Once in a great while we are privileged to experience a movie event so extraordinary that it becomes a part of our shared heritage. The Simpsons Movie was supposed to be one of them. Yet, today, on the seventh anniversary of its release, it exists only as a dumb pig joke that people seemingly refuse to acknowledge as a legitimate film. Its release in July 2007, however, was nothing short of a cultural supernova that engulfed the world in an incomparable fervour of excitement. It was our Itchy and Scratchy: The Movie; not just an event, but theevent, the defining moment of a generation - like the moon landing or something. It was, well, it was everything I suppose.

That may sound hyperbolic to some, but The Simpsons was the world for millions of people. If you grew up as a fan of this wonderful, audacious television show during the 1990s and early 2000s, it unquestionably informed your sense of humour, how you think, and the ways in which you interpret the world around you. It was Trojan Horse television that, using the guise of broadly appealing entertainment, re-wired the brain: it taught you important life lessons you didn't know you needed, exposed you to new ideas and cultural touchstones, and boasted an anarchic, absurd comedic sensibility so vital that it didn't seem possible at 6pm on BBC2. Its formative effect on a generation goes well beyond the established vocabulary of references -- a "boo-urns!" here, an "everything's coming up Milhouse!" there -- but to the actual construction of our collective sense of humour, and the ways in which the show can be used as a guide for going about our lives. The turn of the twenty-first century has seen the show become more creatively bankrupt with each passing season, but that has not tarnished what it was at its best. You can revisit any episode from the golden age (let's say seasons one through eight) and find twenty-two minutes of television that transcend nostalgic reverence, that remain thoughtful, brazen and deeply funny to this day. Because, back then, The Simpsons had the power strip away of the bullshit of everyday life and expose its humanity. It was the cynical yet utterly inspirational distillation of our generation that we needed, and it still pervades our day-to-day lives. It educated us, made us laugh and, I like to think, taught us how to be better people.

Understandably, then, a film adaptation of The Simpsons had been desired by fans and seriously discussed by the show's staff since its fourth season in 1992, when it was an established phenomenon that attracted twenty million viewers a week in the United States. At that point, though, nobody could really agree on the best way of translating twenty-two minutes of organised chaos into a coherent ninety minute film, or what sort of plot could be so worthwhile as to justify a film's existence in the first place. Therefore, the idea of making a film was put on the back-burner, but it persisted for over a decade as a rumour that just wouldn't go away; the one thing that everybody wanted but nobody could get right. So, when The Simpsons Movie was officially announced as a major blockbuster release in 2006, very little could have been done to embiggen the excitement; they surely must have cracked it, we thought, they must have something reallyspecial in the works. The atmosphere surrounding the film was so ecstatic, so Gabbo-like in its enormity, that the consensus about the show's deterioration could not dispel it. While Twentieth-Century Fox did a magnificent job marketing the film, I think, above anything else, the audience's goodwill for the show's former glories just instinctively shuddered through any cynicism or apathy about its current form. It certainly did for me, because, as a Simpsons-crazed twelve year-old at the time, the notion of a Simpsons film was naturally the apotheosis of awesome regardless of any extraneous doubts, and I was not alone in that feeling. It was as if our purpose in life was to witness this moment. It was The Simpsons. As a film. The big celebratory moment this thing that had a profoundly affected our lives. We had wanted this forever and nothing could possibly be better.

I mean, I don't know exactly what it is about cinema, but it feels like the apex of popular culture; especially when you're younger. It's just so overwhelming and special, and when something you already have a strong affinity for is on that vast screen, with the booming surround sound and all those people united in a shared experience, it can feel like bliss. When you feed The Simpsons of all things into that idealised space, well, you'd think that cinema would surely peak, right? It didn't, of course, but the initial response to the film suggested to my idiot twelve year-old brain that it was close. Critics wrote about it as an extraordinary return to form for the beleaguered family, that it was hilarious, poignant and well worthy of its lengthy gestation. Then I saw it during its first weekend of release and left the cinema with the biggest shit-eating grin on my face because The Simpsons Movie had actually happened and it was actually good. Everybody else I knew loved it too, and we didn't shut up about it for months. The film eventually made over $500m at the box-office, making it the seventh highest grossing film of the year - a critical and commercial smash. The stakes couldn't have been higher, The Simpsons Movie had seventeen years of heavy emotional investment riding on it, but it had seemingly delivered on all expectations. Everything was surely right in the world.

But here's the thing: if The Simpsons Movie could outshine the show's increasing mediocrity before its release, and garner such a positive reaction after, how come nobody talks about it now? I rarely see it come up, even in discussions expressly about The Simpsons (the only exception being articles about the CBS show Under the Dome, which shares in dome-oriented antics). For example, you'd expect that a film based on one of the most beloved shows in television history, one with a 89% rating on Rotten Tomatoes no less (it's hardly a hard-and-fast sign of quality, but at least indicates that it was well-liked), would make Time Out's recent list of the 100 best animated movies. But no, The Simpsons Movie is nowhere to be found among the distinguished likes of, uh, Kung-Fu Panda and Wreck-It Ralph. And, from what I can tell, it's not that people hate the film either, because infamy at least invites some form of discussion. No, The Simpsons Movie now endures a far worse fate: the ignominy of being nothing at all. So what I want to determine here is whysomething as ostensibly significant as The Simpsons Movie has been allowed to fade so spectacularly from the cultural conversation. Not because of wounded nostalgia or anything like that, but because, honestly, I don't think I've experienced anything like this in my lifetime; not since Bart Simpson became the 'I Didn't do It' boy in 1994 has something so huge shrunk so rapidly in the minds of many.

What immediately comes to mind is that The Simpsons Movie has been forgotten because, once the hysteria had settled down, it became apparent that it was neither good enough nor bad enough to be worthy of note. Not loathed to the extent that it's used as a touchstone of thwarted expectations like, say, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and not so impressive as to have people still rhapsodising about it, it seems that The Simpsons Movie was of a sufficient quality to appease general audiences and little more. That notion was supported by asking people's thoughts on Twitter, as the aggregated response can be summed up as "yeah, it's alright." And, having recently re-watched the film for the first time in years, I mostly agree with that assessment. It's absolutely littered with problems (which I'll cover later), but goddamn it I laughed despite them all. There was at least some functional alchemy at work; the writers, voice actors and animators harmonised to deliver some genuinely funny jokes. "Have you tried going mad without power? It's boring, nobody listens to you!" Golden. "Why does everything I whip leave me!?" Wonderful. "Hello, I'm Tom Hanks. The US Government has lost its credibility, so it's borrowing some of mine." Outstanding. It may be nowhere near the golden age's absurdity or heart, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I laughed. It held up as an entertaining blockbuster comedy, and that's got to count for something even if it can't excuse everything. Granted, that's hardly the most effusive praise, but it seems to reflect the current consensus: it's fine; it'll do. And indeed, this could be the root of its negligible impact: we don't talk about it because there's actually not that much to talk about.

However, as reasonable that explanation initially seems, I'm not sure I can entirely buy into an argument predicated on quality alone. Event films on the colossal scale of The Simpsons Movie are rare and often established through powerful existing relationships between the product and the consumer. Think The Avengers, think the Star Wars prequels, think the Harry Potter series. These relationships tend to preserve films in the cultural discourse regardless of their quality or whether people actually like them. So what could have gone against The Simpsons Movie that didn't for those other examples, what disrupted that relationship?

I think the medium has a part to play in this. See, we're talking about an adaptation of a television show here; not a sequel to an original film, or an adaptation of a print creation, but a film based on something with cinematographic and narrative elements that were well established to the audience. But the thing with television shows is that they're often conceived as such, their characteristics built specifically for the medium. When The Simpsons was at its best in the 1990s, television screens were smaller, network budgets were less substantial and, ultimately, television was seen as cinema's idiot sibling. Thus, television's narrative and visual characteristics were, until the new golden age of television anyway, inherently smaller when compared to Hollywood cinema (I'm generalising of course, there were exceptions). So, in the process of adapting a show into a blockbuster film, these characteristics had to be translated into a language that audiences naturally expected to be more grandiose and dramatic. But when the show being adapted wasn't really suitable for that treatment, you got films like The Simpsons Movie that felt uncomfortable and contrived. The show's surface elements seemed to remain intact -- each member of the family had their own moment to shine, it's funny, and the widescreen animation provided a glorious spectacle, affording the creative team opportunities to attempt things that couldn't be done on the show -- but the gratification we got from recognising them meant we overlooked deeper problems. Like, it's still jarring to see the show's familiar visual element applied to something larger in narrative scope. It just feels slightly weirdseeing the Simpsons deal with mass destruction in a narrative that's sustained for three times the length of the show. It doesn't quite fit. Form and narrative need to work in tandem, yet here they created a cognitive dissonance if you were at all familiar with the show.

But, again, I don't think we can base our entire understanding of why The Simpsons Movie has dissolved from our collective consciousness on that reasoning alone. It's a factor, sure, but other seemingly uncinematic comedy shows have successfully made that transition: The Muppets, South Park, and The Thick of It all did it, as did Wayne's World and The Blues Brothers and they're fucking Saturday Night Live sketches. Those films are still a part of the cultural conversation to various extents, so what made this one different? Well, in my mind, it's not that the film feels weird, it goes a step further than that: The Simpsons Movie doesn't feel like The Simpsons. Again, the surface details of the show are in the film, but there's a void where its heart should have been. It made me laugh, sure, but its humour was derived from easy pratfalls and non-sequiturs rather than the actual human emotions that served as the show's foundation. While it would be easy to chalk that up to the show's creative rut, it's a different kind of emptiness. See, the show's confluence of emotional fidelity and absurdity is what made it so transcendent; at its best, it projected recognisable experiences through a lens that amplified them, moulded them in a slightly more outlandish context so that the emotions were foregrounded and audiences could better understand, and give meaning to, their own experience. While the show lost its deft touch with time -- instead looking towards pop-culture references and Homer's zaniness as the main sources of humour -- The Simpsons Movie is evidence of the writers, all ten of which were Simpsons stalwarts who shaped its golden age, trying to recapture that magic, trying to portray an ostensibly emotionally engaging scenario (a family crisis) in an absurd way (the dome). They tried. They really tried. But the result never rings true.

Why? Well, the show was incredible when it came to writing yellow cartoons that felt like actual human beings with their own understandable wants, needs and quirks. These characters essentially exist in our mind as people, yet in The Simpsons Movie they functioned as mere caricatures, approximations of humanity that never felt congruous to our reality or the reality of the show. Take Homer, for example: he's ostensibly the protagonist of the film, but he's such an unassailable asshat, so egocentric and oblivious, that his dramatic arc never felt emotionally real. Admittedly, the writers attempted to grapple with his psychopathic behaviour, and that's something I like in theory, but in reality his bullshit was justified by a heroic triumph and the reclamation of his female trophy because... that's what people expected to happen? Because of that lame epiphany used in lieu of actual character development? I'm not really sure, and that's a fundamental problem if I'm supposed to empathise with his journey. And, unfortunately, this problematic characterisation wasn't exclusive to Homer: I liked that Marge left Homer midway through the film, but that the writers had her going back to the loathsome prick so easily was nauseating; Lisa, one of popular culture's great feminist icons, was reduced to a little girl pining over a boy after her campaign for environmental protection was abandoned early on; and Bart's desire for a father figure in Flanders got uncomfortably bleak ("I was just wondering if, before I die, I could pretend I had a father who cared for me..." fucking hell) before a flippant resolution involving Homer letting him hold a bomb, underlining how out of character that subplot was. There's no real human element to the film, no discernible emotion for the audience to latch onto. Those were the foundations of The Simpsons, it used to care, but they're utterly absent in the film.

Thinking about how that could have been allowed to happen, it may be that the amount expectation weighed too heavily on the creative team; that The Simpsons Movie was not the film they wanted to make, but one they thought general audiences wanted to see. Thus, regardless of whether it made any emotional sense or not, the family we all know and love were rewarded with a happy ending, its members given crowd-pleasing character arcs reinforcing heterosexual relationships, marriage and the power of the nuclear family and blah-blah-blah-go-back-to-Tumblr. The DVD commentary is most revealing of this, because Al Jean, the film's co-writer and the show's longtime showrunner, sincerely declares that the writing team "really wanted to write this movie for people who weren't that familiar with The Simpsons," which, given the cultural cachet of the show, is just a weird thing to say. But, amazingly, it's not out of place in a commentary that's comprises the film's producers discussing the arduous focus testing process, the writers' struggle with getting the tone right, and the jokes they loved that were removed because test audiences didn't respond to them. More time is actually spent talking about what wasn'tin the film than that was, and it soon becomes clear that the creative team tacitly rearranged their original vision around the reactions of test audiences whose cinematic tastes appear to have boiled down to "Barney's movie had heart, but Football in the Groin had a football in the groin."

Fine, you say, blockbusters are focus tested all the time, and there's nothing wrong with wanting to appeal to a wide audience. Those are fair points, but I can't help but feel that the DVD commentary, which was recorded before the film was released, illuminates some fatal insecurity. Rather than taking a proactive approach to scriptwriting, the writers took reactive one in which focus testing was used as a crux rather than a guide. The writing process properly began in 2003, and the script saw over one-hundred rewrites in that time, most of which were instigated by the sort of rigorous focus testing the show actively made fun of ten years prior in the episode The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show. While this isn't necessarily out of the ordinary for blockbuster cinema, it is for The Simpsons. The show's unique voice was cultivated by the writer's room trying to make each other laugh, sincerely believing that something worked, and running with it regardless of what the reaction would be. With little network intrusion from Fox, The Simpsons prided itself on its creative freedom. That's what made it the uninhibited, absurd joy that it was at its peak, and that in turn contributed to the show's incredible popularity, because that sort of confidence is infectious, an audience can sense it. The Simpsons Movie is nothing short of an ideological prolapse in comparison, and audiences can sense that too. Films have their own beating hearts and souls, and much in the same way that you can initially take a liking to someone and slowly grow apart once you become more aware of their bullshit, The Simpsons Movie's lack of confidence may have caused it to dwindle in the minds of many. Because it's not The Simpsons in either heart or spirit, it's the soulless by-product of committee thinking.

Granted, that all sounds incredibly unfair on those responsible for my childhood religion. Despite everything I've written, The Simpsons Movie is still up there with the best latter-day Simpsons content, even though that's hardly saying much. It's somewhat entertaining, but without surreal, adversarial humour, without successfully getting to the humanity of its narrative, The Simpsons Movie couldn't possibly live up to its name. So it seems that the current apathy for the film is instinctual and intangible, less likely to render itself as the sort of vehement hatred levelled at, for example, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, because the satisfying surface details masked the missing harmony. But there was still a feeling that something wasn't quite right, something that we couldn't quite put our finger on. So we just let it drift off in recreational area known as the human mind (fuck, that's Futurama), let it become another ephemeral, ordinary summer blockbuster in a sequence of many because the alternative, confronting the fact that The Simpsons basically sold itself out when it mattered most, was too heartbreaking. Of course, it's all our own fault for getting too invested during the film's release, for expecting too much, but I'm not sure it'll matter much in the long run. The Simpsons Movie may not have been the defining moment that we needed it to be, but The Simpsons at its prime will endure regardless. It is our cultural artefact that will withstand just about anything, even an average film.

So, wait, we were all disappointed, but that's okay because the old episodes are still great? Is that a happy ending or a sad ending? Uh, it's an ending, that's enough.