Taking 'The Simpsons' cartoon to the silver screen, after an 18-year run on TV, was always going to be a challenge, but Matt Groening and the co-creators manage it with ease. Full of the show's trademark irreverent humour and satire, there is rarely a dull moment.

The long-awaited Simpsons movie opens with an Itchy and Scratchy short, which the family turns out to be watching in the cinema. Homer exclaims, "Why would I pay to watch something I can see for free at home?"

The gag is a statement of confidence in the film from the creators, but it is not totally unwarranted. 'The Simpsons Movie' manages to avoid the pitfalls that could have beset it, such as seeming like three TV episodes strung together instead of a feature film. It remains entertaining throughout, with a concise hour-and-a-half running time. 

The plot centres on the hot topic of environmentalism, which gives Lisa ample opportunity to exercise her sanctimonious side. This time she is campaigning for ecological awareness with her town hall presentation on polluted Lake Springfield entitled, 'An Irritating Truth'.

Homer blithely ignores her concern, and the recent ban on dumping in the toxic lake, when he tips the droppings of his new pet pig into the water, causing an environmental hazard of catastrophic proportions. The rest of the film sees Homer trying to save the town of Springfield from imminent doom, and mend family relations.

In order to contain the ecological hazard that the lake has become, the entire town of Springfield becomes encircled by a massive dome, trapping the inhabitants. This was due to the incompetence of US President Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose motto of "I lead, not read" causes him at random to pick the dome option from five offered by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Soon the town is in mayhem, and an angry mob descends on the Simpson household to administer retribution for Homer's foolish blunder. Managing to escape through a sink hole in the back garden, the family flee to Alaska, but when they learn of the latest calamity to befall Springfield it is up to Homer to save the day.

The film boasts many of the old writers from the series, as well as many of the classic characters, with a few new additions. Lisa experiences first love with fellow environmentalist Colin, despite Milhouse's romantic advances. Colin, featuring a suitably dodgy brogue, is the son of an Irish musician, but not Bono, he is quick to stress. Tom Hanks also puts in a good-natured cameo, and the acerbic head of the EPA, Russ Cargill, is voiced by Albert Brooks.

The film is hugely likeable, and although not as side-splittingly funny as classic 'Simpsons' episodes, it succeeds in bringing the comedic capers of the Simpson family to new heights.

Sarah McIntyre