Early in The Simpsons Movie, the world's most famous ignoramus says anyone paying to see what's free on TV is a "giant sucker."
As usual, Homer Simpson is incredibly wrong.
Not that the big-screen version of a small-screen legend looks or sounds any different. But it's bigger, as Homer would declare in a flash of wisdom through obviousness. That's probably enough for fans treasuring 18 seasons and 400 episodes of trenchant American satire disguised as doodles.
For the faithful, The Simpsons Movie delivers plenty of "woo-hoos," interrupted by only a handful of "d'ohs."
Director David Silverman and a staggering 11 screenwriters don't mess much with success. Their characters still move with purposeful hand-drawn clunkiness while the backgrounds are enriched with computer-generated magic straight from South Korea. There must be a gag there somewhere but it is one of the few Silverman's crew missed.
Simpsons creator Matt Groening blames laziness for the long delay before adapting for theaters. Don't believe him. This joke-loaded screenplay and its deceptively simple presentation can only be the result of careful comic scrutiny by deeply invested artists. They wouldn't be doing this if they weren't doing it right.
Some TV cartoons adapted for the big screen amount to three episodes linked together. The Simpsons Movie weaves at least three episodes worth of material into a tidy plot. As usual, the key points hinge upon something stupid that Homer does.
This time, it's saving a pig from Krusty the Clown's slaughterhouse, creating a two-pronged dilemma: Bart turns to the compulsively parental Ned Flanders after losing his father's attention - which was never much, anyway - and the pig's droppings set off an environmental disaster, leaving Springfield trapped by the Environmental Protection Agency under a massive dome.
Homer becomes hated and hunted, his life and marriage at stake. True to television form, these personal events spiral into broader tangents where The Simpsons' satirical genius lies.
The sharpest pokes at American culture and hypocrisy are peripheral; a disaster sending churchgoers and barflies into each others' usual haunts, or President Schwarzenegger boasting that voters want a leader, not a reader. Lisa Simpson's pro-conservation rally An Irritating Truth erodes to petty distractions. A crawl at the bottom of the screen plugs another Fox TV show as an example of worst-case convergence.
A few detours don't entirely succeed. The Simpson family's exodus to Alaska while Springfield suffers deserves less time and more punch. The same goes for Lisa's crush on an Irish transfer student who shares her environmental concerns. Nearly all of Springfield's funniest residents are cameo players, having proved on TV they can carry a story line.
Celebrity voices are a Simpsons tradition carried over to film. The rock band Green Day gets a Titanic send-off on polluted Lake Springfield after romping through the theme tune. Tom Hanks spoofs his noble-cause persona in a public service announcement sugarcoating the EPA's scheme. Albert Brooks (billed as A. Brooks) plays the agency's corrupt leader, adding to his list of TV series voices.
Then there are those things television won't allow. Bart's publicized nude skateboard scene does go Full Monty for the briefest time. Marge's exasperation with Homer's imbecility leads to blurting a profanity you can't hear on prime time. Fans may wish Silverman had pushed the envelope closer to an R rating, but that would lump them in with the likes of Beavis and Butt-Head or the Adult Swim lineup.
The Simpsons Movie is above all that. Like the show, it finds great humor in narrow-minded places and genuine emotion in sometimes unlikable fantasy characters. Stick around through the end credits for baby Maggie Simpson's first spoken word her parents ever hear and hope the kid is psychic.
Steve Persall can be reached at (727) 893-8365 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.
The Simpsons Movie
Director: David Silverman
Cast: Voices of Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Harry Shearer, Hank Azaria, Albert Brooks, Pamela Hayden, Tress MacNeille, Tom Hanks
Screenplay: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Al Jean, Ian Maxtone-Graham, George Meyer, David Mirkin, Mike Reiss, Mike Scully, Matt Selman, John Swartzwelder, Jon Vitti
Rating: PG-13; crude humor, language
Running time: 87 min.