When Disney+ launched in November with all 30 seasons of The Simpsons available to stream, fans were overjoyed — until they realized classic episodes of the long-running sitcom had half of their frames chopped off to fit into the now commonly used 16:9 aspect ratio. This is a problem with most shows made before 2009 that have made the transition to digital, but the frame cropping with The Simpsons was particularly egregious because of show’s abundant visual gags, many of which ended up being cut out. Disney+ pledged to restore the show to its original 4:3 aspect ratio, which it is now finally rolling out, more than six months later. But there’s a reason it took so long.
Disney+ is finally rolling out classic The Simpsons episodes in their original 4:3 aspect ratio, starting today, May 28. Matt Groening’s wildly popular animated sitcom aired in a 4:3 aspect ratio from its premiere on Fox in 1989 until its 20th season in 2010, when it switched to a 16:9 format. That’s more than 20 years of episodes whose frames were chopped up. But it’s taken more than six months to introduce the episodes in their original dimensions, after intense fan backlash to the platform’s cropping of the older episodes back when Disney+ first launched in November 2019. Why did it take so long?
Variety as the answer in a new report diving into the complicated process that the Disney+ team went through to “reconfigure its content-delivery engine and build a brand-new feature” to accommodate different underlying video attributes. Joe Rice, VP of media product at Disney Streaming Services, told Variety that this was a much more involved process than you would think, as the team had to make sure this reconfiguration wouldn’t break any of the existing features on Disney+, like Continue Watching, Watchlists, and the auto-play feature.
Thanks to that new feature, starting today, Disney+ subscribers can toggle between playing The Simpsons episodes in the original 4:3 aspect ratio or the remastered 16:9 widescreen format. This will be available across mobile, web, and connected-TV devices.
Disney+ originally launched all episodes of The Simpsons in the remastered 16:9 format “in order to guarantee visual quality and consistency across all 30 seasons.” But the company maybe should have anticipated that there would be backlash — when FX Networks’ Simpsons World app launched in 2014 with cropped segments to fit in the 16:9 aspect ratio, there was so much backlash that FX quickly restored the segments to 4:3. There is a great breakdown of the history of TV cropping that The Simpsons has faced by Slate below.
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