18 years after making a huge leap from short segments aired between skits on the Tracy Ullman Show into a huge primetime phenomenon going head to head with the formerly uncontested Cosby Show, the Simpsons have finally released their first major motion picture. Simply titled The Simpsons Movie, it is one film that refuses to be buried underneath blockbuster summer hits like Transformers. With the extensive and increasingly unorthodox marketing campaigns out there these days, The Simpsons Movie has upped the ante quite a bit. Even the paranoid and anti-social who have sold their computers and televisions to fund their crystal meth habits will have the opportunity to view the fruits of these marketing labors. They’ll be bombarded with advertisements when they ride their rusted pink huffy bike from the local pawn shop down to buy that sweet, sweet glass through an Irock Camaro window in the parking lot of their neighborhood 7-11 and Burger King locations.
One advertising method being used, in conjunction with Burger King, is something called “Simpsonization” . Theoretically, you can go to a website called Simpsonizeme.com and upload a picture of yourself, which will then be transmorphed into a version of you as a Simpsons characature. You may have seen this advertised on sites like Myspace.com. Tom even finally changed his avatar to make it a Simpsonized version of himself. To those who have spent time turning ourselves into cartoon versions of South Park characters or a goofy ass Zwinky, it must sound like an upgrade. You may be wondering, “So you just put in the picture and it does all the work?” The answer is to that is a resounding “NO!” It really isn’t that great. In fact, it takes twice as long. After uploading a picture, you still have to type in all of the information for your appearance and then wait forever while it loads. Even then, you have to manually alter your appearance step by step. Another issue is that your photograph must first adhere to specific guidline, such as pixelation. It’s ridiculous, because you can pretty much upload a picture of anyone and it still wouldn’t make any difference. Now you might be wondering, “How come your picture at the top of this article looks so crazy gangsta fresh then?” It’s called photoshop. Sorry kids, if you want a blood stained wife beater, 357 Magnum and fistfuls of loot for yours, you’re gonna have to add those yourselves. I even added the clouds to the background, but the most interesting thing about that picture isn’t the Simponization at all.
The Kwik-E-Mart that my “character” appears to have just jacked, is from an actual photograph that I took of a converted 7-11 at 362 Denny Way, in downtown Seattle. It was a bit alarming when I saw this cartoon mini-mart turned real-life. All of the signs and exterior have been covered to simulate the cartoon likeness of the fictional convenience store. There are characters from the program displayed in various locations, both inside and out. They even carry Kwik-E-Mart products. The Slurpee machine is now labeled a Squishee machine and they even sell products like Buzz Cola, but if someone tells you that they are selling Duff beer they are full of shit, it’s not part of the promotion. They do have a limited edition #711 Radioactive Man comic book that you can purchase though, if they haven’t sold out. This is a fascinating new take on product placement for films. Instead of packing the movie full of products from established companies, products which were formerly only fictional, have actually been created for sale in real life.
The first time that I stepped into the “Kwik-E-Mart” I was sleep deprived from working since 4am. It was surreal to be greeted by a Middle Eastern man in an actual Kwik-E-Mart shirt. “Look at you” I said, “They even got you all dressed up like a cartoon in a Kwik-E-Mart shirt, huh?” Without missing a beat, he responded in his natural East Indian accent, “You want to buy it, how much?” He was even trying to hustle me like his animated counterpart. I asked if a lot of people have been trying to buy it off of him and he confirmed my suspicions with a simple nod. Although most 7-11 locations are selling Simpson related products, it turns out that there are only 11 across the United States, none of which are located in any of the 14 actual cities named Springfield, and one in British Columbia that have been transformed like this through the end of July. Believe it or not, this marketing campaign was an incredibly cost effective one for the Simpsons promoters to take on. The campaign, which is reportedly costing somewhere in the single millions, is actually being funded the 7-11 corporation itself.
The best promotion that I have seen so far is for a line of custom Simpsons footwear from Vans. A dozen artists were chosen to design Simpson inspired footwear which was then released to the public on July 14th. The shoes were premiered at the Bodega Store in Hollywood on June 12th to rave reviews and sold out rapidly. This, of course, makes these shoes the next likely candidate to go for large amounts of cash, along side the Kwik-E-Mart employee uniforms which are already selling for upwards of $300 on ebay.
There was already a huge line outside when I went to see the film on it’s Friday release date at Seattle’s Cinerama. Some people wondered, and even more of them hoped, “Perhaps there is a line for people who already have tickets.” There wasn’t. There is no wait with the new automated format they’re using, so if you bought you’re tickets last week, its still too damn bad. I thought back to the Simpsons episode where Bart was forbidden to see the Itchy & Scratchy movie. This actual Simpsons movie is definitely falling short of the hype from a fake movie in one of it’s own episodes. Waiting in line, however, I could sense a little excitement growing from the people around me. It was a lot like when we went to see Transformers, but the main difference was that, instead of everybody talking about the new Harry Potter film, they were all talking about the new Harry Potter literature.
The intro of the film, as well as parts of the beginning immediately address what everyone is thinking. They reference the fact that the audience has been watching a film in a theater that they have been watching on television for 2 decades already. Another nice touch is the resurrection of the old abandoned formula of starting a movie with a short cartoon. The difference here is that this one, which starred Itchy & Scratchy, actually merged into the movie as opposed to being played before it. The audience is able to get their Itchy & Scratchy fix without having it arbitrarily tossed into the film in some unwarranted location.
You may be wondering if this film is appropriate for your children and, although it does begin with a violent cartoon, which is even viewed as morally suspect on the program itself, I would still answer yes. There was a time when the Simpsons were regarded as one of the more crass and inappropriate shows on television for the family, and, although I almost hate to admit it, times have changed. With the additions of cartoons like The Family Guy and South Park over the years as well as Matt Groening’s other project, Futurama, The Simpsons have become a relatively tame program in comparison. If you took your kids to see Transformers, I wouldn’t worry about this one. The first Transformers movie released in 1986 shocked many of us when they used one classic line of profanity, however, skip to 2007 and you have an autobot speaking fluent ebonics and shouting out phrases like “What’s up bitches!” There has clearly been a shift in what is being deemed acceptable. There are a few adult themes addressed in this film, but they will most likely go right over a youngster’s head, just like the classic cartoons always did. You know, like the Warner Bros. cartoons featuring Hitler. He was just a zany character that had the same moustache as in the Charlie Chaplin parodies which were such a staple on Sesame St. during my childhood years. I couldn’t even tell the difference.
Not only have these newer animated programs added more of an edge to television in recent years, they have also edged out the The Simpsons in the quality, wit, consistency, and relevance departments. It seems that, as soon as people began to comment on the amazing consistency of the show and, right after FOX signed an extended contract, The Simpsons began to lose that very consistency immediately. I don’t know if they’ve been stocking up on punchlines and saving them for this film but, in my opinion, the first 10-15 minutes was packed with more entertainment than the last five seasons of the Sunday night program. I really did enjoy the humor and the jokes. That is, I enjoyed the ones that I could actually hear over the extended laughs and applauses from the people searching for comradory and a human experience in a theater of random movie goers.
If you are a long-time Simpsons fan you will definitely enjoy this movie. They throw in all of the classic themes such as Homer being a less than adequate husband and father, but they balance the plot really well. They touch on each and every aspect just enough without forcing you to sit through and entire episode that’s solely based on some cheesy Lisa love interest or global activism storyline to fill tape. Sure, all of that’s in there, but it isn’t overdone. There is even a point where they manage to tug on the old heart strings for a brief moment, but it is done well and effectively so it didn’t make me want to shoot my self in the face.
What I especially enjoyed was that they didn’t try anything too new or overwhelming for the script. Although, there were brief cameos from the likes of Tom Hanks and Green Day, they didn’t run it into the ground. Joe Mantenga does the voice Fat Tony, of course, and Albert Brooks does the voice of a government official, but how many box office dollars are they gonna realistically bring in? They don’t pull that shit where they bring in a new character to spice it up or add anything that is too unnecessary that would, most likely, have alienated their loyal audience.
Years back when Matt Groening gave an alumni speech at the college I was attending, he mentioned that the school paper wouldn’t print his comics. I liked hearing that because they had banned my comics as well. The major difference was that he became editor just so that he could print them himself. This is something that he wanted for a long time and worked at. Over time the art has become a beast of its own and has, no doubt, become more difficult to control as more and more trusted writers and contributors come and go. I don’t feel that this is a mind-blowing epic production, but I do feel that it does bring back some of that spark that has been lost. The Simpsons franchise has hopefully re-inflated some of the air that has slowly seeped out over the years through excessive merchanding and misguided projects like “The Simpsons Sing The Blues” .
(added note: the credits are laced with little additions, so, if you are into that sort of thing, don’t leave early!!)