American Animation Round 2: Beer Bring Pain!

The Simpsons

It must be five years ago that I first heard tell of a strange, yellow-faced family taking America by storm. Wondrous tales of biting satire, film and music references galore and merciless parodies of American life and culture started to filter across the great soggy divide, setting my taste-buds alight with curiosity. At first I was sceptical of the enthusiasm given to the telling of these tales: I remember reading of land-lubbers being wooed by old sea-dogs, with tales of mermaids; was this just another story peppered with imagination? I was determined to find out, so set sail on a journey of discovery to the United States of America…well, went there on holiday anyway. The trek was long and arduous, many ship-mates were taken by scurvy (probably the in-flight meals). But I was so close, there was no turning back. Then off the starboard bow, blurry in the distance (too much duty-free Vodka), I spied the S.S.“Simpson”. The stories were true, under-estimated if anything, my search was ended; all that remained now was to see every episode.

Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie were the main crew, ably assisted by religious neighbour from hell Ned Flanders, bar-owner Moe, Grandpa Simpson, Barney the drunk, Krusty the Clown, Mr. Burns (owner of the nuclear plant), Selma and Patty (Marge’s sisters), to name just a few. Yellow faced perfection, where had they been all these years?

It was obviously aimed at a junior audience, but the good ship “Simpson”…okay, okay, enough “Ancient Mariner” crap… has much to offer the culturally aware. Film references include “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (several times), “Clockwork Orange”, “Thelma and Louise”, “Childs Play”. There’s a whole episode modelled around “Goodfellas”, with Bart in the Ray Liotta role and another that’s almost scene by scene, “Cape Fear” – Bart is hunted onto a house-boat. Musical performances (cartoon characters, real soundtrack) by such luminaries as The Ramones, Aerosmith, Spinal Tap, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and more. Guest voice skills of Michelle Pfeiffer, Elizabeth Taylor, Kelsey Grammer, Sting, Dustin Hoffman, Linda Ronstadt and Brooke Shields to name just a few. In short “The Simpsons” is the place to be seen, even in a sometimes less than flattering cartoon form.

I guess some reading this are fans of anime and view all this with a certain mistrust, “Where’s the violence?”, I hear you cry. Everywhere! “Itchy & Scratchy”: a cartoon within a cartoon, cat and mouse that make “Tom and Jerry” look like “My Little Pony” – eyeballs replaced by bombs, tongues tied around rockets, heads cut off with a razor then dancing in the arterial spray, heads eaten by ants…and that’s just the printable stuff. There was also an Arnie piss-take called “McBain” with a body-count to rival any “video nasty” (such as “Reservoir Dogs” …huh??!!) and five (I think) Halloween specials with “Simpsons” versions of “Child’s Play”, “The Twilight Zone”, “The Raven”, “Return of the Living Dead”, “Dracula” and “Salem’s Lot”. Kids’ stuff? I think not. There’s so much that’s wasted on young minds, I can only hope it helps educate them to the finer things in life; cult movies, rock music, doughnuts and beer, all in excess and pure heaven!

“The Simpsons” was started by Matt Groenig to “send up the bastions of American culture” and has, ironically, become a major part of said culture, thanks mostly to the merchandising people, though I don’t suppose Groenig is groaning…(sorry!) If anyone deserves success it’s “The Simpsons” crew – Matt and his gang go from strength to strength with each series more biting than the last, it’s unusual to find a programme that gets better as it goes on, but here it is, and believe me nothing is sacred to these guys – these are a few of the tag-lines:

  • Bart finds 3-eyed fish in a pond next to the nuclear plant.
  • Homer is put in an asylum for wearing a pink shirt to work.
  • Homer gets poisoned in a sushi restaurant.
  • Bart gets run over by Mr. Burns, and the Simpsons sue for damages.
  • Krusty the Clown is arrested for robbing the kwiki-mart.
  • Homer discovers he’s shooting blanks, sperm-wise; he also discovers a half-brother.
  • Marge gets obsessed with gambling, Mr. Burns turns into Howard Hughes.

“The Simpsons” was originally intended for, and broadcast on, “The Tracey Ullman Show”, but you wouldn’t recognize the characters now as they look completely different. All the voice over artists were working on Tracey’s show; the woman who does Marge’s voice was Rhoda’s sister in the series of the same name (remember that old chestnut?). In fact there was a court-case a few years back when Tracey Ullman tried to get money from Matt Groenig claiming she invented the characters used in “The Simpsons”; needless to say, this failed.

The first ‘real’ episode as we know it was “Some Enchanted Evening”, since when there’s been more than 100 episodes and very few aren’t worth checking out a.s.a.p. They’ve tried changing the animation style several times; unlike latter “Tom and Jerry” and “Bugs Bunny” the scripts are still good. There’s been speculation about a movie for some years, let’s hope it’s not far from realisation. Mmmhhh, Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie on the big screen…

“The Simpsons“ has out-lived the hype and surpassed every promise ten-fold. It gets more cutting and hilarious with each addition to its, already full, family tree. If you’re not already watching “The Simpsons” religiously get down your local video shop or branch of W.H. Smiths and buy, rent, borrow or steal some choice cuts of Simpson humour now!

[Steve C.]