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?

17 Responses to “Animation Alley: Treehouse of Horror VI”

  1. 26 October 2013 at 10:22 am

    The captain of the high school basketball team is walking right next to a Big & Tall store. I never noticed that before.

  2. 7 E.V.
    26 October 2013 at 3:00 pm

    Oh my God.
    For ages, I’ve been trying to remember where/how I saw that 3D Homer segment. I knew I saw it on a big screen but I seriously couldn’t recall. Thank you.

  3. 8 Jeff
    26 October 2013 at 3:41 pm

    I saw Cyberworld at the IMAX theater in Seattle. I, too, only saw it because I wanted to see The Simpsons scene in 3D. (This was back when 3D movies were pretty rare occurrences.)

  4. 9 FireFlower
    26 October 2013 at 3:53 pm

    The 3D segment is one of my favorite things the show has ever done.

  5. 10 Stan
    26 October 2013 at 6:36 pm

    Some of the things you wrote in this one, well, I don’t really agree with. But it’ll be too long to point these out, so fuck it, keep up the work.

  6. 11 Nick the Greek
    26 October 2013 at 7:26 pm

    I saw the 3D segment of this at the imax in either Waterloo, London or at the Science Museum years and years ago. And you were dead right about the other 3d bits. I can’t remember anything about them, but now that you mention Antz it rings a bell.

    Does anyone know where exactly in London this was shown?

  7. 12 Anonymous
    27 October 2013 at 8:35 am

    I always thought Homer had a condom on his head? Made the scene funnier for me

  8. 27 October 2013 at 11:43 am

    I remember seeing the poster for Cyberworld outside the IMAX theater in the then-newly constructed Providence Place Mall the first time I went there. Didn’t actually see the movie, but I’d just started watching The Simpsons not too long before, so it caught my interest.

    Words can’t describe how funny Martin’s death scene is. The scream and the stretchy animation of his death throes are hysterical all on their own, but then he falls down dead, there’s a brief second of silence…and Nelson points at him and goes “Haw haw!” As if dying in the middle of a classroom full of kids is on the same level as tripping and falling in mud or something. It’s hilariously insensitive.

  9. 14 Blake E
    27 October 2013 at 11:03 pm

    This was groundbreaking cartoon half-hour at its very best. Perfection, this episode

  10. 15 Rob
    28 October 2013 at 10:53 am

    Lousy Smarch weather.

  11. 28 October 2013 at 4:06 pm

    Also, this episode’s DVD commentary features one of my all-time favorite moments…

    David Silverman: Now, how come you guys could use the Godzilla scream, but when we tried to use it in Monsters Inc., they wouldn’t let us?
    David X. Cohen: Because you asked.

  12. 30 October 2013 at 7:27 pm

    A Treehouse of Horror DVD my mom bought a few years back has these segments. Next time I’m at my parent’s place, I’ll have to check them out again. It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen The Simpsons, as my local TV networks only play episodes of Zombie Simpsons for some reason. I remember particularly enjoying the segment with Willie going after the kids.

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