High-Quality Animation is What Makes the Simpsons Movie Special

by Paul Hogarth on July 30, 2007

I’m a huge Simpsons fan, and have always been since the show first aired 17 years ago. So of course I went to see the Simpsons Movie this weekend on opening night. And not surprisingly, I loved it.

It’s hard to do a feature length film based on a TV series – especially one that has been around for so long and has done every possible plot line imaginable – without just making it a very long episode. For it to succeed, you have to offer something different. The only movie that had ever pulled this off before was “South Park,” where the show’s creators turned it into a musical. What makes the Simpsons Movie better than the TV program is the superior animation – which has a 3-D like quality due to a higher digital resolution. And for that reason alone, you should go see it in the movie theatre.

The Simpsons have been on the air since 1990, and is the longest running TV show in history. It has had a huge effect on our culture – where even Homer’s trademark “D’oh!” is now listed in the Oxford English Dictionary. Its enduring success is partly due to its combination of low-brow and high-brow humor. It is both a silly show with stupid gags, coupled with obscure cultural references that make the perceptive viewer feel smart.

In other words, the producers had a lot to live up to. The challenge of making a movie about the Simpsons is totally unlike a film based on any other TV show. Most sitcoms make a film based on their series in order to draw more attention to their emerging program. With the Simpsons, the show has already made it big – and the real danger is just making it a very long episode that offers nothing different for the hard-core fans.

Without giving too much away, the film’s storyline was pretty much what you would expect from watching a typical Simpsons episode – only 60 minutes longer and without commercial interruption.

Homer is a complete idiot, but he’s too stupid to realize how much of a jerk he is – which makes him lovable. Marge is a bored housewife who worries too much. Lisa is an environmentalist, and the only brains in the family. The movie features a good number of the show’s minor characters, but with over 50 recurring characters on the program it is impossible for all of them to play a prominent role.

The one different twist in the film is that Bart develops an appreciation for Ned Flanders, but that’s certainly not central to the plot. So if you’re already familiar with the TV show and religiously watch every episode like I do, there really isn’t much in the movie’s storyline and character development that hasn’t already been done. There aren’t even that many “inside jokes” that only long-time viewers of the show could pick up on.

For months, I had been hearing two rumors about what would happen in the Simpsons Movie that turned out to be false: (a) they would kill off Homer, and (b) they were going to finally end the series after the movie, in order to leave with a bang. It made sense when you thought about it. How can the show possibly keep going in perpetuity, and how else can the movie make its distinguishing mark?

The answer lies in the animation. Unlike the TV show, the characters have shadows and the color scheme is larger – which makes it a truly different visual experience. As a cartoon, The Simpsons’ animation has always been very crude. “It’s deliberately imperfect,” said creator Matt Groening, and “a tribute to the art of hand-drawn animation, which is basically disappearing.”

While the film producers kept the animation similar to the show, there was a subtle upgrade in its quality that gave it a far more professional feel. I was very lucky to watch the film in a large multiplex theatre, and got a seat in the very back row. While I didn’t feel that the storyline was all that special, the animation quality was really what kept my interest captivated for 90 minutes.

At the beginning of the movie, Homer makes a joke that will certainly not be lost on any crowd who watches it in a theatre: “why are we so stupid to pay to see what we can watch at home for free?” Most reviews of the Simpsons Movie have repeated this line to argue a basic point – that the film is nothing but a 90-minute Simpsons episode.

On the surface, they’re right. But the animation is what makes it special, and why you should go see it while it’s still in the movie theatres. And for that reason, I’m glad I paid my $10 – when I could just as easily watch The Simpsons at home every Sunday night.

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