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“D’oh!”—Disney+ Modifies ‘The Simpsons’ to 16:9 Aspect Ratio at the Expense of Series’ Trademark Humor

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Simpsons DisneyPlus
Graphic Collage / Lynxotic

Disney+ reels Subscribers in with Massive, Nostalgia-Inducing Hoard, such as 30 Seasons of “The Simpsons”!

Disney+ is here, and for the most part, it is living up to astronomical expectations. The streaming service has everything it promised under the Walt Disney Studios banner, from Marvel, to Pixar, to Star Wars, to Disney Animation vault material, to originals and more. The service allows its 10 million patrons to re-watch childhood classics and also discover something new, all for the affordable price of $7 per month.

One of the most appealing pieces of content available on Disney+ is all 30 seasons of “The Simpsons,” which Disney acquired when it purchased 20th Century Fox earlier this year. “The Simpsons” has been on the air since 1989, making it the longest running scripted television series. Its characters are household names and its humor has transcended generations.

Visual Humor is Extremely Delicate, and the Aspect Ratio makes can make a Huge Difference

Naturally, many people were eager to watch their favorite episodes of “The Simpsons” when Disney+ launched last Tuesday. Given that “The Simpsons” golden years are often considered between seasons 3 and 8, most users flocked to these chapters in the show’s history. 

However, when fans finally selected the episodes and pressed play, they may have found themselves confused and disappointed to see that the show looks different than it did in their memory, and that it is missing a few jokes as a result.

This is not a case of people misremembering something as better than it actually is—“The Simpsons” is undoubtedly a hilarious show. The reality is that Disney adjusted the show’s aspect ratio for seasons 1-19 when adding it to the streaming service. While seasons 1-19 originally aired in a primitive 4:3 aspect ratio, Disney+ edited the episodes to fall in line with its contemporary widescreen 16:9 ratio. 

A Funny Case in which Opting for a “modern upgrade” Backfires

This change could maybe be forgiven or perhaps even go unnoticed if it weren’t for the fact that the adjusted ratio comes at the expense of some of show’s humor. With the adapted framing, shots are cut off at unnatural edges. Therefore, some of the visual jokes in “The Simpsons” end up entirely out of frame.

Sometimes these graphic gags are subtle, but other times they are the focus of the entire scene or episode. Either way, many users consider this change insulting to both “The Simpsons” fandom and its creators. Viewers want to watch “The Simpsons” how they fondly remember it, in its original form.

Disney+ Responds Timely to Criticism Handling an American Television Staple

Seasons 20-30 of “The Simpsons” have gone untouched on Disney+ simply because these episodes were already made in 16:9 ratio. Disney+ wanted to create consistency amongst the series so it went for the latest, most often seen ratio. Unfortunately, it is the show’s development over time and that very inconsistency that enriches “The Simpsons’” as the series is watched in its original form, one can see its evolution over the years and better appreciate its long run as a staple of American television.

Disney has responded to complaints about the change, stating that it will soon release seasons 1-19 in their rightful 4:3 aspect ratios. This will happen in early 2020, at which time users will have the choice of how they want to watch “The Simpsons.” Nevertheless, it will keep the 16:9 ratio available for the sake of oncoming Disney+ features and unspecified digital viewing innovations. 


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