Movies based on TV series can go in one of two routes. The first is the remake, where a TV series is used as the basis of a movie. CHiPS and the Mission: Impossible series of movies are a good example. Sometimes the remake works; sometimes it doesn’t. The other approach is to either continue a TV series or give the series an ending. Typically done with the same cast, the movie provides fans a chance to see the characters at least one last time. Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Serenity, and Veronica Mars are examples here. Of course, there are movies based on TV series that don’t fit into either category. Batman (1966) was created to advertise the TV series in the new markets it was going to. And then there’s The Simpsons Movie.
The Simpsons began as a feature on The Tracey Ullman Show in 1987. The popularity of the shorts increased their frequency over the run over The Tracey Ullman Show, leading to the creation of the TV series in 1989. The Simpsons has been running for thirty-one seasons as of this writing with no signs of stopping. The series had a short time being aired on Thursdays, defeating NBC’s powerhouse, The Cosby Show, in the ratings, before being moved to Sundays. The series is now the longest running American prime time series, live action or animated. Soap operas and sports broadcasts are the only TV series that have lasted longer. There are people watching The Simpsons that were born after the series started.
The Simpsons have been around long enough that anything that they could parody has long since ended. The show is now the media standard it made fun of in the past. What more can the Simpson family – Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie – get up to? America’s animated nuclear family, with a mother, a father, and 2.3 kids, has been through a lot, including moving their hometown of Springfield due to pollution. The series has a loose continuity. Big events tend to have echoes in later episodes, but other events are remembered when convenient.
A typical episode has one of the Simpsons, most likely Homer or Bart but even Maggie has instigated a plot or two, coming up with a scheme that backfires horribly. The rest of the episode has the cast trying to clean up the mess. The series has a large supporting cast thanks to being a long runner. It’s very possible now for a season to focus on a different character each episode and run out of time before running out of characters.
The year 2007 was twenty years after the first appearance of the Simpsons. The characters had evolved a lot in their animation style since their Tracey Ullman days. The only thing left was to go full CGI. The Simpsons Movie broke that barrier in glorious 2-D. With the same cast and crew as the TV series, the movie could easily keep to the core of what makes The Simpsons tick. It’s just a matter of what goes into the movie.
To no surprise, really, The Simpsons Movie plays as an extended episode of the TV series, just bigger thanks to the size of a movie screen. Things go horribly wrong yet again thanks to Homer. The fate of Springfield and all its inhabitants is sealed when Homer thinks with his stomach and makes the city’s already terrible pollution worse. The EPA cuts off Springfield from the rest of the world with a dome, with only the Simpsons able to escape.the city, just ahead of a lynch mob.
The movie plays with the idea of being based on a TV series, with screen crawls and a fade to black with “To Be Continued” on screen. Any character who appeared in the TV series appears in the movie with the possible exception of Side Show Bob. There’s an extended “Itchy & Scratchy” short to open the film before the opening credits, a more orchestrated version of the TV show’s credit sequence but ends with Green Day instead of a couch gag. The movie is The Simpsons, with more time to let the story idea play out and all the extras, such as cameos, that are expected.
The Simpsons Movie is just that, The Simpsons as a movie. The differences are in the budget, allowing for better animation for the bug screen, a fuller orchestration of the soundtrack, and higher stakes. For those expecting more than that, disappointment awaits. However, The Simpsons Movie delivers on the expectations set by The Simpsons.
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