Animation: Slicker isn’t Better

Amid Amidi of Cartoon Brew put up this animated GIF that compares two shots from the opening of The Simpsons: the first from the opening that was used from 1990 through most of the ’00s, and the second from the new opening that was created when the show switched to high-def. The new opening is one of the better parts of the current show, but the earlier version was better-animated. Not necessarily because of any inherent difference between traditional cel animation and digital, but just the amount of personality and acting that goes into it. Part of this is a directorial choice, since in the second version it was decided to have Marge not react to Maggie popping out of the bag. But it’s also just a question of animation style; the first version has more flair and “bounce” to all the movements — Marge’s, Maggie’s, even the bag — while the second version is pretty standardized even on the one bit of physical acting (Maggie shaking her fist at the one-eyebrowed baby). The older version has the obvious drawbacks of cel animation, particularly the fact that perspective is hard to do; the ceiling doesn’t exactly look like a ceiling. But Marge and Maggie have physical personalities in the 1990 version that they just don’t have in the later version.

Happy Treehouse of Horror Day

Twenty years ago today, a hot new show called The Simpsons was in its first full season, and decided to do a Halloween special consisting of three short segments based on classic horror or science-fiction stories. Of course, as we all remember, the special got such a dismal reception that the producers of The Simpsons decided never to do anything like that again. And by “never again” I mean “twenty more times.”


Late night civil war

Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien have become a proxy for two different viewpoints in a divided country


What The Simpsons Hath Wrought


That Timmy O’Toole Is a Real Hero!

There might have been some people who didn’t think of the Simpsons “Radio Bart” episode after yesterday’s Balloon Incident (or “Ballooncident”), but I certainly don’t know who those people might be.

Scenes From My Low Expectations

Maybe it’s because I had low expectations or because it was an island in a sea of Seth MacFarlane, but I actually enjoyed the Simpsons season premiere quite a lot. I didn’t know until afterward that it was written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (you know how it is, sometimes you turn away in the precise moment when they’re showing the writing credit), but I did feel like there was something a little different about the “voice” of this episode from most recent episodes. That’s not to say that they brought anything terribly original to the table, and certainly not to presume to guess how much of their work actually remained in the final version, but the episode was short on horrendous puns and self-referentiality, had a story that made sense, and even a few “screw the audience” jokes that felt like they could have come out of season 6 (the scene that seems to be building to a studio buying Comic Book Guy’s creation, only to reveal that another studio already bought it weeks ago).


Simpsons Writer Gets Sweet Vengeance

Matt Selman, who has been writing for The Simpsons in every season since season 9 (or in hard-core fan terms, “all the seasons except the really great ones”) tells how his Simpsons connections gave him the perfect set-up for revenge on one of those snobby “I don’t even own a TV set” types. It’s as close as any show-business person is going to get, in real life, to Woody Allen’s trick of producing Marshall McCluhan to tell off a pretentious film snob.


Put Bleeding Gums Murphy Back In the Opening!

The Simpsons and King of the Hill have both made the switch to HD, and both of them needed to create new main titles for the new format. The new KotH title is not online at the moment (or if it is I couldn’t find it), but it was basically exactly the same as the original, even including the bit where Luanne hops on the back of Buckley’s motorcycle. (Buckley has been dead since the beginning of the third season, but he’s still in the opening credits every week. Personally I’d still rather see him than Lucky.) I guess since this is the last season, it wouldn’t have made much sense to pay for a whole new sequence. But The Simpsons, which is in this for the long haul, created a new sequence with new gags and characters — including, finally, taking Bleeding Gums Murphy out of the opening sequence, though they do include his portrait in Lisa’s classroom as a memorial tribute. (Bleeding Gums has been dead since the sixth season.) Here it is, including another one of those tiresome extra-long couch gags.


When Is a Movie Parody Not a Movie Parody?

Last night’s episode of The Simpsons was a parody of the classic 1967 movie Two For the Road. Except it wasn’t really a parody, since it didn’t make fun of the movie or send out any clear signals that it was based on a movie at all. (And since Two For the Road isn’t all that well known nowadays, many Simpsons viewers had no idea that it was based on anything; it probably just looked like a slightly different approach to flashbacks, rather than the usual solution of having Homer and Marge tell the story.) So rather than a parody or even an homage, I would call this an episode that was influenced by Two For the Road; the writers figured they could use the movie’s  multi-story, time-jumping structure on the show, and that it would work on two levels: those who had seen the movie would appreciate the nod, and the majority of viewers who hadn’t seen the movie would just find the structure interesting. This isn’t the first time The Simpsons has borrowed a story or structure from a classic, obscure movie; the great “Radio Bart” episode was an idea that Matt Groening got after seeing Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole, and the story is borrowed from that movie, which was almost impossible to find at that time.


The Ultimate in Pay TV

The smash-hit success of the Sex and the City movie makes this the second summer in a row that a movie based on a recent TV show, with the original cast, has had a surprisingly strong showing at the box-office. Last year it was The Simpsons Movie, whose opening weekend also far exceeded the studio’s expectations.


Animation Wrap-Up

All four of Fox’s animated sitcoms have ended their 2007-8 seasons, and once again, surprisingly, American Dad was the best of the four. I did not like it when it started, and even now it’s hardly on a level with the best episodes of The Simpsons or King of the Hill or even cult flops like The Critic. But it actually has a certain amount of storytelling integrity, which is to say that no matter how ridiculous the stories are, they are structured in a logical and satisfying way, a lot of the humour comes from the characters (especially the nerdy son, Steve) and if the story is built around a political/social issue it will actually address that issue and make it part of the story’s resolution. Simple stuff, but not often found on the other three, longer-running shows. The voice cast has come together very well, too. I suspect that some of the improvement in American Dad is attributable to the addition, a couple of years ago, of showrunner Rich Appel, one of the best showrunners King of the Hill ever had; the fact that Appel will be co-creating the Family Guy spinoff, Cleveland, makes me feel almost optimistic for that show, except that: