Update: Five months after the series first became available on Disney+, the streaming service has announced that episodes of The Simpsons originally broadcast in a 4:3 aspect ratio will be available, uncropped, by the end of May. This is great news for anyone revisiting classic episodes during the quarantine. Read our original story, published in November, to understand why.
If you’ve spent your time on Disney+ scrolling through the available titles or watching The Mandalorian, you might not have noticed that every episode of The Simpsons is on the service. That’s right. From “Lard of the Dance” to “A Streetcar Named Marge,” you can watch every episode of the show (save one) on the streaming service. There’s just one problem: they’re cropped. (Annoyed grunt).
The Simpsons started in the era of non-widescreen television. The 4:3 aspect ratio used for its first 429 episodes necessitated bars on the left and right when aired on widescreen HDTVs. The “solution” was often to crop out the top and bottom of the frame to make it fit a 16:9 ratio, which means literally removing jokes from the show.
Other frames were stretched to fit the new screen dimensions, altering how people and objects within looked.
Disney+ is a service designed for the widescreen aspect ratios of today’s TVs, phones, and tablets, so it made some sense to use the cropped versions of the episodes. It also feels like the company bought Fox and is shabbily treating one of its best titles, choosing style over substance.
For longtime fans of the show, this outrage feels sadly familiar. When FXX got the series five years ago, its marathon of every episode ever aired the cropped versions, to the consternation of the serious fans who could likely be persuaded to watch the show for hours on end.
Cushioning the blowback then was the fact that Simpsons World, the streaming platform FXX set up for the show, eventually offered fans the choice between 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios. Disney+ maddeningly doesn’t have that option.
We’re not sure for how long, but Simpsons World is still online. As long as you can use it, you should. Hopefully Disney gets the memo and, like new acquisition FXX, gives fans a 4:3 aspect ratio option.
But the best place to find the most cutting criticism of this move? As in most things, it’s on a joke the show (or in this case, The Simpsons Movie, also available on Disney+) did years ago that just happens to line up perfectly with current events.