of a "South Park" than a "Simpsons" guy, and yet the
scatological savagery of "South Park" would hardly have been possible without
"The Simpsons." The show was a freak TV milestone, its airing the upshot
almost two decades ago of the fledgling Fox Network's attempt to differentiate
itself from the big three. Matt Groening, James L. Brooks, and a writing
team that boasted a lot of Harvard Lampoon alumni not only changed the way we
saw primetime cartoons, they changed our notion of TV sitcoms. It turns out,
you can cram a TV show with TV parodies end-to-end and still find time for a
plot. You can even sass Fox and Republican talking points on Rupert Murdoch's
dime.

"The Simpsons Movie" is rooted in the environmental crisis, a fashionable
subject now but one this show has always been in front on. One of its
earliest and most memorable images was of a three-eyed fish from a polluted
lake, served up to Homer Simpson's boss, that rapacious captain of industry
Mr. Burns. And there's a variation of the same gag here. But Burns isn't
the movie's chief pollutant. It's Homer, who blithely dumps a silo of pig
manure into an endangered lake and whose selfishness has epic consequences.
Somehow Homer brings about the quarantining and imminent nuking of his home
town, Springfield. And when the truth comes out, the whole town converges on
him and Marge and Bart and Lisa and baby Maggie.

(Soundbite "The Simpsons Movie")

(Soundbite of music)

(Soundbite of angry voices)

Unidentified Actor #1: (As Marge Simpson) Homer, you have to go out there,
face that mob and apologize for what you did.

Unidentified Actor #2: (As Homer Simpson) I would, but I'm afraid if I open
the door, they'll take all of you.

Unidentified Actor #3: (As member of mob) No we won't. We just want Homer.

Actor #2: (As Homer Simpson) Well, maybe not you, but they'll kill Grandpa.

Unidentified Actor #4: (As member of the mob) I'm part of the mob.

(End of soundbite)

Mr. EDELSTEIN: When the family escapes from the mob and heads for Alaska,
where Homer says, `You can't be too fat or too drunk,' the tensions escalate.
His son, Bart, has already disowned him, preferring the pious ministrations of
their next-door neighbor Flanders. Even Homer's loyal wife is on the verge of
giving him up for his selfishness.

(Soundbite of "The Simpsons Movie")

Unidentified Actor #1: (As Marge Simpson) I can't believe you'd say something
so selfish.

Unidentified Actor #2: (As Homer Simpson) Marge, those people chased us with
pitchforks and torches. Torches! At 4 in the afternoon.

Actor #1: (As Marge Simpson) It was 7 at night.

Actor #2: (As Homer Simpson) It was during "Access Hollywood."

Actor #1: (As Marge Simpson) Which is on at 4 and 7.

Actor #2: (As Homer Simpson) D'Oh!

(End of soundbite)

Mr. EDELSTEIN: It's too bad that, unlike other cartoon protagonists, Homer
has always bored me silly. The voracious Cartman on "South Park" is like a
character out of a Voltaire play, outsized with sleazeball stature. Hank Hill
of "King of the Hill" is a befuddled "everyman" who's somehow both smaller and
larger than life. SpongeBob SquarePants is an eternal optimist whose
obliviousness is transcendent. But Homer? Homer remains a boob, a thickie, a
foil for the appalled Bart, the socially conscious Lisa, and the devoted but
chiding Marge. The dumber Homer is, the more the series--and now the
movie--comes down to gags and pop culture parodies, jabs at TV, suburban
cluelessness, political chicanery, and the heartlessness of big business and
show business.

The gags in the movie, unfortunately, are hit and miss. I like the Tom Hanks
cameo and some Road Runner-esque slapstick. But the writers get surprisingly
little mileage out of President Arnold Schwarzenegger and his EPA director Bob
Cargill, a blandly resourceful totalitarian lunatic, although the latter is
voiced with just the right degree of smugness by someone whose credit reads
"A. Brooks" and sounds like the dad in "Finding Nemo."

One joke, though, is so brilliant it made me gasp. When what looks like a
huge saucer from space hovers over Springfield, the people in a church run
screaming into the bar next door, while at practically the same instant, the
people in the bar run screaming into the church. You could write a whole
sociology dissertation on that five-second gag. That's "The Simpsons" at its
most glorious, and here, alas, all too fleeting.

DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine.

(Credits)

DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.

(Soundbite of "The Simpsons")

(Soundbite of music)

Actor #2: (As Homer Simpson) Pizza! Enough saxamophone already.

(Soundbite of music)

(End of soundbite)
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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