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Not just for die-hard fans

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BIG SCREEN DEBUT: The Simpsons in theaters now.
  • BIG SCREEN DEBUT: The Simpsons in theaters now.

This fall marks the 18th season of Fox's “The Simpsons,” making it the longest-running comedy series in history other than “Saturday Night Live.” A show doesn't stay on television that long without inspiring an almost fanatical devotion from viewers, and the show has handily done that, winning 90 Golden Globe awards over the years. In the process, it has become a kind of pop culture compost heap, giving rise to everything from tacky knick-knacks to honest-to-god contributions to the English language.

With a pedigree like that, creator Matt Groening undoubtedly knew that if he was ever going to do a spin-off movie, the resulting film would have to be not only a home run, it would have to swat the ball into a low earth orbit.

With the new “The Simpsons Movie,” Groening and Co. accomplish that goal and more, shrugging off some of the one-liner doldrums the series seems to have been stuck in over recent seasons and bringing back the hip, cerebral, self-referential “Simpsons” of yore. If I had anything to do with “The Simpsons” series, I might be tempted to call “The Simpsons Movie” a last, hilarious swan song and leave it at that (that would, however, deprive us of the many, many episodes of the series that are award-winning caliber).

In the film, as with many Simpsons episodes, the road to ruin (and eventual triumph) starts innocently enough. On a trip to Krusty Burger, pater doofus Homer Simpson (Dan Castellaneta) spots a pig being used as a prop in a Krusty Burger commercial. Once the commercial shoot is finished, however, the pig has a date with a pork sandwich. True to the often-sentimental side of the show (one of the greatest things about “The Simpsons” — and why it will always be better than knock-offs like “South Park” and “Family Guy” — is its capacity for compassion and love), Homer soon pignaps the doomed porker and brings it home to live with his clan.

Soon, however, the pig's droppings become a problem, overflowing the giant silo (helpfully marked “pig crap”) that Homer has built in the backyard. After a dressing down from wife Marge (Julie Kavner), Homer goes off to dispose of the pig's leavings. Finding the line for the city landfill a mile long, Homer decides to dump the droppings in Lake Springfield. The pig crap turns out to be the final straw for the environmentally challenged lake, which morphs into a deadly black soup. This, of course, leads to visions of Apocalypse by Grandpa Simpson, a visit from the EPA, a conference with President Schwarzenegger, a 15-eyed squirrel, a giant glass dome over Springfield, an angry mob, a trip around the motorcycle cage of death, a stay at the Red Rash Inn, a move to Alaska, a gratuitous full frontal shot of Bart's naughty bits, etc., etc., etc. You know, several episodes worth of everyday life in Springfield, USA.

Like the best episodes of the television show, “The Simpsons Movie” takes a good-hearted dig at pretty much everything we hold dear — starting with organized religion (“This book doesn't have any answers!” Homer says while flipping through a Bible, looking for first-aid tips), and ending up with some very subtle riffs at the federal government and its emergency response infrastructure. Beyond the wacky plot, however — and, let's face it, the plot never means much in any Simpsons episode — is what has kept this reader in love with the show for all these years: Homer, Marge and their dedication to family. Even as they're making you laugh so hard you'll spit Buzz Cola all over the head of the person in front of you, the Simpsons are also teaching a very old-school lesson: Stick together and love one another, no matter what comes. Even if you've never been a fan of the show, check this one out. You'll be glad you did.

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