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The Simpsons Movie ***
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Rossiter Drake*

D'oh! Another Homer blunder sends
Springfield to the brink of destruction.

(Courtesy of San Francisco Examiner)

Starring: The voices of Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Harry Shearer, Hank Azaria. Rated PG-13. 

It’s taken 18 years, but television’s most famously dysfunctional family has finally made their long-anticipated leap to the big screen, even as their weekly exploits on FOX have begun to run dry of inspiration. 

Maybe creator Matt Groening and his dream team of acerbic writers waited too long: The Simpsons Movie only sporadically harnesses the boundless creative energy and satirical edge that earned his series its reputation as one of the most sophisticated comedies in TV history. For fans, however, it is a gift long overdue. 

Although the story sheds little light on the ever-evolving mythology of a show that has become ingrained in the public consciousness, that should come as no surprise to the fan base. The Simpsons has always relied on loose, disconnected narratives that provide the framework for surreal pratfalls and improbable crises, and the movie does the same. It follows the clan as they relocate to Alaska, forced to move after Homer imperils Springfield by polluting its river with pig feces. 

Ridiculous? Of course. While the Simpsons have always been grounded in something loosely akin to reality, that’s never stopped them from stumbling into the unlikeliest situations, whether Homer was blasting off into space with Buzz Aldrin or winning a Grammy for his barbershop quartet. This is theater of the gloriously absurd, tempered by keen dialogue and sociopolitical commentary sharper, at its best, than anything else on the small screen. 

Here, the political satire is aimed not at the current administration, but at President Schwarzenegger, who, by his own, thickly accented account, was “elected to lead, not to read.” It’s a throwaway line, modestly amusing but drawing no blood. Gone are the days when Homer waxed philosophical (in wholly uncharacteristic but oddly incisive fashion) about the machinery of capitalism being oiled by the blood of the workers. These are kinder, gentler Simpsons, the sort that another president, George H.W. Bush, might even have appreciated. 

If Groening and company have lost some zip off their fastball, they still bring enough heat to satisfy those weaned on the adventures of Homer and family. Much as it hurts to admit, The Simpsons is no longer television’s premiere source of subversive social commentary, even as it strives to remain relevant by tackling hot-button issues like creationism and global warming. It’s hardly toothless, but it lacks its onetime ferocity. 

Likewise, The Simpsons Movie is more sentimental than scathing. Watching Homer, the quintessential buffoonish dad, scrambling to save Springfield and his fractured family (and surviving a hallucinogenic trip over the frigid Alaskan tundra in the process) provides plenty of chuckles, if not belly laughs. More than anything, though, the film is a funny, poignant testament to the strength of an American family that may not always get along, but, even in the worst of times, somehow endures.

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