So the big question about The Simpsons Movie has been: Is it a funny, successful movie in its own right or just an extra-long Simpsons episode? I’ve finally seen it, and I can report: Yes and yes.
To be more specific: the movie works because it’s just like a classic Simpsons episode, in ways that regular Simpsons episodes often are not. I’m on record as considering The Simpsons the best TV show ever, but one valid criticism of its later years is that, as the plots got farther and farther fetched (and, usually hand-in-hand with this, more Homer-centric), they sometimes lost the emotional grounding of the early seasons. I don’t think it’s so much that the writers lost their sense of the characters; it’s just that there isn’t always room in 22 minutes for the baroque stories and believeable family comedy.
At roughly an hour and a half, The Simpsons Movie manages both. The plot, which I won’t rehash in detail (see Richard Corliss’ proper review in the print TIME), is straight out of the Simpsons’ playbook: Homer does something stupid and selfish, hilarious consequences follow and things must be righted. But the story’s arc is more movielike, and even though we’ve seen Homer and Marge go through marriage crises before, this one is moving and sweetly written: “I don’t think about things,” Homer explains to Marge at one point. “I mean, I respect people who do. I just try to make the days not hurt until I get to crawl in next to you again.” Awww.
More important, the movie is just non-stop, jam-packed funny. I I had no expectations of it, because most of trailers I’ve seen made it seem like a below-average TV episode. But this is a rare instance of a new movie that didn’t blow all of its funniest scenes on the ads. It doesn’t break form from the series the way the musical South Park movie did, though the writers did take advantage of their content lattitude to work in a hilarious bit of full-frontal nudity from Bart, and a scene of Otto doing something you always expect he spent his leisure time on. [Inhales deeply.] And there are numerous repetitions of — eh, let’s call them “homages to” — classic Simpsons episodes, among them “Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish” and the epic cliff-dive from “Bart the Daredevil.”
Most of the references and allusions, in fact, reminded me of the early years of The Simpsons, and part of the reason may be that the writing team reunites such all-stars of the show’s early days as Al Jean, George Meyer and, a personal favorite, John Swartzwelder. (In the early days of The Simpsons, Mrs. Tuned In and I would anxiously watch the opening titles, and I’d excitedly yell “It’s a Swartzwelder!” when his writing credit would appear.)
Now, is it worth spending $11 to see? How the hell do I know? I wouldn’t spend $2000 to have the iPhone for a couple years, but people seem to enjoy those. But it’s not quite accurate to say–as the movie jokes early on–that you’re blowing your money on something you can see for free on TV. You can see new episodes next fall; you can see classic episodes pretty much anywhere, anytime in syndication. But the one place you can see a new installment of The Simpsons with the heart and firing-on-all-pistons brilliance of the show’s first decade is at a movie theater. Dollars to doughtnuts you won’t be disappointed.