If there’s one thing The Simpson Movie isn’t, it’s a cheap, opportunistic cash-in on the longrunning animated TV show. If anything, the producers and writers left it too late.
The series began in 1989 and the film came out in 2007 after a protracted and painstaking development, by which time many fans felt it had “jumped the shark”, to use the TV parlance (in other words, lost its mojo).
The big question was: could the movie redeem the franchise?
Whether or not you agree that the TV show’s success eventually led to lazy plotting, self-parody and an overreliance on star guests, what never changed from week to week was the old-school style of 2D animation.
The Simpsons’ refusal to go CGI became a badge of honour, and when the movie was finally in production, creator Matt Groening said it would be “a tribute to the art of hand-drawn animation”. In one teaser trailer, a portentous voiceover declaims, “A line will be drawn… and then coloured in yellow.”
The Simpsons Movie knows its limitations, and plays to its strengths: popping big themes with small pinpricks. Written by a crack team of 11 series regulars, including Groening and producer James L Brooks, and directed by series regular David Silverman, it is a bit like watching three episodes of The Simpsons back to back.
Except solid objects now cast shadows. You don’t get those on the TV show. Certainly, the story is ambitious, with the town of Springfield sealed inside a glass dome after Homer dumps his pet pig’s waste in the water supply, causing an eco-disaster.
The Environmental Protection Agency, under orders from a dim-witted President Schwarzenegger, plans to nuke the town, but the Simpson family, cast out as exiles by a mob with flaming torches – a technically brilliant flourish – returns to save it.
Star guests are kept to a minimum – though Tom Hanks gets a look-in – and broader cultural nods range from the subtle (Buster Keaton, Full Metal Jacket) to the not-so-subtle (Titanic, An Inconvenient Truth, Spider-Man).
A surprisingly emotional story arc for Homer, Marge and even Bart, who bonds with goody two shoes Ned Flanders, is favoured over too many in-jokes. If these names mean nothing to you, the movie is probably not the best place to start. But if they do, you may agree that this is The Simpsons emerging at long last from the shadows.
The Simpsons Movie is on Channel 4 today at 5:40pm.