Aug 5, 2007

THE SIMPSONS MOVIE - TV on the Big Screen

I am an off-and-on SIMPSONS viewer – more off than on lately. Back in the 90s, say around seasons 4 – 8, I was a pretty avid watcher, but then I kind of strayed – not because I lost interest in the show, I just lost track of it. I tend to forget that it’s on Sunday nights and am usually watching something else (a DVD most of the time), but will stop on a re-run if I’m flipping through the channels aimlessly (you can literally watch THE SIMPSONS 24 hours a day if you really wanted to thanks to syndication), same with THE FAMILY GUY. However, that being said I have been anxiously anticipating the feature film thinking that the producers would take that extra step to give us something special.

I believe it was 2 Comic-cons ago (2005) when I took in annual THE SIMPSONS’ panel discussion and Matt Groening announced that yes, they were finally working on a feature film. My reaction was “yeah right, I’ll believe it when I see it” as there have been reports of a feature film several times over the show’s 18 year run. So when the teaser trailer finally hit theatres last year, I got a little excited especially since I’m more likely to watch a feature film than an episode of a TV show (unless it’s on DVD or it’s THE A-TEAM). But the joke is on all of us. The producers, same as the TV show, seemed to forget that they have a bigger screen and that the restrictions of being on a broadcast television network have been removed. Essentially, THE SIMPSONS MOVIE is nothing more that a super-long episode with an actual plot. As the film begins, Homer looks at the audience points at us and tells us how stupid we are to pay for something that we could easily watch at home for free, and in many ways, he is right. Did the producers do this on purpose knowing they weren’t going to stray from the regular episode format? If we look at another animated television show that went to the big screen while still on the air (that would be SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER AND UNCUT) the producers went all out with huge musical numbers (one that garnered an Oscar nomination) plenty of R rated material mostly in the form of foul language and sight gags, and went out of it’s way to make fun of itself. For instance, there was a big controversy over the film in that with the heavy R-rated content, theatre owners had to be more diligent in keeping minors out – this also happened to be part of the plot of the movie. Utterly genius if you ask me. In fact, while I bought my ticket, I witnessed 2 kids try to buy a ticket for it and were refused, then later, bought a ticket for something else and tried to sneak in and were busted. THE SIMPSONS also takes a current issue, the environment, and weaves it into their plot, but it just didn’t seem to hit the mark in quite the same way. Mind you, I can understand the reluctance to steer clear of an R rating or making the subject matter more adult in nature. SOUTH PARK is essentially an adult show airing after 10pm on a cable network. THE SIMPSONS while having some adult themes in their show, can still appeal to kids, and with a PG-13 rating, the audience for the film expands greatly rather than if it had an R-rating. Luckily, Groening and company do throw in a few little gags for us adults in the crowd looking for a little more – Bart’s anatomy makes an appearance, Homer flips off an angry mob and Marge in an anxious moment curses.

Of course really, the joke is truly on all of us as the first weekend box office receipts were in the area of $74 million (weekend 2 results are a paltry $25, quite the large drop off thanks to THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM release) so obviously even after 18 years and over 400 episodes, people were ready for more SIMPSONS, and willing to plop down $12 for something that yes, they can see for free on TV.

On a curious side note, NPR last week did a report on how THE SIMPSONS MOVIE will change the way popular on-air shows look at the big screen as they stated “it’s the first big show to have a theatrical release while still on the air.” Unfortunately the reporter must have forgotten about SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER AND UNCUT (1999) and THE X-FILES: FIGHT THE FUTURE (1998 – which in essence ended up killing the show thanks to a lot of broken promises and large-scale teases on behalf of the creative team. David Duchovny states a sequel is still in the works. Sorry David, I think the day of the X-Files has passed) both of which were big hits, a mistake which is rare for the usually on target NPR reporting staff.