Bart Simpson’s little yellow penis–this is the one fresh thing The Simpsons Movie contributes to the television legacy of the long-standing show.

Bart Simpson’s little yellow penis–this is the one fresh thing The Simpsons Movie contributes to the television legacy of the long-standing show.

As Bart Simpson skateboards naked through Springfield’s town proper, it becomes clear why the show’s creator, Oregon native Matt Groening, decided to make a movie based on the popular animated TV show: after 400 episodes and two decades on the air, what else was there to do?

Not much, as it turns out. The Simpsons Movie is often funny, sometimes hilarious, and about as good as any recent episode of the television show (which is either a blessing or a travesty, depending on who you ask).

Born from a recurring animated short on the sketch comedy The Tracey Ullman Show, The Simpsons became an instant hit in 1989 as its own television series. But fans have been grumbling for years that the animated series about a working-class family in an uber-normal suburban neighborhood has run out of steam.

Eighteen years later, the details are shuffled around, but the guts of every episode are pretty much the same: Homer does something idiotic and selfish that sets off an unfortunate chain of events with catastrophic results. After a half-hearted browbeating from his wife Marge or daughter Lisa, Homer plays the hero and manages to save himself from, well… himself.

This time, Homer dumps a silo of pig shit into Springfield’s already toxic lake. The sludge mutates a squirrel, which sprouts sharp teeth and a cluster of eyeballs. The Environmental Protection Agency, looking for a quick fix, seals Springfield inside an enormous glass dome (they hide the town from the rest of the world simply by removing it from global positioning systems. God bless The Simpsons‘ always good-natured satire). Because everyone in Springfield is too dumb to dig underneath the dome, they’re trapped and running out of food and resources.

The Simpson family escapes the dome via a sinkhole in their backyard. After fleeing to Alaska, they learn of a government plot to blow up their hometown. Predictably, Homer doesn’t care. Fed up, Marge takes the kids and heads home. Then, through the help of Inuit chanting, Homer realizes he shouldn’t be so selfish (the same epiphany he’s been having for 18 seasons) and makes his way back across the country to save the town he nearly destroyed.

One would expect The Simpsons Movie to be a way for a tired series to bow out in style–something that would provide closure for adoring fans and add another layer of meaning to a legacy–since the series is rumored to be ending after the next season.

But the movie is more like a family reunion than a last hurrah: an awesome exercise in nostalgia, yet an unsatisfying farewell for a two-decade American institution.

Instead of going out with a bang, the The Simpsons Movie opts to continuously pay homage to itself, winking playfully at the audience with a barrage of in-jokes. Sprinkled amidst the million-and-a-half “D’oh!” shouts, each of the several dozen peripheral characters is given a chance to use their trademark phrase, from Nelson’s “Ha, Ha!” to Ned Flanders’ “Hi-diddly ho, neighbor.” It’s good for the warm fuzzies, but so are Simpsons reruns.