If there aren't many out-and-out surprises for fans of the durable TV series (18 seasons and counting) on which it is based, there are chuckles to be had in abundance.
For The Simpsons Movie (Fox) is a glossier version of its small-screen precursor with perhaps a handful of words and expressions and one visual gag that wouldn't pass muster with the TV censors.
The plot — which is more substantial than many episodes — has doltish Homer Simpson (voice of Dan Castellaneta) running afoul of Russ Cargill (voice of Albert — billed as "A." — Brooks), the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, not to mention (in one of the film's funniest conceits) President Arnold Schwarzenegger (Harry Shearer).
Homer has unwittingly dumped his new pet pig's droppings in Springfield's now pollution-free lake. Before this faux pas, sensible environmentalist daughter Lisa (voice of Yeardley Smith) had managed to rally the town into cleaning the murky water. Lisa, by the way, has a new admirer in Colin (voice of Tress MacNeille), an Irish lad, son of a rock star ("not Bono," he tells her pointedly), who shares her environmental consciousness.
The lake becomes grossly polluted, leading Cargill to quarantine the town under a giant impenetrable dome, an action which does not sit at all well with the trapped townspeople who rise, moblike, against Homer.
The family — including long-suffering Marge (voice of Julie Kavner), mischief-making Bart (voice of Nancy Cartwright), and baby Maggie — is forced to flee to Alaska through a handy sinkhole in their backyard that sucks them outside the dome's perimeters.
When they get to Alaska, the family learns of Cargill's plot to blow up Springfield. Marge and the kids decide to go back to do what they can to save the town, leaving selfish Homer behind.
Working from a script penned by 11 people, David Silverman directs a well-paced satire, with many topical gags: "Grand Theft Walrus"; Tom Hanks playing himself; Fox network crawls at the bottom of the screen; Hillary Clinton in the White House; and many more.
There's relatively mild irreverence, mostly from the boorish mouth of Homer. Churchgoing do-gooder neighbor Ned Flanders (Shearer), who takes the lonely Bart under his wing, is not overtly ridiculed. At one point, dotty Grampa (also Castellaneta) has a "religious experience" in church (as Marge later describes it) and actually prophesies the fate that awaits their town.
You may have heard of the scene where Homer dares Bart to skateboard nude through the town. There's a fleeting, fairly witty, glimpse of the lad's (rudimentarily drawn) privates which registers as only slightly naughty.
In Alaska, Homer and Marge have an implied (only) romantic interlude in a snowbound cabin — accompanied most amusingly by some Disney-like birds and animals — a respite from the domestic discord. But, paradoxically, for all the foolery and family dysfunction, there's an underlying pro-family message, and the satiric jibes are generally not malicious. Homer is eventually goaded into having an epiphany, namely, that "other people are as important as he is."
The elements below — by their very inclusion — seem to call for an A-III classification, but parents who have no problem with their kids watching the TV series will probably find this acceptable for their youngsters, though most of the humor, in any case, will be best appreciated by adults.
The film contains fleeting frontal male nudity, an instance of profanity, irreverent worldview, some innuendo, a couple of vulgar gestures, crude expressions, brief sight gags ranging from a same-sex kiss to bigamy to underage drinking, and light cartoon violence. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.