Oct 28, 1998 at 12:00 am

It's Sunday night and "The Simpsons" are on: the special Halloween episodes. The script is tight and the film references intelligent and amusing as usual. But then Bart and Lisa start fighting over the remote and, before they know it, they're trapped on the other side of the television screen, inside a cartoon show.

"Oh, no, we're cartoon characters," screams Lisa. "If I know cartoons, this is how it works," says Bart and draws an eject button which throws them out of a speeding car. Thus Pleasantville makes its debut not only in movie theaters, but also as a bit of film history in the making, to be stored inside "The Simpsons"' film vault, together with the old and modern classics.

The remote control scene reproduces with fidelity the opening of Pleasantville's trailer, which we wish we hadn't seen since it reveals every twist in the story. True, we shouldn't watch films solely for their stories, we should feast our eyes on their beauty, but that often happens only in the movies, in an ideal world, not unlike that of Pleasantville itself.

In the beginning, everything is swell: fresh muffins in the pristine windows of the bakery, a steady 72 degrees with no rain, smiling housewives, perfect kids. Then David (Tobey Maguire) and Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) arrive, two typical teenagers from an equally bankrupt universe, and the Oz formula starts working again. Without knowing it, Pleasantville yearns for color and excitement, while David wishes for a simpler life with his newly found family (Joan Allen and W.H. Macy).

But Pleasantville exists inside an absurd and terrifying state of perfection which censors everything that might threaten its ephemeral equilibrium: intimacy, sensuality, the written word. Books have blank pages in the libraries of Pleasantville; firemen have never experienced the devastation of fire; geography lessons concern themselves with the melancholy streets of the town. Why the nostalgia for the '50s? And why are the first images that come to mind scenes from The Stepford Wives and Fahrenheit 451?

So, what's outside of Pleasantville? Nothing but formidable, devastating, hilarious, unpredictable, unbound life!

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