Disney+ to fix The Simpsons visual gag snuffing with aspect ratio tweak

Posted: 21 November 2019 1:52 pm
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Disney+ is poised to address an aspect ratio decision that ruined some of the visual gags in the first 19-odd seasons of The Simpsons.

Once rumoured, now confirmed. Disney has pledged to fix the aspect ratio woes of The Simpsons on Disney+. Admittedly included in an effort to normalise the presentation of 29 seasons of The Simpsons, which started in 4:3 fullscreen presentation and has since evolved to the 16:9 widescreen norm of today. The result was a zoom-in for earlier episodes to fill the bulk of today's modern TV screens.

There are currently 29 seasons of The Simpsons available on Disney+ in Australia, which can be watched for free with a 7-day trial. This means an overwhelming majority of episodes (around 428) are impacted by the aspect ratio shuffle.

Take My Life, Please, which is the 10th episode of season 20 and first aired in 2009, was the first episode of the hit show to use the 16:9 aspect ratio (at the then HD standard of 720p resolution). This aspect ratio became standard from then on.

Here's what Disney had to say in response to the fan backlash: "We presented The Simpsons in 16:9 aspect ratio at launch in order to guarantee visual quality and consistency across all 30 seasons. Over time, Disney+ will roll out new features and additional viewing options. As part of this, in early 2020, Disney+ will make the first 19 seasons (and some episodes from Season 20) of The Simpsons available in their original 4:3 aspect ratio, giving subscribers a choice of how they prefer to view the popular series."

Does it really matter?

So what's the big deal and why were fans getting so upset? After all, Disney has cleaned up the older seasons of The Simpsons and changed the aspect ratio to keep things uniform.

The trick is that zoom comes at the expense of character proportions and framing. In terms of proportions, certain characters look stretched in particular scenes. As for framing, character close-ups result in noticeable parts of the heads being chopped off and even certain visual gags are destroyed.

To this last point, CollegeHumor writer Tristan Cooper's tweet about how a particular Duff joke in Duffless is ruined by zooming in for the sake of clarity.

Disney's phrasing suggests that the original 4:3 aspect ratio will be an optional playback setting when it's eventually introduced. So fans shouldn't be too impatient as Disney+ hasn't had any other major gaffes yet. See our Disney+ review for more details.

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