Dir: David Silverman. US. 2007. 87mins.
Mixing to pleasingly irreverent effect the same sort of light social satire, dysfunctional family comedy and base physical gags that have been part of its well-honed formula for almost 20 years, The Simpsons Movie smoothly jumps the yawning chasm from small screen to large, delivering consistent laughs from the fallback position of a wide, nearly uninterrupted smile.

Having debuted in almost buzz-free fashion in 1989, the eponymous TV series has ripened into a multi-billion empire for 20th Century Fox. With an entire generation having grown up with the show, this film seems to have the benefit of both a large audience base and a surging curiosity factor interested in the timing of such a fleshing out.

These elements should trump the question of having to pay for something heretofore free, and make a box office winner out of the movie when it opens worldwide this week (with select markets including Russia, Brazil and Italy taking it in August and September; it does not open in Japan until next March).

If adult audiences weaned on the sitcom take their own kids, The Simpsons Movie could outpace Ratatouille - currently on $196m worldwide, with many territories to open - as the summer season's hottest animated ticket. That said it may be hard pushed to approach grosses akin to Shrek The Third ($700m-plus worldwide), which is still also on release.

For all its achievement and acclaim in the United States, where it's the longest-running sitcom in history, The Simpsons has spanned the globe to more than 70 countries, and its name-brand value abroad should drive up anticipation to hearty levels there. The film will easily rake in more than half of its theatrical receipts from these territories.

As with the series, the film still milks considerable comedy from the clash of personalities within its chief nuclear family - intellectual daughter Lisa as the chastening voice of conscience and reason; unruly Bart as the skateboarding mischief-maker; sweet, blue-haired Marge as the unaccountably accommodating matriarch; and Homer as the distractible and oafishly self-centered bread-winner (and -eater).

Driving The Simpsons Movie forward is Homer's habitual indifference and inattention, which drives Lisa and Marge up the wall and sends Bart into the open arms of do-gooder neighbor Ned Flanders.

There has to be a fleshed-out plot, of course, and The Simpsons Movie takes as its launching-off point an environmental premise. With Springfield teetering on the brink of ecological ruin thanks to its rampant pollution, littering and illegal dumping, Homer unloads a silo full of his new pet pig's waste into the local lake.

The effect is toxic, and draws the attention of hard-charging Environmental Protection Agency chief Russ Cargill (voiced by Albert Brooks, credited as A Brooks), who advises President Arnold Schwarzenegger (voiced by Harry Shearer) to seal off the entire rotten city with a giant biodome.

With Homer scape-goated for their situation, the town turns on the Simpson clan, who manage to accidentally escape the bubble, and briefly set up a new family life in Alaska. Old fractures quickly give way, however, and Homer is forced to embark on a personal odyssey of redemption, seeking the forgiveness of Marge and his family, as well as the salvation of his hometown.

Penned by James L Brooks, creator Matt Groening and a cadre of series regulars, The Simpsons Movie is distinguished from its small-screen roots by scale of story if not necessarily sweeping visual scope. For the most part eschewing television close-ups, director David Silverman uses the 2.35:1 aspect ratio to trade in wide shots that allow for richer background textures and colors.

This extra dimensionality, while still allowing for plenty of visual jokes (Grandpa Simpson reads Oatmeal Enthusiast magazine; 'Binge responsibly!' reads a Duff Beer blimp), has a bit of a paradoxical effect, in that it occasionally presents a different look and feel than that which audiences are used to.

Silverman, though, does keep things moving briskly, and even manages to locate genuine pathos in a scene where a weary Marge tapes over part of their wedding video in an effort to reach Homer.

That said, it's the jokes and personalities that drive this enterprise. In fact, it's somewhat surprising how immediately suited for long-form narrative the characters feel, and this is without even giving much more than lip service throwaway jokes to many of the supporting players that have come to flesh out the citizenry of Springfield.

The long-form care put into the project (work on the screenplay started in secret in 2003) is evident, and quips unfurl at a rapid clip. While some bits fall flat (the half-sketched chaos of Springfield in the wake of its containment, a love interest for Lisa in the form of a fellow environmentally-conscious kid), hit-miss ratio outstrips that of any other conventional comedy this summer.

The only surprising thing might be that the movie doesn't feature any satirical musical numbers, something for which the television show has become known.

The members of punk rock band Green Day voice themselves in helping to open the movie, and Tom Hanks tweaks his sincere persona with a public service announcement voice cameo as himself. Early in the end credit sequence, Simpson baby Maggie finally says her first word; it will have fans atwitter with more anticipation.

Production companies/backers
20th Century Fox
Gracie Films

US distribution
20th Century Fox

International distribution
Fox International

James L Brooks
Matt Groening
Al Jean
Mike Scully
Richard Sakai

James L Brooks
Matt Groening
Al Jean
Ian Maxtone-Graham
George Meyer
David Mirkin
Mike Reiss
Mike Scully
Matt Selman
John Swartzwelder
Jon Vitti

John Carnochan

Hans Zimmer

Main theme
Danny Elfman

Main cast (voice)
Dan Castellaneta
Julie Kavner
Nancy Cartwright
Yeardley Smith
Harry Shearer
Hank Azaria
Pamela Hayden
Tress MacNeille
Albert Brooks
Marcia Wallace
Tom Hanks
Joe Mantegna