TV to movie to DVD...but better on TV.
After 18 years (and counting) of laughs on the small screen, The Simpsons make their big screen debut Friday. The Simpsons Movie was directed by David Silverman, the show's supervising animation director, from a screenplay by series veterans James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Al Jean, Ian Maxtone-Graham, George Meyer, David Mirkin, Mike Reiss, Mike Scully, Matt Selman, John Swartzwelder, and Jon Vitti. Voice cast regulars Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer, Pamela Hayden, and Tress MacNeille reprise their respective multiple roles for the movie. Also joining them is Albert Brooks, a veteran of several past Simpsons episodes.
The environmentally-themed story sees Homer J. Simpson alienate himself from his loved ones and fellow citizens of Springfield in what is arguably his most foolishly destructive act yet. After saving a pig he dubs "Spider-Pig" (watch the clip below), Homer uses a silo to store all his beloved new pet's droppings. But what's Homer to do when the silo is full and, thanks to Lisa's public campaigning, dumping in Lake Springfield is now prohibited? Take a wild guess.
Springfield undergoes an environmental disaster as a result, prompting President Arnold Schwarzenegger (voiced by Shearer) to take drastic -- and permanent -- action against Springfield to contain the trouble. The president, however, is but a pawn in the machinations of cunning EPA chief Russ Cargill (voiced by Brooks).
After the residents of Springfield discover that Homer is to blame for the horrific fate that's befallen their fair city, they turn into a bloodthirsty mob out to get him once and for all. The Simpsons manage to flee Springfield, becoming wanted fugitives sought by the EPA. But Homer doesn't truly learn his lesson until his own family -- frustrated by his years of thoughtless shenanigans -- rejects him. Bart finds himself drawn to an unlikely new father figure, Marge is at the end of her rope and Lisa feels betrayed by Homer's blatant disregard for nature. Homer must realize the error of his ways and set things right if he is to win back the love of his family and the respect of his neighbors.
The Simpsons Movie is a briskly-paced tale that boasts some big laughs and reminds those who long ago stopped watching the show why they liked it to begin with. There's also plenty of heart in this story, with some genuine heartstrings-tugging at various points. The film manages to maintain the tone and overall look of the series while amping things up visually and emotionally.
That said, the film never quite succeeds in justifying that it had to be told as a feature rather than as a TV movie. While it's not exactly an extended episode of the show, the overall gist of the plot is too similar to those of countless episodes: Homer screws up badly and must set things right if he's to keep his family and community intact.
The EPA's plan is certainly bold, but nothing here can top Mr. Burns blacking out the sun. And while the jokes are good and plenty, the movie never achieves the brilliance of episodes such as "Marge vs. the Monorail," the two-part "Who Shot Mr. Burns?," or pretty much anything from seasons two through nine of the series.
The movie does at least broaden the canvas the story is played out on, but fans expecting to see many of the series' usual haunts -- school, Moe's Tavern, the nuclear plant -- will be disappointed to find that they are merely glimpsed here. For all its shortcomings, though, The Simpsons Movie offers enough yuks to make it an entertaining experience.
Score: 6 out of 10