On the big screen, at last, Simpsonophiles have their questions answered: Can the Simpsons, the 18-year, 400-episode TV sitcom, successfully transition from half-hour cheekiness to 90-minute mayhem? Do the characters grow? Will Homer just say no to doughnuts?
Answers: Yes, sort of, and of course not.
The Simpsons Movie (rated PG-13 for irreverent humor throughout) is a snappy ode to Springfield and its yellow horde, and its creators did well to sequester its best on-the-minute gags from the taciturn trailers that have run for months. Even the plot is pretty decent, though it's just the Velcro for multiple animated shenanigans.
Comfortingly, the familiar TV tropes play over even in the plot. The mayor has sealed off the dangerously polluted Springfield Lake, but when Homer has to dispose of his silo of pig, uh, refuse (with free doughnuts beckoning), he hurriedly dumps it into the brackish water. That's the final poison, and the lake produces a mutated squirrel, prompting the EPA to enclose Springfield in a giant glass dome ("D'Ohhhhhhh . . . me").
Homer (Dan Castellaneta) must rescue the town and win back his estranged family, particularly Bart, who has given up on his buffoonish dad to join too-perfect neighbor Ned Flanders (Harry Shearer).
Here again the Simpsons' equal-opportunity satire continues to give the show an edge even as it has spawned imitators like South Park and Family Guy. Creators Matt Groening and James L. Brooks are self-proclaimed liberals, but they like to poke fun at liberal sanctities. The dome-dropping villain in the movie, for example, is the head of the EPA.
The film does push its sly humor beyond the borders of its TV episodes. Bart takes a dare to skateboard naked through town, and we get to see all of him. A couple of butch policemen kiss in a corner. The movie may not win new fans, but it probably won't lose old ones, either.
Most of all, The Simpsons does what it always does: poke fun at every nook, cranny, and crevice of American culture, both political and everyday. Whether it's grandpa Simpson babbling in tongues on the church floor or the self-important TV anchor who has to clip back wrinkles when he runs out of Botox, nobody's safe.