"The Simpsons Movie" came under some criticism when it was originally announced, as even some fans wondered if the movie wasn't coming ten years too late. However, I found the movie to be a pleasant surprise - the series hasn't been this funny in a while and the movie comes off as a movie instead of just an extended episode.
After an extended "Itchy and Scratchy" bit and a new version of the opening (Bart on the chalkboard: "I will not illegally download this movie."), the story gets underway with the pollution in Lake Springfield getting bad enough to sink a barge where Green Day is playing a concert for the town. A short time later, Grandpa has a vision of the town's doom. While dismissed as a "senior moment", Homer sets things in motion by dumping the waste of his new pet pig into the lake. The excess waste pushes levels of toxicity in the lake to epic levels, leading the government to take the action of putting a cap on Springfield - literally.
After the town becomes furious with Homer for being the one to cause a giant dome to be put on the town (making Grandpa's vision come true), he and wife Marge (Julie Kavner), son Bart (Nancy Cartwright), and daughters Lisa (Yeardley Smith) and Maggie escape to Alaska. However, while in Alaska, they figure out that the Government's plan for Springfield includes wiping it off the map (an ad with Tom Hanks promotes the soon-to-be-destroyed Springfield as a new alternative to the Grand Canyon.)
"The Simpsons Movie" is certainly an improvement on the show's visuals, as there is some CGI enhancement seen in quite a few scenes. In order to further open up the film, the picture is presented in 'scope, and the animators have made terrific use of the widescreen frame. The film doesn't really have B & C subplots (similar to an episode), mainly staying with the A story of the family trying to save Springfield, and it works well. Even most of the film's lesser gags get a laugh ("Grand Theft Walrus" doesn't work and there's yet another "What state is Springfield in?" joke in the film and credits), and - as per usual for "The Simpsons", there's plenty of minor gags (in Alaska, Homer goes to "Eski-Moes" and a Bear, upset after being stopped from eating Homer, kicks a fox as it walks off.) The picture is also incredibly tight, with no filler and a surprisingly fast pace.
The bits in "The Simpsons Movie" don't all add up to the kind of laughs the prime seasons of the seasons offer, but again, what's here is an improvement on most of the recent episodes. Where I wasn't sure how a "Simpsons" film would fare, this one is good enough that I hope it won't take another 16 years for another "Simpsons" movie.
VIDEO: "The Simpsons Movie" is presented by 20th Century Fox in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen. The screening copy of the film that was provided offered perfectly fine image quality, with the only concern being some slight artifacting. However, this is still not the final copy and unfortunately, I cannot make any final comments on it, as the final copy will likely offer differing (and hopefully better) image quality.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1, although I didn't notice much in the way of difference between the two audio options. The film's sound design is fairly straightforward, with the surrounds really only kicking in during a few major sequences. Audio quality was terrific, with crisp, natural-sounding dialogue and well-recorded effects.
EXTRAS: Matt Groening, James L. Brooks, Al Jean, Yeardley Smith, Dan Castellaneta, Mike Scully and David Silverman are together on one commentary, while Silverman joins Rich Moore, Steven Dean Moore and Mike Anderson on a separate director's commentary. The commentary with Groening and the others is lively and funny, with the group cracking up at some of the jokes that work and some of the elements that don't. A large portion of the discussion revolves around how much of the film was changed from early drafts and that some elements of the film were changed even very late in the production. The second commentary does overlap some of the information, but the group does also provide some good insights of their own and some additional information about the film's progression from script-to-screen.
The main commentary with Groening and company does pause the film (the group calls for a pause in the commentary and the picture stops and turns B & W while they chat) at times. This doesn't occur during the director's commentary.
7 deleted scenes are offered, with only a brief intro from Al Jean. The scenes are okay - a highlight is a scene where the dome causes a baseball game to be all ground rule doubles. Given the fact that the commentaries seem to discuss a movie's worth of deleted scenes, it would have been nice to have a featurette discussing some of the left-out bits and showing any storyboards for ditched sequences.
We also get "The Simpsons Judge American Idol" (a very funny bit capped off with a terrific last line), "Homer's Monologue on the Tonight Show" (not that funny), "Homer's Intro to American Idol" (worth a chuckle or two) and "Let's All Go to the Lobby" (a cute - if predictable - spoof of the famous promo.)
Finally, we get the film's trailers, including the rather bizarre "Bunny" trailers.
Final Thoughts: Where I wasn't sure how a "Simpsons" film would fare, this one is good enough that I hope it won't take another 16 years for another "Simpsons" movie. Highly recommended.