Author Archive for Mike


Sunday Preview: Orange is the New Yellow


When Marge gets arrested for letting Bart go to the park unsupervised, she serves time only to realize that prison is a welcome break from the demands of her life as a mom and wife. In her absence, Homer struggles to manage all of the parenting responsibilities that Marge usually handles.

This plot certainly sounds very familiar. But who cares if we already did this story, Orange is the New Black is really popular, and considering we’ve got Simpsonized versions of Red and Suzanne in this promo image, I’m sure we’re in for plenty of OITNB references thinly disguised as jokes.



Sunday Preview: Simprovised


After butchering a speech in front of all of his friends at work, Homer turns to improv comedy to gain back his confidence in his public speaking skills. Meanwhile, Marge decides to rebuild Bart’s lackluster treehouse, but tensions rise when Bart questions her building skills. Also, in the episode’s last three minutes, Homer appears LIVE for the first time on television (both for East and West Coast broadcasts) to answer fan questions.

I’ll admit, I’m actually extremely curious how the Dan Castellaneta motion capture improv is going to pan out, both technically and content-wise. Al Jean asserts he’d be open to doing more live bits if the reception to this is good, but nothing longer than three minutes, since, as we all know, live animation is a terrible strain on the animators’ wrists.



Animation Alley: Treehouse of Horror VI

tohvi-01(this episode directed by Bob Anderson)
Matt Groening has talked about how he feels the less lines needed to convey a character or emotion, the better. This show, and to some extent Futurama, has always hinged on simplistic design, but in an incredibly economical way. A great example is Homer with pantyhose on his head here. Two lines on his forehead to represent the stretching, and his nose being pushed down, and that’s it, you perfectly understand what’s happening. The second frame is unrelated to this topic, I just love Lard Lad’s pose as he comes to life with a Godzilla roar.

tohvi-03I love the framing of this shot, and throughout the episode, of human size vs. Lard Lad size. This donut is literally as big as the Simpson living room, which begs the question of how the hell Homer got it into the house in the first place. No matter though, he can think of no better way to celebrate than stripping down to his skivvies and chugging a beer. He didn’t even take the pantyhose off all the way. The shot of Homer answering the door is fantastic, with Lard Lad’s stern, angry face taking up nearly the entire doorway. How we just hang on the closed door and just hear the sounds of Lad smashing Flanders’ house, realizing Homer lied to him, then storming back is just great. Also, rather than smash the house for lying, he just rings the doorbell again. Homer opens, and it’s the same shot, but with a little Ned running by in the background screaming.

tohvi-02I don’t care what Lou said, this guy is a monster. Look, he’s taller than the buildings! He’s no high schooler, he’s got to be at least twelve feet tall.

tohvi-04The small touches really make this show great. Lisa sees the copyright stamp on Lard Lad’s footprint, and we cut to the ad agency, where we see Lisa’s bike parking outside. You didn’t need to put it there, but that extra detail communicates how she got there, and also emphasizes while she’s clearly smarter than the whole damn town in dealing with this horrible situation, she’s still a child needing to rely on her bike. Also, great posters on the wall: “50 Million Cigarette Smokers Can’t Be Wrong!” and “If You Like Ike, You’ll Love Laramie Septic Tanks!”

tohvi-05This has got to be my favorite Kang and Kodos cameo. It happens so late, so it’s so wonderfully random. I love their shit eating grins as they try to win over the rolling donut, but to no avail (“Oh, shazbot!”)

tohvi-06Our second segment opens seemingly calm and idyllic, but I love how the dream atmosphere is subtly set up with the painterly backgrounds, so you can already tell something is wrong. Then when Santa’s Little Helper gets on his hind legs and starts talking, and Bart does extreme takes like a Tex Avery cartoon, your suspicions are confirmed.

tohvi-07Martin dying is one of the most horrifying things in any Treehouse of Horror. The extreme poses, and Russi Taylor’s absolutely blood curdling scream is absolutely unreal. But, of course, it’s immediately paired with funny as his frightening corpse is revealed to the class, and then subsequently wheeled into the kindergarten. Only The Simpsons could make traumatizing four-year-olds hysterical.

tohvi-08The flashback to Dream Willie’s origins is so fantastic, the quick cuts back and forth from his escape attempts to the budget meeting besting him at every turn. Then when he finally bursts into the classroom, he’s forced to sit down, still on fire. I love how lame he looks sitting here, as he proceeds to burn to death while the most inconsequential discussion about the kids’ lunch schedule goes on. Skeleton Willie is incredibly eerie as well, at least until he dissolves into dust. And, being the school groundskeeper, he cleans up after himself with a dustpan.

tohvi-09Oh, and look at this shot of these three fat fathers in the front room, crouched down and scrunched into these children’s seats. Amidst the tense scene, this shot always makes me laugh.

tohvi-10Once Willie hits the “sinky-sank,” he’s seemingly done for, and quickly morphs through his many other forms before turning back to regular Willie and sinking to his demise. We’d never seen him as an elephant, tank or rocket before, but seeing as they’re all dangerous weapons (especially that elephant), I’m guessing they were forms of destruction he never got a chance to torture kids with.

tohvi-11A really quick bit I really love, a cartoon classic where Homer lifts the flat rug, only to find Santa’s Little Helper and Snowball II hiding under there somehow. And how their growling starts and stops when Homer lifts and puts down the rug.

tohvi-12The money shot of the entire segment, where 2D Homer becomes 3D Homer. Again, looks a whole lot better watching it than staring at framegrabs. The 3D sections were done by Pacific Data Images, who would soon after this pair up with DreamWorks and start up DreamWorks Animation. Keep in mind, this episode aired a mere month before Toy Story released in theaters, so at the time, this was definitely pretty eye opening.

tohvi-13The 3D certainly looks dated by the super technologically advanced age we live in today, but I still like the look of it. They went simple by their means, but also the serve the story. The idea is that Homer is trapped in the third dimension, as in literally the concept of 3D. So he’s just on this grid with a bunch of cones, cubes and spheres, like he’s trapped in a primitive Maya scene file. Also floating around the background are a bunch of 3D and mathematical in jokes, most notable being the Utah teapot, the first object to ever be rendered in 3D. All those math equations I’m sure was the work of writer David S. (later X.) Cohen, who would go on to co-create Futurama, a series with a writing staff who all held phDs, and who put them to work.

tohvi-14Back in 2D, this was a wonderfully nice subtle touch of Frink’s hair bouncing up and down as Wiggum fired blindly into the unknown abyss.

tohvi-15I remember Homer breaking apart falling into the black hole always kinda creeped me out as a kid. It also feels a bit similar to him being broken up in a similar way during the epiphany scene during the movie. Surely a coincidence though. I also remember seeing this segment in an IMAX film CyberWorld. It was a 2000 release that I’m sure played in very, very few screens, I saw it in NYC; it was basically an anthology film of different CG animated segments, which included some short films, the dance scene from Antz, and of course, Homer^3. And it was in 3D! And I only saw it because I wanted to see The Simpsons on an IMAX screen. Does anyone else remember this? Anybody?


Animation Alley: Treehouse of Horror V

tohv-01(this episode was directed by Jim Reardon)
I love the very few times the show utilizes live action, here where Marge discovers tonight’s episode was banned by Congress, and instead the classic film 200 Miles to Oregon. Funny how this movie is fake, while Paint Your Wagon turns out to be real. Anyway, no wraparounds anymore, we go to our title sequence, which has been getting more and more gruesome over time. You don’t see many cartoons where a boy chops the head off his school principal, who authorizes it with a gleeful thumbs up.

tohv-02The first segment is, of course, a parody of The Shining, and many moments and shots from the film are recreated here, all looking fantastic, be it from the establishing shots of the mansion and hedge maze, the blood escaping the elevator, or the awesome wraparound of the room scrawled with Homer’s maddening message. What makes it all work is the aim of the humor: the joke isn’t that they’re doing The Shining, it’s just the story they’ve decided to tell, and the jokes come from their twisting of the source material, combined with the personality of our characters within it.

tohv-03If you didn’t already have enough Shining references, here’s yet another, with Maggie spelling ‘Redrum’ with blocks. Not exactly a freeze frame moment since it’s pretty clear in the shot, but still a nice touch.

tohv-04David Silverman comes back with a vengeance, outdoing himself from the dogs playing poker bit from last year’s special. Homer going mad here is one of my favorite animation moments in the entire series; between the amazing drawings and Castellaneta’s hilarious performance, it’s a wonderful marvel to behold. If this were attempted by an artist now, it would all be thrown away for being too off-model. This would never make it to air.

tohv-05I love that for no discernible reason, we have cameos by franchise monsters like Freddy Kreuger, Pinhead and Jason Vorhees as Moe’s fellow ghouls who want to see Homer waste his family. I guess Homer’s sloth-like nature and love for food could only be dissuaded with the help of all the famous movie monsters at once.

tohv-06I love the look of Willie’s room, this nice calming green after all the shots before it of the gloomy blue mansion. The beguiling Scottish lass with bagpipes above the headboard is a great touch.

tohv-07I’ve always loved this shot, a low angle up at Homer, looking truly possessed, lumbering through the snow to murder his entire family. The Halloween shows’ greatest triumph is being able to make us feel real tension amidst the stupidest of situations. Mere scenes ago we had Homer optioning to stuff his face rather than follow the orders of the Mummy and Dracula, but now, thanks to the great drawings, music, performances, everything coming together to make us really believe that our favorite dumb lovable oaf is capable of doing something so horrible. Weaving from dumb jokes to believable tension… it ain’t easy, but the show in its heyday did it in spades every year.

tohv-09The first reality Homer returns to being ruled by Flanders has so many great moments. You have the floor morphing to a monitoring screen, a la Terminator 2, and the hooks forcing all the citizens to smile, such a wonderfully grotesque image. And I’ll mention again, despite the silliness of a Flanders-run universe, the show still makes us feel uncomfortable. The totalitarian nature of this world, as well as the far-gone looks of Marge and the kids post-lobotomy (Kavner’s dead reading of “It’s bliiiiisss” is so disconcerting), you really do feel uneasy.

tohv-11One of my favorite moments in the whole series (I’m sure I say that a lot… but this time I mean it) is when Homer finally snaps and wreaks as much havoc upon the prehistoric land as he wants. After smashing a few things with his club, he squashes a lizard two times, kicks up some dirt for whatever reason, then flat out cold cocks a giant dragonfly and starts bashing it with his club. There’s just something about this scene… the rhythm of the animation, it all seems to happen so quick, Homer’s squishing foot feeling somewhat delicate for some reason, the follow-through of Homer going from kicking dirt to his left, then turning and just decking that insect to his right, and the loud sound effect accompanying… it’s moments like these where screencaps just do no justice whatsoever.

tohv-13Great bit of a stircrazy Martin, just violently pulsating in his cramped little cage. You can’t help but feel bad for him.

tohv-14This may be the creepiest segment to me, for this ending alone, of the faculty just having completely lost it, becoming insatiable cannibals. It starts with Lunchlady Doris, unable to speak a word but letting out a guttural growl, seemingly having gone mad from killing so many children. Skinner is absolutely intimidating in the bit where he considers where he will begin devouring his arch nemesis. Which then leads to…

tohv-15…the giant blender. I mean, just look at that fucking thing. The vat to the side of it just splattered in blood, the innards of all of their former classmates. You don’t need anything more than that, that image is horrifying enough. Then afterwards, we get Milhouse falling to his death; his terrified expression, and then the brief churning noise after we cut back to Bart and Lisa… so, so upsetting,

tohv-16And if all that wasn’t traumatizing enough, we have our finale, where the family gets their skin turned inside out in a truly violent fashion. What else is there to do than to end with a big musical number! And just when you let your guard down, we have Santa’s Little Helper gnawing at Bart’s innards and dragging him off screen, leaving a wet pool of blood trailing behind him. Happy Halloween, everybody! Pleasant dreams!


Animation Alley: Treehouse of Horror IV

tohiv-01(this edition directed by David Silverman)
For our wrap-arounds in this edition, Bart steps in for Rod Serling in a Night Gallery parody, walking past a collection of famous paintings, Simpson-ized. It’s a real treat for anyone who’s taken an art history course. My favorite is probably the center, Jacques-Louis David’s “The Death of Marat,” except here, it’s Homer holding a shopping list of Duff, chips and pork. It even has David’s name on it too, and ‘Simpson’ subbing for ‘Marat’ above it.

tohiv-02bI love the deranged look of the little demon chef. Also we have Devil Flanders’ chilling alternate form, who just looks fantastic, clearing paying homage to the monstrous Chernabog from the “Night on Bald Mountain” segment of Fantasia. And excellent freeze frame moment where you see Flanders’ face from an instant before he disappears.

tohiv-03The vortex in the kitchen floor is such a great effect. The first shot has almost like a fish eye lens, and the second, I love how Marge’s nightcap is sucked up immediately, causing her hair to sway forth as well, becoming even more elongated.

tohiv-04This short and simple bit in Hell is fantastic. You have this wonderful contraption forcefeeding Homer donuts, and he of course couldn’t be happier. The ironic punishment demon laughs maniacally, thinking he knows the fun won’t last. Dissolve to an engorged Homer still willfully eating, and the demon is no longer so pleased.

tohiv-05As if you needed more reason to doubt the professionalism of Lionel Hutz, he first walks into the scene combing his hair with a fork. With her husband’s soul at stake, Marge sure pulled out the big guns.

tohiv-06I love how displeased Flanders is with the seating arrangements, as Marge pulls every object from the house to accommodate the jury of the damned. Best of all, of course, is Blackbeard stuck with an infant high chair. I love how awkward and uncomfortable he is on it (“This chair be high, says I!”)

tohiv-07Excellent drawing of the tense bit of Homer’s sentencing. It’s just a camera push-in, and the only animation is on the fire of the cage. This is all you need to convey the emotion of the scene.

tohiv-08Another amazing drawing from Homer and Marge’s wedding day. I love how Lovejoy’s there with the Bible open at the foot of the counter, as if he’s still officiating the marriage during Homer’s medically questionable state.

tohiv-09Bart’s nightmare of the school bus having a head-on collision ends with repeated flashes until we’re back in reality in the bedroom, but not until we get a few glimpses of skeleton Bart over here.

tohiv-10I absolutely love the gremlin, from the animation alone you can tell what perverse glee he takes out of wreaking such havoc. I’ve been playing through the Halloween event of the Tapped Out mobile game, and was really pleased that they included the gremlin in it. When you tap to get rid of him, he growls and does the throat cut animation. Fantastic.

tohiv-11Upon finding it, Flanders treats the gremlin with his usual warmness and good nature. Not even a claw to the eyes can deter him. I love how it reverts him to a confused animal state at first. But then, of course, we get our ending, which is one of the more genuinely disturbing moments in any Treehouse of Horror. The spinal column, Flanders’ wall eyed expression and the ghostly tone of his voice… so creepy.

tohiv-12An absolute David Silverman tour-de-force as Homer goes mad from the painting of dogs playing poker. A veritable freeze frame haven.

tohiv-13I love not only how pleased Homer is to submit his dirty rag for his family’s approval, but just how… filthy it is. That’s just from his neck! Imagine the rest of his body… on second thought, don’t imagine…

tohiv-14In one of the segment’s many references to Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, Burns’ shadow moves on a delay from Burns himself, which is such a subtle touch at first. Then when he turns, we see the shadow throw in a quick game of cat’s cradle and yo-yo before it follows as well.

tohiv-16The scene of vampire Bart and the family finding him out has a lot of excellent extreme poses. I love Homer diving in and squashing back Bart’s nose accusingly.

tohiv-17I laugh every single time during Homer raising his arms up and down in glee (“Super fun happy slide!!”)

tohiv-18All seems lost for Lisa… but the episode’s over, so not only will we completely dissolve the tension, we’ll end on A Charlie Brown Christmas. Why? Why not? One holiday’s just as good as another, right?


Animation Alley: Treehouse of Horror III

tohiii-1(this episode was directed by Carlos Baeza)
After two years of Marge in front of the curtain with her earnest word of warning, here Homer steps in, childishly goading the audience. But first, a wonderful take on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, with Homer subbing for the master of horror, clearly even fatter than the silhouette.

tohiii-2I laugh out loud every damn time during this shot of Marge chastising Homer, with no movement but Homer’s chewing lips. That completely blank expression serving to pay off the simple gag involving Homer the food monster. Also, not animation related, but I do like Marge setting up this traditional, but still slightly macabre party game, it’s such a true mom thing of her to do. Nowadays, extreme wet blanket one-dimensional Marge certainly wouldn’t be up for something like this.

tohiii-3Always fun to go frame-by-frame on animation smears like this. The limited amount of frames, and the wonderful coconut sound effect of Milhouse’s head hitting the wall, makes this a brilliant small moment of funny.

tohiii-5What a hilarious shot. The framing of it, the repairman’s shocked expression against Marge’s unaffected one, presumably having been dealing with this for a few hours, and the Krusty doll hoisted upon Homer’s lips painfully yanking at his elongated tongue. Just amazing.

tohiii-6“King Homer” pays tribute to the very original King Kong, of course, aping (heh heh) many of the shots from that film. My favorite is this, recreating the kinda goofy looking insert shot of the beast as the reaction to a live actor screaming in terror. Also great is later when he pulls Marge through the window, it’s just like the original, with Fay Wray flailing within a giant fake monkey fist.

tohiii-7My favorite moment in the entire show may be Shirley Temple’s little shoes falling off when she’s being picked up by Homer. But that doesn’t really come across in a framegrab, so here’s a shot of him eating the famous child actress.

tohiii-8Another great drawing. As if a gargantuan ape wouldn’t look awkward enough inside a church, they pose him in such a way he seems not only awkward, but self-conscious. Look at him looking up at his little hat! It’s almost adorable.

tohiii-9A perfect example of the show piling jokes on top of jokes on top of jokes. So Bart’s reading “Find Waldo Yet Again,” already a double joke, in the title referring to the dizzying amount of Waldo books, and the fact that since Bart figured that he struck out with “Baby’s First Pop-Up Book,” maybe this mature tome would appease Krabappel. So we see Waldo’s right there in the open, and if it weren’t easy enough, there’s a kid right there on the beach pointing at him. Brilliant.

tohiii-10Astounding reference to three network animated shows that emerged soon after The Simpsons to attempt to reach a similar audience… and were all swiftly cancelled. Lucky that they all involved animals so this joke works perfectly. Of the three, I’ve only seen Fish Police, and boy oh boy…

tohiii-11 Another great “Technical Difficulties” card, as usual. The only show to rival this incredibly specific type of humor is The Critic (“Wheel Be Right Back!”)

tohiii-12I love how even in the middle of a joke involving how brainless he is, Homer is still able to realize he’s been insulted when the zombies look elsewhere for brains.

tohiii-13Great drawings of zombie Jimbo, Dolph and Kearney kicking about Skinner’s head. I love how while a yellow complexion seems perfectly normal, altering them to green and purple truly makes them look sickly and undead.

tohiii-14Not animation related, but I wanted to end with my favorite line from the show.
“Excuse me, I’m John Smith.”
“John Smith, 1882?”
“My mistake!”


Animation Alley: Treehouse of Horror II

tohii-01I kind of miss the wrap-arounds, mainly because as a “consequence” of these yearly specials, we never really get to see the Simpsons celebrating Halloween in-universe. But for a few years, we got a brief glimmer of it, as wonderfully shown here. The kids’ costumes are perfect: Marge slapped a scary witch mask on Maggie, Bart the hooded executioner, and Lisa honors Native American heritage with her totem pole. We see them enter the room at their level, and when Lisa comes through and gets stuck, we zoom out to show her costume unable to clear the doorway. Excellent framing. Also, look at that pile of wonderful treats. And what the holy hell is Homer shoving into his mouth? Looks like a mashed up mound of pumpkin goop.

tohii-02All three segments are directed by Jim Reardon. As a whole, this show isn’t quite as atmospherically spooky as the last one, but that has a lot to do with the stories being told. Last time we have overtly creepy locales like a haunted house and a flying saucer, here the stories are a bit more grounded. The Monkey’s Paw segment is more a creepy cautionary tale about tampering with life’s natural order. And about the power of a board with a nail in it. Anyway, I love the Midnight Express bit as the Simpsons attempt to leave Morocco. What a great shot, with a wonderfully dumbstruck drawing of Homer.

tohii-03Kang and Kodos cement their status as annual regulars in this episode, but what I always remembered is how they look slightly off in this show. Their skin is more an olive green here, and they appear a bit lumpier. Also, love Kang’s bright pink king sash. It matches quite well with their bright pink ship interior.

tohii-04Moving to the “It’s a Good Life” segment. What an amazing design for the transformed Snowball II. It’s like an exquisite corpse come to life. Also, fantastic animation of it transforming.

tohii-05Telling three entire stories in a little over twenty minutes ain’t easy. This segment has to establish this entire new universe where everyone cowers in fear of the almighty Bart. We see Bart taking the school bus wheel from Otto, and, of course, driving like a maniac. Cut to this shot as we go into our school section. You don’t need to see the bus crash or any ridiculous sequence like that. This is all you need; you see the fallout of the bus incident as we have our school establishing shot leading to the next scene. How economical.

tohii-06Absolutely phenomenal posing and animation of sleep-deprived Krusty. I believe Brad Bird did the key drawings on these, he sure did love him some Krusty. To me, this is akin to the amazing heart attack from “Krusty Gets Busted.” You just don’t see this level of freedom in the animation on the show anymore.

tohii-07Quick bit, I love Homer having to tuck Bart in with his teeth. It’s hilarious and adorable seeing him struggle with the sheets like that.

tohii-09The final segment is probably the most atmospheric of the three, taking a lot of cues from Frankenstein, with the spookyness of the graveyard and Burns’ lab with all its glowing gizmos and gadgets. It’s also the first Halloween short that genuinely disturbed me. Smithers slicing open Homer’s skull, Burns tugging at his brain until that wince-inducing snap breaks it loose… so unsettling, but still wonderful. Only this show could go from that to Burns putting the brain atop his head with glee and still be funny (“Look at me! I’m Davy Crockett!”)

tohii-10I wouldn’t go so far to say it’s subtle, but we see the robot design at the beginning and you can tell it very much looks like Homer. What a great design, with the wires on the side of his head like Homer’s hair and the metallic muzzle. It foreshadows that even in a robot body, Homer will still be Homer, gobbling down donuts and sleeping away at work.


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