Disney+’s Simpsons Mistake Not Repeated By HBO Max’s Looney Tunes
As Disney+ finally returns its early episodes of The Simpsons to their proper aspect ratio, HBO Max has avoided this issue altogether by launching with their classic Looney Tunes shorts already in their original formatting. While WarnerMedia's streaming service has collected the streaming rights to a number of high-profile properties, the Looney Tunes library has been a constant in their advertising, especially when trying to emphasize the presence of family-friendly content on the site. The service even has the revival, Looney Tunes Cartoons, as one of their flagship original series. However, much like The Simpsons, the original Looney Tunes shorts come from an era of television where a boxier 4:3 aspect ratio was the standard, and that presents a set of problems to streaming sites.
When Disney+ launched, the entirety of The Simpsons was available, but the first twenty or so seasons were presented with their original aspect ratio of 4:3 altered to match the wider 16:9 aspect ratio of later seasons. This was accomplished primarily through cropping out the top and/or bottom of the frame, which ruined some Simpsons sight gags, or by stretching the image, which noticeably distorted characters' proportions. While Disney+ has fixed The Simpsons' aspect ratio, their presence was a bit confounding to fans given that FX, who had previously held the streaming rights to the show, was offering episodes in a 4:3 ratio as early as 2017.
HBO Max, potentially as a reaction to this controversy, has cut straight to the chase and released the original Looney Tunes shorts in their intended 4:3 ratio. Although this was not publicized prior, it seems like a noticeable show of respect to revered cartoons. Issues of aspect ratio aren't restricted to animation, of course; there are plenty of live-action shows that have had similar troubles. But given how much visual humor factors into the identities of both The Simpsons and Looney Tunes, preserving the original vision of the creators is particularly crucial.
HBO Max's retention of the show's no-longer-standard 4:3 format shouldn't be taken for an overarching aesthetic choice; Looney Tunes Cartoons, the modern follow-up, was made in a 16:9 ratio. This was probably an easy enough decision to make, as it is a reboot of shorts that were narratively independent anyway, so Warner Bros. didn't have to worry about visual consistency between seasons in the way that Disney and The Simpsons did. But letting their two Looney Tunes shows have different aspect ratios does display a considerate willingness on HBO Max's part to present material in its intended format, even if that requires engaging with technical restrictions from a different era.
Of course, while it does present clear problems, these issues of altered aspect ratio are relatively minor, and neither HBO Max's success nor Disney+'s failure in tackling them gives the full picture of their worth as platforms. However, it is encouraging to see that, in this age of massive streaming service proliferation, different sites can actively learn from the missteps of others, because this will ultimately create a better experience for all audiences, regardless of how discerning you are about the total jokes-per-square-inch value of your comedy shows.