"The Simpsons Movie" was a full-length, animated film released in 2007 and based on The Simpsons television show, which by that point was over 15 years old. It featured the same voice actors as the Simpsons live show: Dan Castellenata, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer, all voicing both the Simpsons family and various residents of Springfield.
By the time the movie debuted, the first episode of the Simpsons had aired 18 years before, and the first short on The Tracey Ullman Show was 20 years old. The show had passed through being a fad for middle school children, to a source of edgy humor for teens, to an agreeable staple of American comedy. The show's quality and relevance had already been debated for a decade at this point. So what could a Simpsons movie do? And by the time I watched this movie, those discussions were themselves almost 15 years old. Somehow, I managed to spend a decade and a half without learning what happened in this movie, even by the usual process of pop-cultural osmosis.
The first thing I noticed when watching is that this looks like an episode of The Simpsons, only with more detail, richer backgrounds, and more characters appearing in each scene. The first 20 to 30 minutes of the movie (as long as a normal episode), are a series of gags before we find the real plot. Briefly: Green Day die in a polluted Lake Springfield, Lisa meets a sensitive, artistic Irish boy, Grandpa Simpson has a strange vision in church, Bart Simpson realizes that Ned Flanders is a better father than Homer, and Homer Simpson adopts...a Spider-Pig. The real plot begins when (due to Homer's incompetence and a silo full of pig feces), Lake Springfield becomes so polluted that the EPA (with the approval of a President Arnold Schwarzenegger) drops a gigantic dome over Springfield. (Among the many ridiculous aspects of this movie, we are asked to believe that an actor-turned-president would overreact to a national health crisis.)
About a half hour in, the real plot begins. When the residents of Springfield find out that Homer is responsible, they attempt to lynch him, and the Simpsons flee to Alaska, with the show alternating between the Simpsons' journey to Alaska and the deteriorating state of Springfield under the dome. In Alaska, the Simpsons discover that the EPA is going to move on from trapping Springfield to eradicating it in a nuclear bomb burst. Marge and the children head back to save Springfield, but Homer is too selfish to want to do anything---until he realizes he misses Marge, goes on a spirit journey and has an epiphany. He follows them back to Springfield, saves the city at the last moment, and the movie ends with Homer, his family, and the town of Springfield reconciling and returning to normal.
Describing the plot might be doing a disservice to the movie because the movie is packed with almost constant gags, visual and spoken, some of them producing a sensible chuckle while others are truly funny. It would be impossible to list every joke or gag used in the movie, and even if we ignore the plot, it is a fun movie to watch. Where else can you see Green Day reenact being the band on the sinking Titanic? The fact that this was a movie and not a television show also allowed things that couldn't be shown or said on broadcast television, including one early scene that managed to surprise me.
But lets return to the plot. The basic idea of the plot is that Homer is a selfish idiot, Marge is long-suffering, but that underneath his oafish exterior, Homer is a good person. This is territory that has been explored before in The Simpsons, and in fact, was the basic character dynamic of the show. In fact, the entire movie could be seen as an extended version of "The Mysterious Voyage of Our Homer", complete with mysterious Indigenous American guides. Springfield had been destroyed by Homer's polluting habits once before, in "Trash of the Titans". So once the movie had settled out of its early rapid-fire gag phase, I found the plot and characterization to be predictable.
The gags and humor and action were consistent and amusing. But The Simpsons Movie didn't really use the longer time and bigger budget to do anything with the show that hadn't been done before. I'm not so much of a killjoy to expect a Simpsons movie to make too many avant-garde leaps, but I did find myself thinking that it could have done something just a little bit more than what it did.