I wasn’t planning on subscribing to Disney+, Disney’s new streaming service, until I heard it was going to be the new home for The Simpsons. I suspect I’m not alone: fans of the show have waited years for it to appear on a streaming service, and Disney+ was clearly flexing on the competition by offering the show. So, when Disney announced Bart, Maggie, Homer, and Lisa were coming to Disney+, I sighed and signed up.
Unfortunately, Disney fucked it up, and The Simpsons I knew from my childhood isn’t the The Simpsons that Disney+ is showing. The classic episodes originally aired in a 4:3 format, which fit televisions in the pre-HD era. Disney+ is showing reformatted HD episodes in a widescreen 16:9 ratio. The images fill up a modern TV screen, but they’re cropped and stretched. As fans have noticed, the crop can cut sight gags from the Disney+ release.
For example, the Duff Brewery gag about all Duff being the same is completely lost in the crop. Besides missing gags, the crop is generally annoying and bad. When I watched “Marge Versus the Monorail,” for example, Lyle Lanley sang about the a town with money in extreme close up. Characters’ faces are often as stretched and distorted as Marge’s smeared face on a novelty T-Shirt.
I grew up watching The Simpsons, I can quote most of the classic lines from the pre-”Jerk-Ass Homer,” Armin Tamzarian era of the show. Seasons 1 through 9 shaped my comedic sensibilities and showed me cartoons could be more than just, well, Disney.
For decades, however, the only way to watch classic Simpsons (aside from televised reruns) was to own the DVDs or grab good quality rips off of a pirate site. In 2013, FX acquired the streaming rights to the show and launched its own website, Simpsons World.
Simpsons World was a dream come true, at least on paper. It was a site dedicated to the show, allowing fans to stream any episode they wanted, many of them with creator commentary. In practice, Simpsons World was a buggy, unusable mess. The site frequently crashed, failed to load episodes, got stuck looping episodes over and over, and played ads with a mind-numbing frequency. Getting it to work in a browser window was hard; getting it to work on a television was impossible.
Simpsons World also launched with bad, stretched out, 16:9 versions of the classic Simpsons season. It took some time, but it eventually offered viewers the choice between the 4:3 and 16:9 HD format. Unfortunately, Simpsons World was still unusable.
Disney+ offered a better way forward for Simpsons fans starved for, essentially, any functional way of watching the classic show on demand. Disney is a huge company with vast resources, and if anyone was going to stream The Simpsons properly, it would be them, or so one would think.