Is there any theme song more iconic than The Simpsons’, now renewed for a 23rd season? No. The answer was no. Composed, of course, by Danny Elfman, it is estimated that every human being in history has seen this at least once every day of their lives. According to scientists.
The tune is upbeat and fun and a bit repetitive, as per usual for Danny Elfman:
In this sequence, we meet a lot of the main characters and get a brief sense of their activities: Homer’s an idiot who works at a power plant, Marge is a housewife, Bart is a bad kid, Lisa is an overachieving saxophonist, and Maggie is a baby. We also meet some other people from around town, but a bit too quickly:
What Bart writes on the blackboard, Lisa’s saxophone solo, and the Simpsons Couch Gag all vary from week-to-week:
The sequence was animated primarily by Kevin Petrilak of Klasky-Csupo (with the rest of their crew), which definitely makes sense. You can see the expressiveness of design in their other projects (Rugrats, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, etc).
In 2009, with the show’s 20th season, it transitioned to HD, and so did its opening credits sequence. This allowed them to add more varying gags (e.g., billboard design):
…and more characters to the sequence:
What some maintain, though, is that with this transition came a loss of character. Compare here the change in movement, from the fun and jaunty and musical to the stiff and careful:
(Image via Amid Amidi of Cartoon Brew)
Jaime Weinman attributes the Simpson’s early freeness (in part) to Brad Bird, who also helped the digital images of Ratatouille to remain expressive even with the challenges (!) of superior animation.
According to Dane Romley, an animator who worked on the new version:
The reason why the show has stiffend up is because there was an era when fox would tell directors that we had to draw every pose we drew perfectly on model. No distorting of the forms of any kind. It has slowly been dieing down the past couple seasons but they still insist on making the show more about the writing and less about the looks. Every once in a while we’ll get let loose and we can do some fun stuff but on the whole don’t blame the artists please. Believe me all of us working there would love to express the characters in more ways but there’s just so much we can do.
What becomes of an opening sequence that is that iconic? Of course, it gets covered a lot:
Of the above four (and there are so many other versions to be found online), the first was the opening to The Simpsons Movie, with the song actually performed by Green Day (!). The second was commissioned to be directed by Banksy, fresh off the success of Exit Through The Gift Shop. The third inexplicably aired in May of this year. The last was made by the British channel Sky One (and directed by Chris Palmer) as a promo for the show, and eventually broadcast in the place of the opening sequence in a 2006 episode.
On a barely related note, I absolutely love live-action recreations of animated sequences, so here’s another one you should enjoy: