And that is The Simpsons Movie in a nutshell — a 90-minute, years-in-the-making comic wind-up machine that begins by mocking its own audience for paying good money to see what it can watch at home for free and proceeds through the most wickedly funny arsenal of assaults on big government, organized religion and corporate America this side of Borat (which, like The Simpsons Movie, somehow managed to use Rupert Murdochs money to do so). This, of course, has long been the beauty of creator Matt Groenings two-decade-old television behemoth and bona fide cultural institution, where a firm grip of dysfunctional family values and the facade of kid-friendly animation have provided a fertile breeding ground for the kind of social satire that sails right over the heads of some while striking others squarely where they live.
In all fairness, The Simpsons Movie doesnt exactly go where no episode of the TV series has gone before. Rather, what The Simpsons Movie does — and does extremely well — is revisit the series most enduring situations and themes while upping the ante just enough to lend everything a new level of suspense. This time around, Homers doughnut-addled dunderheadedness doesnt merely put his own family in jeopardy; it nearly causes Springfield itself to be wiped off the map. Meanwhile, even on the home front, the consequences are more dire: Duly humiliated after being bullied by Homer into a nude-skateboarding dare — one of several priceless gags unforgivably revealed in the movies trailer — Bart goes searching for a more stable father figure and nearly finds one in (egads!) Ned Flanders. And in a subplot that turns out to carry unexpected emotional weight, the ever-resilient Marge (voiced, as usual, by the redoubtable Julie Kavner) is forced to examine the very bedrock of her marriage to see if theres anything worth salvaging. That leads to a third-act monologue — for which longtime Simpsons writer-producer (and Terms of Endearment Oscar winner) James L. Brooks reportedly demanded more than 100 takes from Kavner — that is one of the deepest and most searching examinations of the meaning of I do that Ive ever heard in a movie. It does the last thing you might expect The Simpsons Movie to do: It leaves you with a lump in your throat.
The Simpsons Movie has much else to recommend it, not least a wonderfully surreal, Dali-like encounter between Homer and an Inuit medicine woman in the wilds of Alaska (dont ask). And after 18 seasons of seeing Springfield squeezed into the tiny parameters of the television frame, theres an undeniable kick to the movie versions vivid widescreen compositions. But the most meaningful achievement of The Simpsons Movie may be its reminder that we dont merely take pleasure in the weekly exploits of Homer, Marge, Bart, Maggie, Lisa, Grandpa, Patty, Selma, Milhouse, Flanders, Moe, Apu, Smithers, Mr. Burns, et al.; we look at them — yellow skin, blue hair, bulging eyes and all — and see reflected back the best and worst of ourselves in an uncannily accurate portrait of the modern American family.