Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Simpsons Movie

The verdict: A safe, predictable and somewhat irrelevant cinematic debut for the ubiquitous yellow animated clan.

The rating: 6/10

The American tv show 'Happy Days' inadvertently coined an unfortunate phrase for the moment when an entertainment franchise runs out of gas. That moment when, collectively, the audience decides that there might be something better on the other channel.

The phrase originates from a moment when Fonzie decided to jump a shark through an ingenious set-piece involving a speedboat, a ramp and some rather shoddy special effects. From that moment, the ratings for Happy Days, previously a cornerstone of American tv viewing, dropped dramatically. Thus, to 'jump the shark' is, like Fonzie did that fateful day, to reveal to your audience that you've run out of ideas.

For example, the Wachowski Brothers jumped the shark with the third matrix movie. George Lucas jumped the shark with Jar Jar and Episode I. More often than not these days, television series are conceived with a lifespan in mind, a seven year cycle that will bring it to a logical conclusion. The objective? Avoid jumping the shark.

For seven or eight years, 'The Simpsons' was light years ahead of most of what television, and american television in particular, had to offer. Even Matt Groening could never have imagined the kind of global cultural impact this cartoon family could have had, starting as they did from such humble beginnings as crudely drawn short interludes on The Tracey Ullman show. However, increasingly, audiences are beginning to notice that the quality of Springfield's output has hit a sort of creative plateau.

Fast forward to 2007, and the Simpsons has become a staple of the Fox Network's schedule, on air now for almost twenty years, and soon to become the longest running tv show in the history of the world, ever. The list of guest voices on the show reads like a who's who of popular culture: Spinal Tap, Tony Blair, Stephen Hawking, U2, The Rolling Stones. More recently, Ricky Gervais wrote an episode and, now in the movie, Green Day make an appearance.

The Simpsons is an institution, as iconic as it is possible to be in popular entertainment. However, its best moments are most definitely behind it, and the movie only reinforces this.

The critical buzz from the Simpsons movie goes something like: "yes it's just like an episode of the Simpsons on the big screen, but is that such a bad thing?". Well, this reviewer humbly argues that the movie is about twelve years behind its time, and that to compare a movie to a current episode of the Simpsons makes me not want to pay ten euros to go and see it.

Harsh words perhaps? Well, in my defence, allow me to consider a far superior tv-to-movie jump from an animated series. The 'Southpark' movie was a ballsy, intelligent comedy that used the format of the musical to expose the franchise to a whole new audience, and deservedly received huge critical acclaim. By comparison, the Simpsons movie attempts nothing fresh or new. Also, the quality of the Simpsons TV series has been in steady decline for about ten years. Now, it could be argued that the average episode is still of a decent enough quality, but the point of a movie transition should be to expand the franchise somehow, to perhaps take a creative risk. With the Simpsons movie, we have a plot based around recycled moments from episodes we've already seen, packaged with better anumation and a few new gags.

A telling moment from the Simpsons movie occurs as the closing credits are rolling. Maggie finally says her first word, and it is 'sequel'. As the family disappointedly trudged off screen, I feared that this was the moment. Yes folks, this was the moment when I feared that the Simpsons may have jumped the shark.

It's not a bad movie. I mean, after all, it's 'the Simpsons', like a familiar blanket you can wrap yourself in when you're tired after work, eating your dinner, or waiting for 'Heroes' or 'Prison Break' to start of a midweek evening. It's just that the movie offers neither Simpsons fans nor newbies alike, anyhing new, at least, nothing that the tv show hasn't been doing for years and years.

'Spider pig' was funny, as was Homer's chainsaw impression. The rest, well, I just got the feeling I'd seen it all before on the smaller screen. Yes, I chuckled through a lot of it, but, like the average gag on 'Family Guy', this movie won't live long in the memory. Kids will love it, but followers of the tv series will have seen most of this before. The simpsons isn't jumping the shark in terms of its global audience, but for me, from now on, I'll be having a look to see what else is on.

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