Four words: Best. Simpsons. Episode. Ever.

Heading into The Simpsons Movie I'll admit that it would've been pretty tough to find someone more skeptical than I was. For me (as well as a lot of people), the long-running television series had lost its touch in the past few years. South Park and Family Guy were continually pushing the animated boundaries as far as content goes, and The Simpsons had become the Roger Clemens of television. It was old, sure -- way passed its prime, maybe -- but it still managed to toss a gem every once in awhile. And that's why we continued to watch; some of us in awe that the show had survived a cluttered marketplace long enough to be prepping a 19th season, while others simply watched because Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, Maggie and the rest of Springfield still brought smiles to their faces, regardless of how old, stale and regurgitated the gags had become.

I remember The Simpsons Movie myth stretching all the way back to my school days. Somehow someone caught wind that they were thinking about a movie; at the time, the big rumor was that Bart would lose his virginity to an older woman. Remember that? But it wasn't until a few years ago that The Simpsons Movie became a reality. In the meantime, both South Park and Family Guy (The Simpsons greatest competition) were already putting out movies, with the former breaking ground on the big screen and the latter on DVD. Yet when both of those films began to lose their thunder halfway through, I became convinced it would be impossible for The Simpsons -- let alone any half-hour television cartoon -- to deliver an hour and a half full of high-quality entertainment. Thus, a heated argument amongst hardcore fans ensued: Would The Simpsons surprise everyone? Or would they look like suckers for risking a stellar 19-year career on a film that was bound to go down in a massive ball of flames? Thankfully, The Simpsons Movie proved 19 years was well worth the wait.

As with the television show, the movie's greatest moments come in tiny packages; off-hand remarks, clever signs in the distance, hand gestures, brief nudity or a familiar and friendly jab at Fox. Things you've always wanted to see -- things the writers have always alluded to or teased -- are all there, with extra toppings. It's like a neighborhood block party where all the usual characters are present and accounted for, but folks you haven't seen in ages will also make their way out for a free burger and the chance to feel a part of something big, loving and eventful. Eleven Simpsons veterans (including series creator Matt Groening and exec producer James L. Brooks) wrote the script, and David Silverman (co-director of Monsters, Inc. and a man who has been with the show since its debut) directed. This was the cream of the crop; if they weren't able to produce a movie that would surpass all expectations, then you might as well write off the whole lot. Yes, it was a definite Simpsons All-Star team of talent, but we've seen All-Star teams choke before (ahem, I'm talking to you New York Yankees).

The writers didn't really take a risk with story; The Simpsons Movie is essentially compiled of bits and pieces of previous episodes (plot-wise), but with current trends (like our obsession with saving the environment) added on for flavor. The fun comes as the writers continually up the ante so that it doesn't feel like one drawn-out episode. When you think the Simpsons family is screwed, it gets even worse. And after that, it gets even worse. Eventually we arrive at a point that we've been at before -- the entire world on Homer's shoulders -- but somehow (like it did back when the TV series was coasting) the outcome felt fresh and alive. If you don't have the urge to stand up and cheer as the end credits begin to roll, then you are not who this movie was created for. Anyone who's casually watched an episode here and there will find something to laugh at, but this film was made especially for fans who have been with the Simpsons family since those Tracey Ullman days. Folks who've practically memorized every episode; those who consider each and every Springfield character a family member and can throw out random quotes as if they were a permanent part of their speech.

Up until this point, I've stayed away from tossing out specific plot points because, frankly, it's not worth the time. I mean, don't all (if not most) Simpsons episodes head in the same direction? Homer gets a bright idea; Homer executes said idea; Homer screws it all up; Homer puts the ones he loves at risk; Homer lets everyone down; Homer has an epiphany and Homer comes back just in time to save the day, save his family and enjoy a happy ending. With The Simpsons, it's never been about what happens -- it's more about what happens when Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie get involved. What happens when Millhouse, Grampa Simpson, Moe, Flanders, Krusty, Chief Wiggum and Mr. Burns get involved. What happens when Cletus, Otto, Comic Book Guy, Apu, Principal Skinner, Barney ... you get the idea. But when you have a show that's introduced an endless stream of characters over the years, then one movie could feel, at times, like your stomach does after a triple, bacon Krusty burger with everything on it. Yes, full. In an attempt to feature every single Simpsons character ever created at least once, audience members might walk away feeling a tad gypped; upset that their favorite Springfield citizens didn't get enough time in the spotlight.

That was an after-thought of mine roughly twenty minutes after leaving the theater. But while I would've loved to see more from certain characters (Milhouse, especially) and less of certain subplots (specifically Lisa's love affair with a new Irish kid who's not Bono's son), this isn't a one-off episode where you can concentrate on three or more secondary characters. This is a movie, and a monumental one at that. Everything needs to be big ... and then bigger. Everyone needs to do their part and chip in; some more than others. And when it's all said and done -- after the jokes have worn off, and you're about ready for bed -- you'll probably sit awake and want to thank Matt Groening and his clan for reminding you just how much fun it was growing up with The Simpsons. Just how many laughs you've had at the expense of Homer and his goofy pals. Because as much as you might or might not want to admit it, this animated family has changed our world. And our lives. D'oh!