by Brandon Butler
The Simpsons Original Aspect Ratio Has Finally Been Restored on Disney+ 5/28/2020

Todd Spangler at Variety on why it took so long for Disney+ to release the promised original 4:3 aspect ratio of The Simpsons:

Basically, the Disney Plus team had to reconfigure its content-delivery engine and build a brand-new feature to accommodate a concept it hadn’t previously anticipated: Giving viewers access to the same content but with different underlying video attributes, according to Joe Rice, VP of media product at Disney Streaming Services. And, it had to do that without breaking any of the existing features of Disney Plus. […]

The new Disney Plus product feature launching today — available across mobile, web and connected-TV devices — lets subscribers toggle between playing “The Simpsons” episodes in the original 4:3 aspect ratio (when available) or their remastered 16:9 widescreen formats.

I’m not sure this needed to be as difficult as they made it out to be. The simple solution is to remove the cropped 16:9 widescreen version. Many TVs and screen devices can zoom in on content and crop it, and if someone wants to watch 2/3rds of The Simpsons, they can do so with on-device zoom and crop. You’d never see Disney+ offer a cropped 4:3 version of Beauty and the Beast, so why offer a cropped version of The Simpsons?

Disney’s classic Peter Pan is a better example: The classic Disney animated musical was originally released in 1.37:1 aspect ratio (also known as the Academy ratio). If you do the math, 4:3 and 1.37:1 are nearly identical, but if you play Peter Pan on Disney+, it’s not being offered in widescreen. You don’t get to choose, you just get the 1.37:1 — non-widescreen — aspect ratio.

Before 2002, you were hard pressed to find a TV series framed for 16:9. Some TV shows were filmed with 16:9 film, but they were cropped for 4:3 TV screens in post production. Often times lights, crew, and equipment are just out of frame, and when studios have gone back to re-master these shows for DVD, they release them in widescreen and in the process reveal distracting elements that were never supposed to be seen by audiences.

However, for animated shows like The Simpsons, they didn’t sit there drawing on a widescreen piece of paper and then throw away the unused edges. There’s literally nothing on the edges of the scenes, so FOX/Disney have zoomed in on the scenes to fill up the edges of a widescreen TV while sacrificing the tops and bottoms of the scenes, ruining visual gags and jokes — and The Simpsons have a lot of visual gags and jokes.

It’s great Disney has restored the original aspect ratio of The Simpsons, but why crop the show to start with? The crop did nothing to improve on the show, and only hurt it visually. It was a massive mistake that Disney should have easily fixed by removing the widescreen crop from existence and promising to never re-release it.