Their silhouettes - sawtooth-headed Bart, beehive-headed Marge, octagram-headed sisses Lisa and Maggie and empty-headed Homer - are iconic. So are those yellow skin tones, the goofy overbites, the ping-pong eyeballs with the black-dot pupils.

And it's not just the way they look. It's the way they talk, walk, work, eat, drink Duff Beer (Homer mostly) and belch (Homer and Bart mostly).

Everything about the Simpsons - the cartoon sitcom clan that have made Rupert Murdoch enough billions to buy the Wall Street Journal - is iconic. Since the show debuted (with a Christmas episode) on Fox TV in December 1989, the characters created by cartoonist Matt Groening have seeped into the collective consciousness like toxic sewage into Lake Springfield. Which is where the long-awaited The Simpsons Movie begins, actually: with deadly waste, courtesy of Homer and his new pet pig, fouling Springfield's water supply.

It had to happen, and it has: after 400 episodes and more dudes and d'oh!s than is possible to count, the ingenious, subversive, hilarious, touching, politically savvy, politically incorrect, laser-sharp satiric TV megahit made it to the big screen. Years in the making, with 11 credited screenwriters (plus four "consultants") and numerous false starts, The Simpsons Movie is finally here. And guess what? It's funny.

But not that funny.

Everybody has a list of their top Simpsons episodes (a couple of mine: "Rosebud," the Citizen Kane parody, and "The Crepes of Wrath," in which exchange-student Bart toils in misery on a French farm), but I'll bet that few will find The Simpsons Movie on a par with their particular faves.

While every effort (and then some) has been made to supersize The Simpsons for the multiplex, with a wide-screen format accommodating the work of four animation studios on two continents; with guest appearances by the likes of Green Day and Tom Hanks; with a save-the-world eco-disaster plotline, and a Homerian odyssey that takes America's preeminent couch potato to the wilds of Alaska, where a large-breasted Inuit shaman offers spiritual counsel, the film feels more like a patchwork of episodes than a fluid, organic whole. (There are, happily, doughnut holes.)

Yes, the Simpsons' family bonds are put to the test, and, yes, series regulars Itchy and Scratchy, Principal Skinner, and insufferably nice nice-guy neighbor Ned Flanders put in appearances. Lisa gets swoony when an Irish kid named Colin takes a liking to her, and the Constitution of the United States has apparently been amended to allow foreign-born nationals to live in the White House: The country's president is Arnold Schwarzenegger.

But The Simpsons Movie, with its endless end credits (sit through them, though - it's worth it), is ultimately a bit of a letdown. Why? Because it's not the television show, and that is truly where Homer and Marge, Bart and Lisa and pacifier-sucking little Maggie belong.

The Simpsons Movie *** (out of four stars)

Directed by David Silverman. With the voices of Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer. Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Film.

Running time: 1 hour, 27 mins.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (cartoon nudity, underage drinking, adult themes)

Playing at: area theaters


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com.