“I can’t believe we’re paying for something we get on tv for free.” – Homer (Dan Castellaneta)

I remember when the X-Files became a movie while the show was still on the air. There was a great deal of trepidation, by us fans, that the movie would be a “jump the shark” moment for the tv series or otherwise not be able to sustain an entire movie with its mythology. So of course we worried about what writer-producers James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Al Jean, and Mike Scully would do when they had to fill five times the usual space (when you take out the commercials) that a movie allows.

After 18 years of weekly genius, though some would argue that its best years are behind it, The Simpsons Movie has moments in it for new fans and long time fans alike. The movie succeeds at taking the best parts of what makes The Simpsons a long-standing great show and translates them to the big screen. Every bit as smart, with all of the social commentary, and all of the family dynamic, except deeper. Depth as opposed to more explosions, convoluted plot, or any other attempt at “bigger/more is better” that has afflicted many of the films this year (I’m especially looking at you Spider-Man 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End).

Marge (Julie Kavner) provides an emotional resonance that buoys the film, even during the moments where it drags a bit. After all, it has quite a few messages and bits of social commentary to juggle: a pro-environment stance, a meditation on family, and even a critique of politics and religion. The great thing about The Simpsons Movie is that when the movie begins to drag, or even thinks it’s about to, it throws in a distracting gag.

The difference between the two big pro-environment comedies of the summer is that Evan Almighty was message first, comedy second; while The Simpsons Movie is comedy first, message second. From Lisa (Yeardley Smith) and her “An Irritating Truth” presentation to the events leading up to Homer precipitating an environmental disaster, the movie doesn’t forget what it is here to do (and preaching isn’t one of them despite its lessons coming through loud and clear).

One of the lessons from the Genesis account of creation (in that book Homer could find no answers in) is that we were created to be stewards of creation. Yet, we’ve lost our connection with creation, continuing to develop new ways to either insulate ourselves from it or encroach our brand of civilization into it. Our souls are starved for God’s creation and even the Simpsons themselves retreat to a natural getaway in Alaska in order to find their spiritual connection to the environment.

“What’s the point of going to church every Sunday if when someone we love has a religious experience, we ignore it.” – Marge

The religious satire was on point, as critical as it was loving. The movie skewers the religiosity of folks who don’t know how to translate what they learn on Sundays (“Those pious morons are too busy talking to their phoney baloney God.” Homer opines) into lessons that don’t lead to them prepared to lynch someone (Homer) when pressed. Although Homer betrays that even he has missed the point of who he’s supposed to be learning about in church (“Praise Jebus.”).

When true spirituality gets it right, such as the cryptic though prophetic voice of a “caught up in the Spirit” Grandpa (Dan Castellaneta), the mystic side of it proves of little practical value. However, the core messages of what it means to be a good neighbor and what it means to be a family are embodied in Ned Flanders (Harry Shearer). Despite the caricature of him being the most pious of the pious, he also seems to be the only one who makes any attempt to live out what he believes. His example causes Bart (Nancy Cartwright) to question the qualities that make a good father. He continues to love his neighbors despite their antics. He is a caricature with heart, which also sums up the Simpsons: a satire with heart.

“Unless you have an epiphany, you will spend the rest of your days alone.” – Medicine Woman (Tress MacNeille)

As always, the movie centers around the dim-witted Homer and his antics which usually inspire a town to lynch him, him flee the city, and inadvertently cause him to examine himself and how he does things. All in quest of an epiphany – the sudden realization of a great truth; in Homer’s case, it was an end of self moment: “I don’t care about myself anymore because other people are just as important as me.” It is a long road he has to travel in the movie as he examines what it means to be a farther and husband as well as his responsibility to his neighbors. In order to save himself he has to save others.

Cartoon series translated into movies are tricky propositions. For every Beavis and Butthead do America there is a South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut. The Simpsons Movie falls into the latter category, using its extra allotted space to do more of what it does best. Expanding and using the various characters’ mythologies, ratcheting up the intensity of the family interplay. Pushing what they can get away with (in terms of language and nudity). There are no radical character developments. In fact, the characters never grow: lessons learned today are forgotten tomorrow. The Simpsons have remained the same for nearly twenty years and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

When all is said and done, The Simpsons Movie plays like an extra long episode of the television show, both subversive and good-hearted. Hmm, that’s not a bad review at all and all we can hope for from what some might consider an aging franchise. The movie works because they took the time, nearly six years and 11 writers, to do it right. This keeps my hope alive for what a 24 movie might look be able to accomplish.