‘The Simpsons’ celebrate 20 years of animated laughs

By Patrick Wagner

“The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special: In 3-D! On Ice!”

Directed by: Morgan… “The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special: In 3-D! On Ice!”

Directed by: Morgan Spurlock

Starring: Morgan Spurlock, Matt Groening

Fox Broadcasting Company

Grade: B+

In a world rampant with Tomacco deaths, corrupt Quimbys and more Family Guy-Star Warscrimes than you can shake a Smithers at, it’s nice to know that every Sunday night the most lovable of Springfield’s bright yellow families will be there to tickle America’s funny bone. After 20 years of Bart, Lisa, Maggie, Santa’s Little Helper, Marge and of course the notorious Homer, “The Simpsons” will be celebrated this most monumental of milestones with an hour-long documentary examining every aspect of “The Simpsons” phenomena.

Directed by Academy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker and lifelong Simpsons fan Morgan Spurlock, this look at Springfield’s illustrious television history is more than just a report on the negative congenital effects of the Krusty Burger.

In keeping with the tone of “The Simpsons,” much of what interests Spurlock is not what would be found in an encyclopedia but insteadthe show’s most popular quirks and its rabid fandom — a wise choice by a director who knows how to engage an audience while still conveying the essential information. From Matt Groening’s shorts on “The Tracey Ullman Show” to Argentina’s budding — and legally pending — Duff beer market, there’s little here that doesn’t entertain.

The sheer size of this program is incredible and demonstrates the cultural power of the series from within its one hour time slot. Today, adult-oriented animated comedies make up a sizeable portion of America’s most popular shows. With examples as far-reaching as Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s “South Park” and Seth MacFarlane’s 800-pound animated gorilla known as “Family Guy,” it’s easy to see how “The Simpsons” broke new ground on what primetime television could be. Indeed, all of these creative forces exclaim its influence for Spurlock’s lens.

Not merely a relic, the show celebrates its 21st season with the companion episode — entitled “Once Upon a Time in Springfield” — a perfect example of how the show can remain relevant and fresh, even with characters that are more than 20 years old.

Anne Hathaway lends her voice to a love interest named Penelope for everyone’s favorite children’s television entertainer: Krusty the Clown. Despite the hyperbolic sweetness of their love, nothing is overdone, and with his Rabbi father in tow — voiced marvelously by Jackie Gleason — Krusty’s humanity is once again confirmed.

Similarly, the parallel story involving the power plant’s attempt to cut costs by eliminating donuts lets us laugh at absurdities in our most beloved culture: embracing Gary Larson, the healthcare debate and those most delicious of evils known as trans-fats.

Taken together, this hour-and-a-half of programming creates an image of the most important cultural force we’ve had for the past 20 years, which continues to define what’s funny. Although the episodes aren’t instant classics like “Last Exit to Springfield,” they’ll both leave a more-than-delicious Ribwich taste in your mouth. Now if only we could figure out who REALLY shot Mr. Burns…

Fans can watch the full episode online at www.fox.com.