Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Fishing in the Discount Bin - The Simpsons Movie

Time once again for Fishing in the Discount Bin, where I watch one of the far too many movies that I own, and just kind of rant about it.  We get to one of the most anticipated movies for fans of a particular cartoon, The Simpsons Movie.  This rant is originally dated December 27, 2011.

Watched this one a couple of weeks ago and always wanted to do a Fishing in the Discount Bin on it, but things got busy and I never found time to put pen to paper.  Since my stupid internal clock woke me up at 5AM on a day when I could be sleeping in, may as well do it now.

So, there'd been talk of doing a feature film version of The Simpsons since about the second or third season.  Rumors went around for years, but it wasn't until 2007, at the conclusion of the film's 17th season, that it finally got to the big screen.  To tell the truth, I'm a little disappointed at the timing of the film.  When it was first announced, it was when the 17th was going to be The Simpsons last season.  But, with the release of the film, it was announced that the show had been extended for another 3 years to make it an even 20.  So, the hope that the big screen version would be one gigantic, kick-ass final episode was not meant to be.  But still, in the summer of 2007, I was there, because like most people my age, I'd been a fan of The Simpsons since the beginning.

So The Simpsons Movie opens with a great metafictional gag.  The film opens with...an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon.  And then, Homer starts heckling the screen, and we see that the Simpsons are in fact at the Itchy and Scratchy Movie.  Homer then exclaims that it's foolish to go see something in the theatre when you can see it for free on TV at home.  Homer then stands up and proclaims, "Everyone in this theatre is a sucker!  (pointing directly into the camera/at the audience) Especially you!"  Cue opening credits.

We're treated to a rendition of The Simpsons theme as performed by Green Day, and see that Green Day are performing for the people of Springfield at a beachfront concert.  (Special guest voices Green Day.)  The pollution in Springfield Lake, however, eats through their barge, and Green Day sinks to their death.

At church services that Sunday morning (following a brief memorial service to Green Day), Grandpa Simpsons has a religious awakening and starts rolling around on the floor, speaking in tongues and spouting off a prophecy.  Marge seems disturbed by this, but the rest of the Simpsons family shrugs it off, and they get on with their Sunday.  Lisa starts going door-to-door on a campaign to clean up Lake Springfield, and along the way, she meets and falls in love with a young Irish expat named Colin.  Homer and Bart get to work on their Sunday afternoon chores, but knowing Homer and Bart, it soon turns into a dare contest.  The dares escalated, until Homer dares Bart to skateboard from the Simpsons home to the Krusty Burger down town bare-ass naked.  And of course, Bart accepts the challenge.

Another great gag where Bart's private area is covered up in a great series of Austin Powers style gags, until the creators just go "fuck it, this is a cartoon," and we're treated to a few seconds where every thing is covered up except for Bart's privates.  Yes, animated full frontal nudity!  Bart is promptly arrested for indecent exposure.  When Homer arrives to pick up Bart, Chief Wiggum tells Homer that if this whole incident did start with dare, as Bart insists, then Homer would be in as much trouble as Bart.  So, Homer, of course, sells out his own son and says the whole thing was Bart's idea.  Bart, of course, is heartbroken that his own dad has thrown him under the bus.  However, Ned Flanders is at the Krusty Burger, takes pity on Bart, and offers up some spare clothes so Bart can at least get dressed.

While at the Krusty Burger, Homer and Bart get to watch the filming of the latest Krusty Burger commercial, which involves a pig.  When the shoot is done and the pig is ordered to be sent to the slaughterhouse, well, Homer has grown infatuated with the pig, and takes it home as a new pet.  When Marge sees the pig, she notices its curly tail, and recognizes the first part of Grandpa's prophecy as being "twisted tail."  Marge believes this pig is a sign of something terrible about to happen, and implores Homer to get rid of the pig.  Homer, however, is too busy playing Spider-Pig.  Meanwhile, Bart gets upset at how his father seems to be showering more love and attention on this pig than him, and has a heart-to-heart with Ned.  Bart begins looking up to Ned Flanders as a surrogate father figure.

We catch up with Lisa and Colin whose efforts have led to a town hall meeting, and the whole town gets on board with the "clean up the lake" initiative.  After some hard work, the waters of Lake Springfield are clean and pristine once again.  We catch up with Homer, and Marge finally asks what Homer is doing with his pig's...droppings.  I mean, there's a reason why Homer named the pig Plopper.  Homer directs Marge to a silo in the backyard labeled "pig crap."  Marge tells Homer to get rid of that silo.  Homer, however, is in a rush to get to a big close-out sale down at the donut shop, so instead of taking the silo full of pig crap down to the dump, he dumps it in the lake.  This has dire consequences, and when a mutated squirrels with a hundred eyes walks out of the lake, Springfield is instantly declared the most polluted place in the USA.

Enter our film's villain, Russ Cargill, director of the EPA, voiced by perennial favourite Simpsons guest voice Albert Brooks.  He presents several plans to deal with Springfield to President Arnold Schwarznegger, and Arnold just picks one at random, saying that he was elected to lead, not to read.  (FYI, did you know that a recent USA presidential  hopeful said in a speech that Americans want "a leader, not a reader"?  I'm surprised more pundits didn't jump all over him.)  The plan that the president chose at random is...seal off Springfield from the rest of the world in a giant glass dome.  As the dome is lowered into place, Marge sees the markings of EPA on the side of the helicopters and recognizes it as "Epa," the final part of Grandpa's ramblings.  The prophecy has come to pass.

Actually, the dome being lowered into place did lead to one of my favourite lines in the film.

Lenny>>  Oh no!  We've been trapped like rats!

Russ Cargill>>  Actually, rats are more difficult to catch.  You were trapped like carrots. 

Naturally, the citizens of Springfield are pissed, and they begin to dredge the lake to find out what caused the lake to be full of record levels of pollution, and they find the silo labeled "Property of Homer Simpson," and a lynch mob desends on the Simpsons' home.  The Simpsons begin their frantic escape.  Luckily, one of Homer's chores that he neglected earlier in the film was fixing a sinkhole in the backyard, and that serves as a handy escape portal to escape the dome.  Sadly, the rest of Springfield can't follow, as the sinkhole quickly swallows the Simpsons home, sealing the portal forever.

Now fugitives from the EPA, the Simpsons hole up in a cheap motel while they figure out what to do next.  That's where Homer reveals his Plan B.  He always knew that someday he'd screw up so badly that they'd become fugitives from the law, and he's had a back-up plan ready for when that day comes to be.  His plan:  move to Alaska and start over.  Marge says that such a plan is stupid, as they should get the word out about Springfield and try to save their town, but Homer gives a very eloquent speech how, in every marriage, each person is allowed to ask his or her partner to do one crazy thing, and the partner is allowed to say yes with no questions asked.  He asks that this be his one crazy thing, and Marge says yes.

We check in on the citizens of Springfield, and of course, life inside the dome is descending into pure anarchy.  Russ Cargill figures something has to be done to resolve the Springfield situation once and for all.  After feeding the idea to the president, the decision is made to nuke Springfield. 

We catch up with the Simpsons in Alaska, and their new life is fantastic.  They're finding Alaska to be paradise on Earth.  One day, they're watching TV, and a commercial comes on for the US Government and the new project they're working on, "Grand Canyon II," with celebrity spokesperson, Tom Hanks.  Special guest voice, Tom Hanks.  I swear, this is one of the greatest celebrity cameos in the history of film.  Never have a smiled more at a celebrity cameo than when Tom Hanks appeared and said, "Hi, I'm Tom Hanks.  The US Government has run out of credibility and asked to borrow some of mine...."  However, Marge realizes that the location of this "Grand Canyon II" is where Springfield is, and that the EPA is going to nuke the town.  Marge implore Homer that they have to head back to Springfield to save the town, but Homer refuses, because life is so sweet in Alaska.  Marge even give Homer Homer's big "one crazy thing in every marriage" speech, and Homer dismisses it as the biggest load of crap he's ever heard.  Homer decides to go hit the bar.

Homer comes home to an empty house.  He watches a video that Marge made for him, in which Marge says that she doesn't know what happened to Homer, but she can't stand by him while he chooses to stand by and watch his town be destroyed.  So, she and the kids have left Homer and are heading back to Springfield.  Once again, I have to give props to Marge's voice actress, Julie Kavner.  This speech is surprisingly emotional and very moving for The Simpsons.  Apparently, we have James L. Brooks to thank.  Brooks is a legendary film director, and has been one of the main producers of The Simpsons since its inception.  For The Simpsons Movie, he sat in on the voice recording sessions -- something he hadn't done since the third season of the show -- and demanded upwards of 30 takes of this speech to get the right emotion in it.  Anyway, back to the plot.  Confused, saddened, and heartbroken by Marge's words, Homer wanders out into the Alaskan wilderness.

Homer is found and rescued by an Inuit medicine woman, and as she nurses Homer back to health, she says that Homer can only figure out why his family left him by going through that classic trope, the vision quest.  When that was revealed in the movie, I kind of rolled my eyes.  It's one of those cliches that I'm growing tired of.  Whenever a "First Nations medicine man" shows up in a film, you know someone's going on a vision quest.  Anyway, Homer has his vision quest and has his epiphany:  he has gotten himself into this situation because of his own selfishness, and the only way out, is to start acting selflessly.  With a renewed vigor, Homer rushes off to rejoin his family.

However, Marge and the kids were promptly re-captured by the EPA, prompting one government employee to proudly proclaim "The US Government actually found someone they were looking for!" which was very funny in the pre-finding-of-Osama-Bin-Laden days.  They're deposited in the dome, and await their fate like the rest of Springfield. 

A hole is opened in the top of the dome, and the bomb is lowered in.  The residents of Springfield realize that they could climb out the cable that the bomb is dangling from, and be saved.  However, Homer comes sliding down the cable, the cable is severed, and the bomb is left sitting in Springfield square.  Another great line:

Homer>>  Did I save everyone?

Bart>>  No, Dad.  You made things worse and doomed us all. 

But Homer is not ready to give up.  He picks up the bomb and climbs aboard a motorcycle.  He had just enough time to reconcile with Marge, reconcile with Bart, and then he and Bart take the bomb and go roaring up the side of the dome.  They toss the bomb out the hole in the top, the bomb goes off, shattering the dome, and what follows is a beautifully animated sequence where Homer and Bart ride the shards of the collapsing dome down to the ground, resulting in Homer and Bart finally successfully leaping over Springfield Gorge, something they failed to do way back in the second season.  Homer finally meets face-to-face with Russ Cargill, and Cargill is easily dispatched by Maggie.

And I love the ending...it's such a quiet ending.  I'm a big fan of quiet endings.  As a callback to the dare contest at the start of the film, Homer and Bart are re-shingling the house.  Bart messes up, but rather than the trademark strangulation, Homer just pats Bart on the head and says, "Don't worry about it."  They finish shingling the house, and when Homer stands up to admire his work, he sees he's nailed a shingle to his leg.  Homer starts running around screaming in pain, while Bart just sits there and starts laughing.

Cue end credits. 

And that's The Simpsons Movie.  I want to like it, but it never seems to rise up to the epic qualities that I expect in the movie version of a TV show.  At the end it just felt like a very above average episode.  But it still makes me laugh, and it's pretty good, all in all.

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