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. 


4 Responses to “Compare & Contrast: Disney, The Simpsons, & Zombie Simpsons”


  1. 1 studentee
    2 December 2010 at 9:54 pm

    veddy nice

  2. 2 Stan
    2 December 2010 at 10:11 pm

    I’ll have to be the Family Guy guy again, but just to point out that in the last season, FG also did their share of disneyism upon characters (it’s in “Road to Multiverse”, and I’m just too lazy to utube that, but you can still easily find it there). Difference is, their part was actually hand-drawn. And then digitalized (as FG switched to digital around same time early 2000ish).

    That of course doesn’t excuse ZS producers to make such sloppy design of their characters, withstanding the fact that even plot-wise, FG stuff was funny. And original. This is just not the best bit IMO, it sucked just like the rest of that moronic episode.

  3. 3 Ezra
    10 December 2010 at 11:49 pm

    Zombies Simpsons fails in every regard – from plotlines, to characterization, and finally in regard to the animation.

    Screw the losers who decry the crude animation of the first few seasons. That crudeness has charm, and character. The modern “perfect” animation is plastic, hyper-symmetrical CG junk – as lifeless as the show that showcases it.


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