Posts Tagged ‘How Munched Is That Birdie In The Window

02
Dec
10

Compare & Contrast: Disney, The Simpsons, & Zombie Simpsons

“Yeah, I used to be rich.  I owned Mickey Mouse Massage Parlors, then those Disney sleazeballs shut me down.  I said, ‘Look, I’ll change the logo, put Mickey’s pants back on!’  Pfft, some guys you just can’t reason with.” – Railroad Bridge Bum

Walter Elias Disney is an inescapable presence in American animation.  Whether or not you like him, his work, or the giant company he spawned, when it comes to animation you are living in a world he did a great deal to shape.  The Simpsons always had some fun with this, enough that SNPP has an entire page dedicated to the show’s various Disney references and parodies.  Zombie Simpsons occasionally attempts to do this as well and, as with so much of Zombie Simpsons, falls haplessly short.

In “How Munched Is That Birdie in the Window”, Zombie Simpsons had what passed for an Itchy & Scratchy segment that was loosely based off of an old Disney cartoon called “Pluto’s Judgement Day”.  I mentioned this in Crazy Noises, but the animation here is really peculiar and I wanted to highlight it with examples.  Look at the startling contrast between Itchy and the background here:

Zombie Simpsons Judge

The two things that jump out are the coloring and the crispness.  The cave walls in the background and the podium in the foreground are both colored in various hues and shades.  The background especially gets darker to give the impression of a deep recess in the cave.  By contrast, Itchy is flat and monochromatic.  Every part of his face is the same color; his gavel, clothes and gloves also remain the exact same color and shade no matter what he does:

Zombie Simpsons Judge2

Itchy has gone from far away from the camera to right into the lens, and yet the only thing that changes is the shape of his various parts and objects, nothing in the coloring gives any hint that he’s moved at all.  The dramatic lighting of the background is similarly ignored.  Itchy got bigger, but there’s nothing other than size to indicate that he’s actually gestured forward. 

The precision of the lines on Itchy compared with the background is even more jarring.  Look at the awkward juxtaposition of his sharp hand against the fuzzy podium.  Now compare that to the gavel and the background behind it.  The two are identical – sharp lines vs fuzzy ones – which makes the overall image even more awkward because his hand is supposed to be physically on the podium and the gavel is supposed to be far in front of the cave walls.  The entire image is muddled because all of the tricks that give depth to the podium and the walls are ignored for Itchy. 

Now take a look at the Disney original (please forgive the lower resolution, I had to grab this from YouTube):

Disney Judge

The backgrounds are very similar in that they’re a little fuzzy and make a lot of use of color to both make the podium look tall and the walls look deep.  Now watch what happens when the Disney judge leans forward:

Disney Judge2

The lighting on every part of him, from his robe to his gavel to his mortar board, has shifted to give the impression that he has moved.  And there are touches beyond those as well.  The lines on his forehead are thicker since they are closer to the camera, the fur on his arm is standing up, the claw on his thumb is visible.  And look at where his robe meets the podium.  There’s no incongruous clashing of styles.  Despite the fact that he’s moving and the background is not, the judge looks for all the world as though he really is behind that podium.  Itchy, on the other hand, looks clumsily superimposed. 

Now let’s take a look at how something similar was handled by The Simpsons.  Way back in Season 4, in “Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie”, the animation is almost a direct copy of its famous predecessor:

Steamboats

Itchy, like Mickey in the original, is animated in the same style as the background.  The same shades are being used, and the lines are all in the same layer of focus.  Both Itchy and Mickey look like they are standing on a boat.  This similarity in style is necessary for the parody to work.  The gag is the gruesome violence presented in that wriggly, wholesome 1920s style.  (Not that “Steamboat Willie” is exactly pacific.  Mickey tortures the fuck out of a bunch of animals in his lust for the perfect rendition of “Turkey in the Straw”.)  When we see Scratchy’s knees shot away to reveal naked bone underneath, it fits in with the animation style.  Ditto for when Scratchy’s head is locked into the furnace and his body writhes uncontrollably as he’s roasted alive.  Even the blood is cute. 

Of course, “Steamboat Willie” is much simpler than “Pluto’s Judgement Day”.  Disney and company were busy between 1928 and 1935: the animation is much more lush, it’s in color, and it makes use of all that implied lighting.  But, of course, “Steamboat Itchy” wasn’t the only classic Disney parody The Simpsons ever did.  For an even more damning comparison to Zombie Simpsons, let’s skip ahead to Season 6’s “Itchy & Scratchy Land”.

Fantasia, Disney’s great contribution to drug culture before there was such a thing, came out in 1940.  To call the animation superb is an understatement, and it would be nuts to try to parody it in all its particulars.  Instead, amidst many digs at Disney himself in the guise of Roger Meyers Sr., The Simpsons showed us “Scratchtasia”, a parody of the famous “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” segment.  They didn’t try to match the original visually, but their parody clearly demonstrates that they understand the elements that made it so iconic. 

Here’s Mickey’s first whack with the ax.  Note the lighting and shading (again, this is from YouTube, so the image quality is very suboptimal):

Fantasia1

We know that the source of the light and the action are in the next room, and we can see the door through which the shadows are being cast.  But leaving the action alone in shadow would lessen the ferocity of Mickey’s attack.  To increase the impact on the audience without directly showing the violence, the Disney gang alter the coloring and the lighting radically (and boy does this YouTube copy not handle red well):

Fantasia2

Mickey’s final swings dice up the straw bristles until nothing remains.  The broom is splintered into tiny pieces and there is no doubt in the audience’s mind that something brutal and violent just took place.  “Scratchtasia” uses the same techniques to convey the same message, but doesn’t try to mimic all the details.  Here we can see the first blow ready to fall:

Scratchtasia1

Just as in the original Fantasia, the gory part of the violence occurs in shadow.  But when the ax does start making contact, it alters the entire scene:

Scratchtasia2

The shapes and outlines are all still there, but the color and lighting have almost inverted themselves.  Without any explicit, on-screen blood and guts, or even a change in perspective, we know exactly what happened.  It’s not as colorful or as detailed as the original, but it doesn’t need to be.  The animation is clearly reminiscent of the source material without being at odds with itself. 

To be sure, there is an obvious technical difference between the classics and Zombie Simpsons: computer animation.  Despite the decades between “Steamboat Willie”, “Fantasia” and The Simpsons, all were drawn by hand with inks and dyes.  “How Munched Is That Birdie in the Window” wasn’t, but that doesn’t forgive the sloppiness on display above.  The soft focus, static background, for example, is rendered pretty well in ones and zeros.  It’s the motion where things fall apart, where characters are flat and monochrome, and no thought is given to lighting them at all.  Instead of doing the whole thing in the Disney style, or the whole thing in their own style, they did a mash of both and the result is off putting and ugly. 

It’s possible they just didn’t have the time to put in lighting and match the focus; it’s also possible that they just didn’t care.  Either way it’s poorly animated, and it’s unworthy of both The Simpsons and of Disney. 

Special thanks to No Homers user zartok-35 and commenter Shane for posting the video of “Pluto’s Judgement Day”.  Even without Zombie Simpsons, that was fun to watch again.  I don’t think I’d seen it since I was about seven years old. 

30
Nov
10

Crazy Noises: How Munched Is That Birdie in the Window

Rorschach Test

“Uh, the devil with his fly open.” – Homer Simpson
“Right.” – Psychiatrist
“Uh, that’s a spill on the floor with bugs going after it. And they’re gonna eat it.” – Homer Simpson
“Good.” – Psychiatrist
“Let’s see, it’s . . . the boy!” – Homer Simpson

In our ongoing mission to bring you only the shallowest and laziest analysis of Zombie Simpsons, we’re keeping up our Crazy Noises series for Season 22.  Since a podcast is so 2004, and video would require a flag, a fern and some folding chairs from the garage, we’ve elected to use the technology that brought the word “emoticon” to the masses: the chatroom.  Star Trek image macros are strictly forbidden, unless you have a really good reason why Captain Picard is better than Captain Kirk.  This text has been edited for clarity and spelling (especially on  “unrepentant”).

Homer Simpson was once given a Rorschach test. He had been involuntarily hauled to the “New Bedlam Rest Home for the Emotionally Interesting” for the grievous crime of wearing a pink shirt to work. No introduction was needed, the scene just picked up with Homer reporting what he saw. The whole thing barely takes ten seconds and each line is a joke.

In “How Munched is That Birdie in the Window”, Zombie Homer was acting out like the jerk he is when Marge distracted him with Rorschach pages. This led to a twenty second long series of grunts and screams. None of them had anything to do with what few ink blots were shown. There was hardly any dialogue; it was mostly Homer making faces while Castellaneta made noises. The other characters in the room didn’t react to this or anything, they just sat patiently and waited for him to finish. It was almost as if they knew they were in a crappy sitcom.

Charlie Sweatpants: Time to take the plunge?

Mad Jon: I am ready.

Charlie Sweatpants: In that case, let me start out by saying that this felt like they were pulling words and concepts out of a hat.

Mad Jon: That’s a pretty good description.

It was even more randomly taped together than usual.

Charlie Sweatpants: I know I complain about the stories every week, and it’s not unusual for the first act to have nothing to do with the rest of the episode, but this was even worse than usual.

Dave: Manatees and idea balls, perhaps?

Charlie Sweatpants: It wasn’t just the first act, it was the first half, and even that was padded left and right with whatever happened to fill up enough screen time. Between that thing that was like an Itchy & Scratchy, and that Patton bit, and the angels, and the horror story . . . it just kept getting more and more random.

Mad Jon: I did think they were going to make Homer talk in that voice the entire episode, but then they surprised me and had him do other random activities and voices….

Also, Danica Patrick was there.

I guess Go Daddy isn’t paying like it used to.

Charlie Sweatpants: She was one of three different fights Homer got into.

And hers was the only one with a purpose.

Dave: Danica Patrick was useless, as she is in real life. It was oddly fitting.

Charlie Sweatpants: Geez Dave, what have you got against Patrick?

Dave: I just don’t care for her. Carry on.

Mad Jon: Was the therapist a guest voice too?

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah.

That was Rachel Weisz.

It didn’t need to be. But it was

Mad Jon: Ok. What was she pitching?

Charlie Sweatpants: I don’t know, it may be the first non-synergistic guest voice of the year.

Charlie Sweatpants: Of course, it was just one scene and it did nothing, but there it is.

Mad Jon: Hmm, so FOX is getting dumber AND lazier huh.

Charlie Sweatpants: Something like that.

To the “dumber” point, they continue with their inability to furnish a guest character with an interesting story.

Mad Jon: Or any story.

Charlie Sweatpants: In terms of “lazier”, I will say that I was expecting Patrick to just drive up in a race car or something. I can’t decide if having her in a dream is more or less lazy.

Dave: A little less, but only marginally.

Mad Jon: Well the racing thing would have helped tie into Moe’s plot to steal Homer’s house.

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah, what was that about?

Moe’s not there, then he is, then as a punchline they use this bizarre twist.

Mad Jon: I don’t know. Nobody knows. Moe doesn’t know.

Dave: A throwaway line intended for yuks, but something that instead fell flat on its face?

Charlie Sweatpants: Sounds about right.

That reminds me, uh, Marcia Wallace really can’t do Krabappel any more. It’s not even close.

Mad Jon: Yeah it was pretty bad.

Charlie Sweatpants: Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want them to replace her or anything, she deserves to take every penny she can out of them, but it’s impossible not to notice it.

Mad Jon: Also your statement about Chalmers a few weeks back is becoming truer by the day. He really does live at the school doesn’t he?

Charlie Sweatpants: All the minor characters are like that. It’s just most noticeable with Chalmers.

Nelson in this one, for example.

Mad Jon: Oh yeah, with the mom and the clown.

Charlie Sweatpants: There he is out in the wilderness, then there he is again for the world’s most forced callback joke.

And I can’t decide if it’s stupider that he was in the choir, or that the choir was at the funeral.

Mad Jon: That whole funeral scene made me feel very bad about myself.

Charlie Sweatpants: The same goes for Moe and Milhouse.

Mad Jon: The rendition of “taps’ was especially physically embarrassing.

Charlie Sweatpants: Another glacially paced scene in an episode that was full of them.

Any decent parts, in your opinions?

Dave: The montage wasn’t awful, by ZS standards, but it did go on a tad long.

Mad Jon: The only thing I thought was ok was the chart Bart drew. Not the whole scene with Milhouse, that dragged on and was pointless, but the quick flash to the drawing with Milhouse at the bottom was ‘decent’ in my opinion.

Charlie Sweatpants: Skinner wanting Bart to be depressed was okay, while it went on too long and they beat it into the ground a little bit, it’s a decent concept.

It also made sense in context, quite frankly that shocked me.

Mad Jon: I can see that. It was faintly reminiscent of the time Skinner recommended deportation. Just not as hilarious.

Charlie Sweatpants: Not even close, but that Skinner would unrepentantly want Bart sad was good. It just didn’t need to take that long, or have as much Jerkass Homer in it.

Other than that this was pretty much a garbage dump all the way through.

Mad Jon: No arguments here.

Charlie Sweatpants: I was also curious about your opinions on the animation for the weird Itchy & Scratchy thing.

The backgrounds and stuff were done in a very 1930s Disney style with that soft focus, but the characters were all crisp and bright and obviously digital.

I don’t know if that was intentional or what, but it was just odd.

Dave: Oh, that. I shrugged it off. I’m sure it was a reference to something I don’t care about.

But intentional, yes.

Mad Jon: That was a very weird I&S, even for this season.

Charlie Sweatpants: Anything else here? We haven’t even mentioned the ostrich fight/murder/Family Guy thing at the end. But that may be for the best.

Mad Jon: Oh I think it’s just as well that we lump that in to your opening statement. It was a random collage of animation and activity I assume they thought would get some laughs from the twelve year olds in between their text messages and facetime.

Dave: Bart killed an ostrich lol?

Mad Jon: I kind of felt drunk while I was watching the last 4 or so minutes, and I haven’t had anything to drink tonight.

Charlie Sweatpants: I can understand that. With about four minutes to go I looked at the timer and was wondering where they were going with this. Then there was an ostrich farm and Bart had to not get saved by Santa’s Little Helper.

When the ostrich opened his eyes, fine, who cares, it’s a little twist. But then he went all Chicken with Bad Coupon on Homer. Was it worth that kind of total capitulation to MacFarlane to stretch the last ten seconds of the episode?

Mad Jon: I have a hard time imagining that they were doing that for any other reason than to fill the last minute of screen time.

Charlie Sweatpants: Yeah, you’re probably right.

Mad Jon: There is no need to think of an ending when you don’t really end the episode.

Charlie Sweatpants: Also a good point.

Anything else? I’m ready to be done.

Mad Jon: Also I am ready to be done.

Charlie Sweatpants: Well, Dave, what do you say? Is it quittin’ time or would you like to stay and work overtime?

Dave: I think it’s quittin’ time. Jon would kill me if I extended this.

Charlie Sweatpants: I always like it when we end on implied death threats.

29
Nov
10

Paging G.E. Smith (Updated)

Chalkboard - How Munched is That Birdie in the Window

“So then his wife comes through the door!” – Homer Simpson
“So?” – Bart Simpson
“Did I mention she was dead?” – Homer Simpson
“No.” – Lisa Simpson
“Well, she was.  And she hit him in the head with a golf club!” – Homer Simpson
“And?” – Bart Simpson
“Don’t you remember?  He went golfing all the time and it really bugged her.” – Homer Simpson
“You said he went bowling!” – Lisa Simpson
“D’oh!” – Homer Simpson

I’ve often compared Zombie Simpsons to bad sketch comedy, and “How Munched is That Birdie in the Window” is one of the best examples yet inflicted upon the masses.  Not only did none of the scenes compliment each other, many of them had literally nothing to do with the rest of the episode.  Instead, there were a series of brief scenes that barfed up a few hammy jokes and pratfalls before ending as abruptly as they started. 

It began with another extremely long couch opening.  That was followed by two scenes that were completely unrelated to everything.  And I mean “completely”, both the angels bowling and Homer’s Halloween leftover story had nothing to do with the rest of the episode, nor were they setting anything up.  I half expected a house band to break in and play a few guitar licks so that the transition from the monologue to the Big Ear Family would be easier on the audience. 

Then, apropos of nothing, the pigeon showed up.  That lead to a pigeon montage, an unrelated Homer scene with a pigeon coop, another unrelated scene with Milhouse, random characters using pigeon messages to set up random scenes and, finally, Moe appearing for no reason whatsoever.  Each scene has its own little timid stabs at humor, then ends.  You could write a description of each one on an index card, shuffle them thoroughly, and reorder the entire episode and it would’ve made as much (or more) sense as the real thing. 

The main conflict, if it can even be called that, was Bart getting upset at his dog, and that wasn’t introduced until halfway through.  It too came straight out of the blue, Santa’s Little Helper simply appeared and ate the bird, though the suddenness did not prevent them from milking it for half a minute of screen time.  As if to add to the randomness, they had two relatively well known guest stars, one an actual actress, neither of whom was given anything to do but appear and disappear quickly.  Oh, and did I mention that it ends with an ostrich fight?  It did.  And, no, it didn’t have anything to do with the rest of the episode either.

The numbers are in and, sadly, they’re up.  Happily, they are also not final, as football ran very long on FOX yesterday.  The preliminary numbers say that 9.42 million people choked down last night’s Zombie Simpsons, but even with the big lead in from football those numbers are likely to come down.  Since that number is much higher than anything Zombie Simpsons has posted this season, let’s hope it comes down a lot.  Unlike the last time this happened, I will actually update this post when the final numbers are published. 

Update 3 December 2010: Unfortunately, the final numbers were only revised down slightly to 9.39 million viewers.  That makes this one easily the highest rated of the season.  Let’s hope it stays that way.   

28
Nov
10

Sunday Preview: “How Munched Is That Birdie In The Window?”

I hate shitty, two-bit, fame-whore Danica Patrick so much that I’m not even going to dignify this episode with commentary.  I’ll leave it at the description from our friends at Simpsons Channel:

Bart helps nurse an injured pigeon back to health. After Santa’s Little Helper eats the bird, Bart has a hard time coping with the loss. Worried that Bart needs some help getting over the loss, Marge and Homer take him to a therapy session with Dr. Thurston, who advises that the only cure for Bart’s blues is to give away the family dog, but when the Simpsons visit the pup’s new home, a shock causes them to rethink their decision.




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