The deafening buzz greeting The Simpsons Movie represents a marriage of convenience between savvy corporate marketing and frothing fanboy adulation. Fox has stoked anticipation for the film to feverish levels simply by tapping into the massive groundswell of goodwill the show has built up over two decades as one of the country's most beloved pop-culture phenomena. Such torrents of hype often lead to crushing disappointment, but The Simpsons Movie more or less justifies its massive buildup. It isn't the best movie ever, nor will it make fans forget the show's early-'90s golden years, but audiences will probably be too busy laughing to complain about any shortcomings.
In a plot that combines John Swartzwelder zaniness with James L. Brooks sentiment, The Simpsons Movie pushes the destructive tendencies of hapless patriarch Homer Simpson to their logical extreme. When Homer's thoughtlessness causes an ecological disaster of extinction-level proportions, EPA head Russ Cargill (voiced by Simpsons favorite Albert Brooks) sequesters the entire city of Springfield under a giant dome. On the home front, Marge once again begins to wonder whether Homer's brusque façade hides a core of innate decency, or simply more boorishness. It's up to Homer to save Springfield and his marriage, in roughly that order. The fingerprints of co-writer/producer James L. Brooks are all over the genuinely tender moments sprinkled amongst the silliness, such as a surprisingly poignant subplot that finds Bart embracing Jesus-loving neighbor Ned Flanders as a warm, supportive, stable surrogate father figure.
Where The Simpsons' social satire once had fangs, it now sports something closer to baby teeth. Though the writers take potshots at their parent corporation, as well as one of its primary corporate competitors (here's a hint: it rhymes with Misney), there's no danger of Fox being nibbled to death by its prize piranha. But like a legendary band trotting out old hits, The Simpsons Movie benefits from a soothing sense of familiarity: The gags, themes, and ideas are familiar and well-worn, but there's joy in them all the same. Though it never regains the inspiration or comic density of its brilliant first 20 minutes, The Simpsons Movie keeps the laughs coming from start to finish, a feat as rare and wonderful in film as it has been through 18 years of television.