Odds are that if you asked most people to name any cartoon, the first one that jumps to mind would be The Simpsons; as it’s not only loved the world over, but is the longest running animated series ever created, and has had a massive impact on popular culture; so now that the series’ 13th season is being released on DVD, it’s the perfect time to re-examine a series that falls pretty near the middle of The Simpsons’ 21 year (and still counting) run.
It’s clear when watching that, by the 13th season, The Simpsons had moved on, both in terms of production values, and plotlines, since the early years; as the drawings are of a much higher quality than those of the first few series, and the individual episodes themselves had by then moved away from the slightly more moralistic tales, and began to focus on more absurd situations, and zany antics.
And there are zany antics a plenty in this season, as The Simpsons family (which consists of husband and wife Homer and Marge, and their three children; Bart, Lisa, and baby Maggie) get involved in all sorts of capers; with Homer ending up tethered to his son as a result of a court order, setting up a bar in his garage, finding a body in a quarry, getting his town (Springfield) into the world record books for being the fattest town in America (which subsequently led to a prohibition style ban on sugar, complete with black-market racketeering), discovering the benefits of using medical marijuana, having his jaws wired shut, and almost losing Marge to her (now rich) ex-boyfriend (in a play on the classic movie Indecent Proposal; known here, as Half-Decent Proposal).
But despite the fact that Homer has, by this point, clearly become the hero of the show (taking over from Bart; who clearly ruled the early years); and morphed it into the current version of the show we know and love; there’s still the odd episode where other characters take center stage; including the one where Mr Burns buys the church, turns it into a business and Lisa promptly becomes a buddhist, as well as the one where Bart gets a girlfriend (who is this series happens to be the daughter of Springfield’s own Arnold Schwarzenegger; Rainier Wolfcastle), and two separate episodes concerning geriatric love (where Mr Burns, and Grandpa Simpson, both try their hands at the dating game.)
Bundled in with the others there’s also a clip show (that’s never a welcome sight, and particularly useless seen as how most people that will be purchasing this set will already own the DVD’s containing each clip), and an average quality Treehouse of Horror episode (that parodies 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Harry Potter, among others); being easily watchable, and fairly memorable, but far from the best of the bunch.
And in fact this series overall, is far from the best of the bunch; and hails from a time shortly after most fans describe as the tipping point for the lowering in quality of Simpsons episodes (the millennium); but while it may not contain the best ever Simpsons episodes, there are still a few standout episodes that are superb (the one where Homer has his jaws wired shut, and Bart makes friends with a retired western actor, are excellent), and even the most average of the lot (because when is there ever a ‘bad’ Simpsons episode?) are immensely easy to watch, contain at least a couple of great jokes, a couple of well made movie homages, and make the 13th Season another solid, and fairly memorable, effort from the world’s best loved cartoon; even if it isn’t the be all and end all of Simpsons cartooning.
Discussing picture and audio quality on something like The Simpsons is largely pointless; as issues of ringing, edge enhancement, contrast, and other similar problems, are never present on a cartoon, and the quality is generally as good as the drawings themselves, and as good (or slightly better) than their original television broadcasts, and the sound is presented in Dolby Digital, and will always be average, as it wasn’t designed to be system taxing; however the DVD packaging, and menus, on this release are definitely noteworthy.
The DVD case itself (which comes in a fairly regular cardboard case, or a special edition raised case) features a large image of Ralph (Springfield Elementary’s resident idiot child), and opens up to reveal a cardboard pullout holding all four discs, and an extremely well presented book that provides a summary of each individual episodes, as well as which disc it can be found on, and what special features are connected to it.
The cardboard pullout itself is also excellently presented; picturing (on both sides) and extremely vibrant, active, and colourful, scene centered in an arcade (as there’s an arcade theme running through the enter set); as are the disc menus; which, as well as containing episode lists, and access to menus for individual menus for each episode (containing their specific special features), feature two different scenes of characters from the show attempting to play various video games (from Guitar Hero, to Air Hockey) in humorous ways (that are often so funny and engaging they become just as entertaining as the episodes themselves); and even the discs themselves contain images of the old Simpsons arcade game, which is a nice touch.
Overall The Simpsons: Season 13 comes housed in one of the most impressive DVD packages of any boxset that has been released for a long time, and is guaranteed to please not only the hardiest of Simpsons fanatics, but to pleasantly astound any casual buyer, or DVD collector, with its colourful and generous nature that gives you much more for your money than most series.
Also unlike many other series of a similar nature (and even the odd Simpsons release) The Simpsons: Season 13 DVD doesn’t skimp on the special features, as there’s not only two features dedicated to Ralph (one showing clips of him doing/saying stupid things, and another that reuses many of the same clips in order to show a brief history of Ralph), but a number of small features showing how certain pieces of animation were compiled, and how a racing boat was designed to feature Bart, among other things, but there are a number of animation showcases, featuring picture-in-picture views of storyboards, basic animation and sketches.
However it does’t end there, as there are also a few deleted scenes, an audio commentary for each episode (that’s surprisingly interesting; and covers material from how they tried to deal with the events of 9/11, and internet criticism, to the problems of attempting to develop new storylines after such a long time on the air), commercials, and a feature showing clips from every Simpsons themed video game to date (which ties in nicely with the arcade themed packaging, and showcases games found in the arcades, as well as on consoles, and handheld devices).
And with such an array of bonus materials being provided, it’s hard to complain about what’s contained on this release (even if some of the features are a tad brief), of a series that is nearly a decade old itself; as there’s much more than anyone could have reasonably expected to be included on what’s clearly not the best Simpsons season ever produced.
The Bottom Line:
In the end it’s true that Season 13 is far from the best season of The Simpsons ever produced, but it’s also true that it contains a whole load of laughs, some truly memorable moments and episodes, and some great lines, all delivered in classic Simpsons style; as even the weakest episodes are insanely easy to watch, and likely to induce at least a mild smile.
The DVD set itself is utterly superb; being well presented, excellently designed, and containing smooth and amusing menus that help to present a fairly large range of special features (especially considering that The Simpsons is actually a children’s cartoon); although coming by way of a sealing cardboard sleeve does open itself up to receiving bending marks fairly quickly due to repeated use.
But overall, while this isn’t the place to start buying The Simpsons on DVD, or even watching it, for those people that are collecting the set, or thinking of giving this as a Christmas gift (because with only three months to go it’s time to start thinking that way), there isn’t a single reason to avoid this excellently presented set, or not to watch Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, Maggie, and the rest of Springfield, deliver their classic humour, and satirical take on topics such as religion, old age, and obesity; meaning that anyone who buys this set won’t regret it in the slightest.