Conventional wisdom holds that the eighth season of the undying television juggernaut The Simpsons was the last that regularly hit the highest peaks that the series was capable of summiting. And while I don't know that conventional wisdom has necessarily decided which season exactly was the last one where the show was still predominately good, the eleventh seems to be a widely agreed-upon cut-off point. The eighth season ended in 1997, the eleventh in 2000, and it wasn't until the summer of 2007 that The Simpsons Movie finally sashayed its way into theaters, by which point the 18-season-old show had fallen into the status of that thing fans watched out of habit and momentum rather than any sort of pleasure. The promise of a feature-length theatrical release based on the series had gone from being generally thought of with enthusiasm, to generally dreaded, to generally looked on with yawning disinterest. And then along came 20th Century Fox's crackerjack marketing team to blast away with nostalgic appeals and The Event You've Been Waiting for trumpets, and sure enough, almost a decade after its sell-by date, The Simpsons Movie turned into a for-real cultural event.

It helped that the feature was at a generally higher level of quality than the bulk of the episodes in the seasons immediately preceding it. There are, sure, the expected stretch marks and wobbly decisions that proudly declare the writers - all eleven of them! - veterans of 22-minute stories rather than even such a brief feature as the 87 minutes of The Simpsons Movie. Like most great television comedy, one of the strengths of the show is a fleet pace, pushing everything through quickly enough that its surrealist excesses can fly by without being distractions, and so that the rhythm of gags never lets up. The Simpsons Movie cannot claim the same strength: its plot is not meaningfully more complicated or bigger in scale than a TV show could handle in a single bite, and the two main threads of the story basically repeat plots that had been featured on the parent series, many times already.

Still, the relatively leisurely pace that the narrative operates under in its stretched-out form has its own compensations. The whole thing feels a bit more lived-in and comfortable, to begin with; and while I have no idea what sort of reception the film has had among fans vs. non-fans of the show (or even if, throughout its life, it has been seen by enough non-fans for that to represent a meaningful audience segment - for the record, I consider myself someone who enjoys golden age Simpsons just fine when it's playing in front of me, and who has seen an enormous number of episodes from the first 14 seasons, but doesn't meet the definition of a "fan"), but it strikes me that this probably makes The Simpsons Movie a bit friendlier to a newbie than any random episode from that era might: it slows down to study the character relationships more and is more fully "about" its domestic drama than a single episode of television gets to be on its own. Moreover, having a slacker pace is at least partially to credit for the obvious superiority of the movie to the television episodes produced around the same time: it gets to stretch and relax a bit more, and not have to be so manic and unflagging, and that leaves to a great deal less forced zaniness. If that cuts back on the comic inventiveness, or sense of fearlessness... well, it does cut back on those things. But the film is still funny, if slightly too gentle (the attempts at political satire, for one, fall completely flat). And while the jokes are, for the most part, akin to the kind that show up on the TV series (absurdist one-offs, or examples of the characters being themselves), the enlarged palette allows room for a bit more interleaving and call-backs than the series ever tended to rely on in quite the same way. And there's a bit more crudeness: an inspired nudity gag in the early going that plays with and then against expectations with beautiful timing, a wee bit harder language than family-hour television gets to exploit, but nothing that seriously stretches the boundaries of PG-13.

Mostly, though, the extended running time doesn't show up in any kind of expanded ambition. This is still animated sitcom humor based around the well-established natures of characters that the terrific voice cast (Matt Groenig's shows have always been kind to traditional voice actors) is as comfortable with as a second skin, and the happenings are pitched at the level they had been pitched at for eighteen years. Fat incompetent Homer Simpson (Dan Castellaneta) still manages to do tremendously stupid things that earns him the enmity of the whole town of Springfield and threatens his marriage to Marge (Julie Kavner); their son Bart (Nancy Cartwright) still has unexpressed pain that flashes out as antisocial JD behavior. Daughter Lisa (Yeardley Smith), easily the most ill-served of the Simpson family in the film, still passionately chases down progressive causes that nobody around her gives a shit about. The specifics hardly matter; it's not the first "the town is almost destroyed" plot in the franchise canon, nor the last, and not even the first time that Albert Brooks played a smooth-talking villain. It's just that it all takes a little bit longer to play out.

With the jokes mostly purring around smoothly, and the cast taking care of itself - though it's a bit surprising that the well-stocked universe of Simpsons side characters aren't more present - the only thing that really overtly sets The Simpsons Movie apartment from its parent is the greater scope and ambition of its visuals. Oh, how much the animators, both in the United States and South Korea, thrive on the expanded budget and screen! It's not a particularly great work of animation - especially with Pixar's exquisite Ratatouille having opened less than one month earlier - but in the innumerable computer-aided pans and tilts and craning shots through busy crowd scenes, the whole film buzzes with an obvious sense of freedom to do bigger and more sprawling things than a TV show, with a TV budget and a TV production schedule, could daydream about. The colors and shading are richer, the effects are more detailed. It is certainly the most beautiful-looking piece of work in Simpsons history, though not also the most eager to explore the extreme possibilities of animation.

At any rate, it works as a solid comedy and an effective piece of fanservice that doesn't bog itself down too much to alienate a more general audience. One would hope, perhaps, that the filmmaking team would have a bigger idea for making the jump from television to the enlarged palette of cinema than "why not?", and even at its best, The Simpsons Movie never quite manages to argue that it has grander concerns than making some money off its brand name (it even guiltily admits something like this in an opening meta-joke about paying for something you can see at home for free), though even just seven years ago, the American film industry wasn't as suffocatingly besotted with brand recognition as it is now. Anyway, even if the film hardly exploits its new medium, working without commercial breaks and time limits freed up the creative team to make something lighter, fresher, and more affectionate towards the characters than they'd been for a long time. Given how obviously financial concerns weighed in the film's instigation and production, the fact that you can feel some kind of inspiration wafting of the screen is a legitimate, even unexpected triumph.

Elsewhere in American cinema in 2007
-The jagged editing and frenzied camerawork in The Bourne Ultimatum uncontroversially delights everyone, leading to a new action movie aesthetic that remains fresh and appealing years later
-Diablo Cody invents a new English-adjacent language for the snappy teen comedy Juno
-In There Will Be Blood, Daniel Day-Lewis drinks Paul Dano's milkshake

Elsewhere in world cinema in 2007
-Roy Andersson's You, the Living reaches new heights of deadpan Scandinavian black comedy
-Hou Hsiao-Hsien travels to France and gives Juliette Binoche one of her best roles ever in Flight of the Red Balloon
-Guy Maddin turns his hometown into a blur of frozen horses and surreal soap operas with My Winnipeg