When I first heard that there was finally going to be a Simpsons movie in 2006, I approached it with cautious optimism. On one hand, my favorite show of all time hitting the big screen had long been a dream of mine, but on the other, it was announced in the middle of season 17, roughly a decade beyond the show’s golden years. Would the movie live up to my highest expectations, or would it just prove that The Simpsons was better off being put out of its misery? Ten years after the film’s release, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
First, let’s talk about what the movie does right. The plot is suitably epic for a full-length Simpsons feature, as it involves Homer ruining the environment of Springfield and being chased out of town by an angry mob for it. Homer’s scenes with Spider-Pig (AKA Harry Plopper) in the early parts of the film show Homer’s kinder side, reminding us that despite being a “pre-historic carnivore,” he can nonetheless show affection towards an animal. However, his laziness gets the better of him when he fails to properly dispose of Spider-Pig’s feces, polluting the lake with a silo of said excrement and leaving Springfield’s environment beyond repair. The writers deserve credit for knowing their character; what’s a more quintessentially Homer Simpson way for Homer to destroy his own town than poisoning it with pig crap because he’s too damn lazy to handle it properly?
The Simpsons Movie also benefits from having a great villain in Russ Cargill, played by Albert Brooks. Coming off like a slightly-less-evil Hank Scorpio, he rolls off a steady stream of one-liners that provide some of the strongest humor in the film (“Have you tried going mad without power? It’s boring; no one listens to you!”). He’s a lovable bad guy even when you root against him, and he counteracts some of the film’s surprisingly heavy moments.
Speaking of heavy, The Simpsons Movie’s most memorable and cathartic scene is also the darkest moment of Homer and Marge’s marriage. After the family flees to Alaska due to the mob of Springfieldians chasing Homer, Marge finds out that Springfield is about to be destroyed. She implores Homer to return to the scene of his crime to set things right. When he refuses, she’s so heartbroken that she leaves him by taping over their wedding video to record a breakup message. Julie Kavner’s anguished delivery really makes this scene; when she explains that she can no longer think of a reason to stay with her husband, she can barely get the words out. This scene carries the weight of every time Homer screwed up during the run of the show. This was the final straw, and even though Homer deserves every word of it, it still stings because we know everything they’ve gone through, and that despite Homer’s foolishness, he really does care.
That said, The Simpsons Movie could have done a lot have things better. Simpsons fans often complain about the rise of Jerkass Homer, where rather than being a naive doofus, he is deliberately harmful. Unfortunately, this phenomenon makes its way into the movie. His faux pas with the pig silo could be chalked up to classic Homer laziness, but when he dares Bart to skateboard around town naked, then refuses to vouch for him when he gets arrested, it brings back memories of the wretched season 15 episode “Co-Dependents’ Day,” where Homer frames Marge for a DUI. Homer’s childishness getting the better of him has long been a part of his character that we’ve come to understand, but he also refuses to take any accountability for his actions. Granted, he gets his comeuppance with Marge’s breakup video, but that doesn’t make these scenes any more bearable when they initially play out.
Elsewhere in the movie, the subplot where Bart begins to see Flanders as a better father figure than Homer is believable enough but never really fleshed out. The film explores this idea early on then abandons it before saying all that could be said. Plus, while Ned’s calamity makes him a stronger father figure than Homer, when Bart and Lisa were foster children by the Flanders in “Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doodily,” he hated every minute of it. Why would the quintessential bad boy want to play Bible trivia and eat “nachos” made with cottage cheese? A better approach would have shown Bart so fed up with Homer’s antics that he finds Ned’s hyper-mundanity preferable. Instead, we see life at Ned’s portrayed as a fantasy land of lovingly prepared hot chocolate. (I thought the kids weren’t allowed to have sugar?) The idea of Bart dumping Homer for Ned works a lot better if life with the Flanders is portrayed consistently with how it had been portrayed on the show. Instead, the film forgets about this plot point halfway through, and never fully develops it.
The Simpsons Movie succeeds in some areas and fails in others, but ultimately, there’s enough going for it to warrant at least one viewing due to the abundance of great jokes and a few genuinely emotional moments. Unfortunately, it also suffers from some of the same flaws that mark the post-classic period. Homer is too much of an asshole and never earns his redemption, which instead is a mere symptom of the movie needing to be over. Watching The Simpsons Movie is a lot like watching one of the better recent episodes – there are elements of what made the show so great, and the odd joke that’s so funny it could’ve come from season 6. These elements never quite come together the way they did in the best Simpsons episodes, however, leaving fans to merely wonder what could have been.