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The Rite of Springfield.

I’m not about to give away the splendid opening sequence of The Simpsons Movie, suffice to say it includes a hilarious JFK homage and culminates with Homer (Dan Castellaneta) declaring something to the effect of “Why would anyone want to pay for a movie you can see for free on TV? Everyone in this theatre is a sucker!” Well, true, but this is The Simpsons, after all. And while this movie basically just plays out like a longer episode of the long-running, award-winning, much-beloved TV show, there are much worse ways to spend eleven bucks and 90 minutes of your time than an extended visit to Springfield. I caught this movie at a Friday afternoon matinee, and it basically felt like watching TV in a very big living room, with lots and lots of friends over, all enjoying themselves to the fullest. So, if you have any fondness at all for the Simpsons clan (and I presume that includes most of America, if not the western world), definitely check out the flick — You know what you’re getting, sure, but the getting is good from opening logo to closing credits. (And if you’re of the mind that the show has lost a step in recent seasons, have no fear — this is the primo, vintage stuff.)

At the start of The Simpsons, life continues in Springfield much as it has this past age — Homer is still an amiable oaf; Marge a long-suffering homemaker; Bart an anarchic terror; Lisa, an earnest intellectual; Maggie a silent enigma. But developments soon arise which threaten to shake the very foundations of this small-town American idyll: Grandpa Abe Simpson experiences what might have been a religious epiphany during Rev. Lovejoy’s Sunday service, Lisa realizes the nearby lake is lurching toward ecological catastrophe, Bart takes a second look at neighbor Ned Flanders as father material, and Homer adopts a pig. And, just as Lisa tries to warn the (rather disinterested) town — in her presentation, “An Irritating Truth” — about the dangers of overpolluting the local loch, Homer, in the throes of donut addiction, disposes of his new pet’s droppings in said lake, precipitating a Malcolm Gladwell-ish tipping point that immediately turns the waters black and causes the EPA (yes, this is the first movie since Ghostbusters where the EPA are the villains) to seal off the town in a large, unbreakable, transparent dome. As you might imagine, the town doesn’t take too kindly to their new total and utter isolation, and when a trail of (rather obvious) clues lead back to the culprit…well, let’s just say “D’oh!”

There’s more to the story from there, including definitive proof that this Springfield isn’t in Alaska. (In fact, it borders Ohio, Nevada, Maine, and Kentucky.) But all of it is in general keeping with what you’ve come to expect from the television show: jokes, witticisms, and sight gags delivered at rat-a-tat speed in sly, warm-hearted and/or vaguely misanthropic fashion. (My favorites include the aforementioned opener, a sight gag involving Moe’s bar and the Springfield church, “You’re the five people I’ll meet in Hell!”, Santa’s Little Helper’s subtitles, and most anything involving Kent Brockman, Hans Moleman, Capt. McAllister, Comic Book Guy, or Professor Frink.)

The devastatingly funny South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut upped the ante for the big screen by really reveling in the no-holds-barred vileness that’s often only alluded to on the show. But, other than a brief bit of full-frontal nudity, Otto with bong in hand, and Marge swearing (frankly, as out of character as it was for Mrs. Weasley in Hallows), The Simpsons Movie mostly just feels like TV writ large (There’s even a FOX commercial at one point.) But, again, to my mind, that’s not a bad thing — If it ain’t broke and all. I do kinda wish that the movie had been less family-centered and held more for Springfield’s large and splendid supporting cast to do. (For one, shouldn’t Mr. Burns have been behind the big plot? Where were Apu, Principal Skinner, and Groundskeeper Willie? And, as I said of the trailer, why isn’t McBain president? Then again, I’m a fanboy like that.) But, I’m guessing the show will be on again this Sunday (and then some) if I need a Simpsons fix, and, as Maggie notes in the credits, there’s always room for a sequel…

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