That isn’t entirely a bad thing. For almost 20 years, “The Simpsons” and its colorful cast of characters have been hallmarks of Americana, producing some of the sharpest satire on television and ensuring themselves (and the myriad real people who bring them to life) a place in the television hall of fame. But even Muhammad Ali had to hang it up eventually, and despite peaking for far longer than most shows ever dream of, “The Simpsons” has been in a long, slow decline carried by inertia a much as anything else and that same malaise affects “The Simpsons Movie” as well.
Which isn’t to say it’s bad, the writer’s are just too good at what they do for that, but it rarely rises above chuckle worthy, though chuckles do come fast and furious, especially in the first half. The Simpsons’ beloved home of Springfield, it turns out, is the most polluted place in America and President Schwarzenegger has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to do something. Of course, everyone knows that when the E.P.A. involved it’s just a hop, skip and a jump before your town is encased inside a giant plastic dome, and that’s just what happens here.
Anyone even remotely associated with “The Simpsons” knows that their plots aren’t much more than excuses to hang a vast array of throwaway gags off of, and the movie is no different. However, unlike the show, which like most television has to resort to unconnected subplots to give the entire family something to do, everything in the movie works as a connected whole. Every gag builds on the gag before it and even off sight gags quickly become relevant.
Despite the promising start, though, “The Simpsons Movie” slows down considerably in its second half as the titular family escapes the dome for the wintry paradise of Alaska. The problem is that, apart from Homer (Dan Castellaneta), the Simpsons themselves aren’t inherently funny, and even Homer can only do so much by himself. The show’s real humor has always come from their interactions with the town’s other inhabitants, and when they’re left behind the film becomes noticeably less engaging. What few moments they do get can’t help but feel perfunctorily.
The voice cast does its usual stellar work, with an able helping hand from Albert Brooks as the megalomaniacal head of the E.P.A. A film-sized budget and running time has allowed the filmmakers a great deal of freedom than is possible on the show, and they embrace it heartily, as well as the PG-13 rating, sneaking in some more risqué humor that it feels like they’ve been waiting years to do. If only it were a little funnier.
Not a bad or even mediocre movie by any stretch of the imagination, “The Simpsons Movie” doesn’t ever reach its real potential, but there’s enough good material at the start to mostly make up for a draggy second half. Still, if you like the Simpsons on television, you’ll like them on the big screen just as well.