Disney Plus’ extensive catalog of content at launch includes the first 30 seasons of The Simpsons, but longtime fans of the show have been dismayed to find that the streaming service does not display older episodes in their original 4:3 aspect ratio.
First, a little background: The Simpsons debuted in 1989, back when every TV on the market was in the “square” or “fullscreen” aspect ratio of 4:3, with a resolution known as “standard definition.” The show didn’t make the switch to widescreen 16:9 high definition until February 2009, halfway through its 20th season.
Those first 19.5 seasons of The Simpsons comprise a total of 429 pre-HD episodes — nearly two-thirds of the 661 that are currently available on Disney Plus. But on the streaming service, they’re only viewable in a 16:9 aspect ratio. The modified episodes are the result of a “remastering” process that is meant to translate the show into HD with improved color and clarity. But in many cases, the conversion to widescreen simply involves chopping off the top and bottom of the original image and/or stretching it to fit a 16:9 aspect ratio — which crops out some of the show’s cleverest sight gags.
To wit, check out the Disney Plus version of 1993’s “Duffless,” the 16th episode of season 4, which ruins a great joke at the Duff brewery:
All the classic Simpsons episodes on Disney+ are in cropped widescreen format — this means you miss out on tons of great visual jokes, like how Duff, Duff Lite and Duff Dry all come from the same tube. pic.twitter.com/cTy9adulFl
— Tristan Cooper (@TristanACooper) November 12, 2019
This will surely bring back bad memories for Simpsons fans — they dealt with the same issue in the summer of 2014, when Fox began airing a marathon on FXX of every Simpsons episode. Even when the company later launched Simpsons World, the website that had been the exclusive streaming home of The Simpsons until now, it only offered 16:9 conversions of the SD episodes. (At the time, fans compiled additional comparison images illustrating just how much was lost with the crops.) It wasn’t until months after Simpsons World’s debut that Fox added the ability for users to choose between 4:3 and 16:9 versions of the SD episodes.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow once again, especially since there was evidence suggesting that Disney Plus would do right by Simpsons fans. In late October, one of those fans tweeted a screenshot of a Twitter direct message conversation with the official Disney Plus support account. The person had asked about The Simpsons, and a Disney Plus representative had replied, “The episodes will be released in the original aspect ratio. Meaning that if the episode was originally aired in 4:3, it will be available in that aspect ratio.”
That’s not the case, at least at launch. It’s also worth noting that The Simpsons on Disney Plus does not come with any of the bonus features that Simpsons World offers, such as the episode guide or the ability to watch episodes with the audio commentary from Fox’s DVDs. (Disney Plus does at least provide audio tracks for The Simpsons in English, Spanish, and French, along with subtitles in English, Spanish, French, and Dutch.) And don’t forget that with the launch of Disney Plus, the Simpsons World site is, well, not long for this world. Here’s hoping Disney eventually brings the features of Simpsons World to Disney Plus.
Bill Oakley, who served as a writer and showrunner on The Simpsons for years, referenced Simpsons World’s functionality in an interview with Digital Trends Live on Tuesday, saying, “At the very least, [Disney] could’ve allowed people to just […] click and change it to 4:3. I hope that they bring that option to Disney Plus, because it’s like, that’s what the fans want to see — at least, the hardcore fans want to see the show the way it was.”
We reached out to Disney about The Simpsons on Disney Plus and the status of Simpsons World, but have not heard back; asked by The Verge about the aspect ratio issue, a Disney spokesperson declined comment. We’ll update this article with any information we receive.
Update (Nov. 15): Disney Plus will offer the pre-HD episodes of The Simpsons in their original 4:3 aspect ratio — and the option to toggle between 4:3 and 16:9 — starting in “early 2020,” a spokesperson for the service said on Friday in a statement to News Brig.
“We presented The Simpsons in 16:9 aspect ratio at launch in order to guarantee visual quality and consistency across all 30 seasons,” the statement reads. “Over time, Disney+ will roll out new features and additional viewing options. As part of this, in early 2020, Disney+ will make the first 19 seasons (and some episodes from Season 20) of The Simpsons
Update 2 (April 2, 2020): After giving an “early 2020” estimate in November for when the first 19-plus seasons of The Simpsons would be available on Disney Plus in their original 4:3 aspect ratio, Disney has pushed back the timeline to late spring 2020.
“We appreciate our fans’ patience and are working to make the first 19 Seasons (and part of 20) of #TheSimpsons available in 4:3 versions on #DisneyPlus,” the company said in a tweet from the Disney Plus account. “We expect to accomplish this by the end of May.”
We appreciate our fans’ patience and are working to make the first 19 Seasons (and part of 20) of #TheSimpsons available in 4:3 versions on #DisneyPlus. We expect to accomplish this by the end of May.
— Disney+ (@disneyplus) April 2, 2020
Update 3 (May 20, 2020): Disney is finally making good on its (revised) promise. The company announced on Wednesday — via longtime Simpsons showrunner Al Jean — that May 28 is the date on which Disney Plus will make older episodes of The Simpsons available in their original 4:3 aspect ratio.
That’s not all the Simpsons content coming to Disney Plus next week. Jean added in a follow-up tweet that on May 29, Disney will release the animated short film The Longest Daycare on the streaming service. Originally released in 2012, when it played before screenings of Ice Age: Continental Drift in theaters, The Longest Daycare was later nominated for an Oscar.
It will be the second Simpsons animated short to arrive on Disney Plus, following Playdate With Destiny, which debuted on the service last month after premiering in theaters in March before screenings of Pixar’s Onward. Both shorts happen to focus on Maggie Simpson.