(this episode directed by Bob Anderson)
Matt Groening has talked about how he feels the less lines needed to convey a character or emotion, the better. This show, and to some extent Futurama, has always hinged on simplistic design, but in an incredibly economical way. A great example is Homer with pantyhose on his head here. Two lines on his forehead to represent the stretching, and his nose being pushed down, and that's it, you perfectly understand what's happening. The second frame is unrelated to this topic, I just love Lard Lad's pose as he comes to life with a Godzilla roar.
I love the framing of this shot, and throughout the episode, of human size vs. Lard Lad size. This donut is literally as big as the Simpson living room, which begs the question of how the hell Homer got it into the house in the first place. No matter though, he can think of no better way to celebrate than stripping down to his skivvies and chugging a beer. He didn't even take the pantyhose off all the way. The shot of Homer answering the door is fantastic, with Lard Lad's stern, angry face taking up nearly the entire doorway. How we just hang on the closed door and just hear the sounds of Lad smashing Flanders' house, realizing Homer lied to him, then storming back is just great. Also, rather than smash the house for lying, he just rings the doorbell again. Homer opens, and it's the same shot, but with a little Ned running by in the background screaming.
I don't care what Lou said, this guy is a monster. Look, he's taller than the buildings! He's no high schooler, he's got to be at least twelve feet tall.
The small touches really make this show great. Lisa sees the copyright stamp on Lard Lad's footprint, and we cut to the ad agency, where we see Lisa's bike parking outside. You didn't need to put it there, but that extra detail communicates how she got there, and also emphasizes while she's clearly smarter than the whole damn town in dealing with this horrible situation, she's still a child needing to rely on her bike. Also, great posters on the wall: "50 Million Cigarette Smokers Can't Be Wrong!" and "If You Like Ike, You'll Love Laramie Septic Tanks!"
This has got to be my favorite Kang and Kodos cameo. It happens so late, so it's so wonderfully random. I love their shit eating grins as they try to win over the rolling donut, but to no avail ("Oh, shazbot!")
Our second segment opens seemingly calm and idyllic, but I love how the dream atmosphere is subtly set up with the painterly backgrounds, so you can already tell something is wrong. Then when Santa's Little Helper gets on his hind legs and starts talking, and Bart does extreme takes like a Tex Avery cartoon, your suspicions are confirmed.
Martin dying is one of the most horrifying things in any Treehouse of Horror. The extreme poses, and Russi Taylor's absolutely blood curdling scream is absolutely unreal. But, of course, it's immediately paired with funny as his frightening corpse is revealed to the class, and then subsequently wheeled into the kindergarten. Only The Simpsons could make traumatizing four-year-olds hysterical.
The flashback to Dream Willie's origins is so fantastic, the quick cuts back and forth from his escape attempts to the budget meeting besting him at every turn. Then when he finally bursts into the classroom, he's forced to sit down, still on fire. I love how lame he looks sitting here, as he proceeds to burn to death while the most inconsequential discussion about the kids' lunch schedule goes on. Skeleton Willie is incredibly eerie as well, at least until he dissolves into dust. And, being the school groundskeeper, he cleans up after himself with a dustpan.
Oh, and look at this shot of these three fat fathers in the front room, crouched down and scrunched into these children's seats. Amidst the tense scene, this shot always makes me laugh.
Once Willie hits the "sinky-sank," he's seemingly done for, and quickly morphs through his many other forms before turning back to regular Willie and sinking to his demise. We'd never seen him as an elephant, tank or rocket before, but seeing as they're all dangerous weapons (especially that elephant), I'm guessing they were forms of destruction he never got a chance to torture kids with.
A really quick bit I really love, a cartoon classic where Homer lifts the flat rug, only to find Santa's Little Helper and Snowball II hiding under there somehow. And how their growling starts and stops when Homer lifts and puts down the rug.
The money shot of the entire segment, where 2D Homer becomes 3D Homer. Again, looks a whole lot better watching it than staring at framegrabs. The 3D sections were done by Pacific Data Images, who would soon after this pair up with DreamWorks and start up DreamWorks Animation. Keep in mind, this episode aired a mere month before Toy Story released in theaters, so at the time, this was definitely pretty eye opening.
The 3D certainly looks dated by the super technologically advanced age we live in today, but I still like the look of it. They went simple by their means, but also the serve the story. The idea is that Homer is trapped in the third dimension, as in literally the concept of 3D. So he's just on this grid with a bunch of cones, cubes and spheres, like he's trapped in a primitive Maya scene file. Also floating around the background are a bunch of 3D and mathematical in jokes, most notable being the Utah teapot, the first object to ever be rendered in 3D. All those math equations I'm sure was the work of writer David S. (later X.) Cohen, who would go on to co-create Futurama, a series with a writing staff who all held phDs, and who put them to work.
Back in 2D, this was a wonderfully nice subtle touch of Frink's hair bouncing up and down as Wiggum fired blindly into the unknown abyss.
I remember Homer breaking apart falling into the black hole always kinda creeped me out as a kid. It also feels a bit similar to him being broken up in a similar way during the epiphany scene during the movie. Surely a coincidence though. I also remember seeing this segment in an IMAX film CyberWorld. It was a 2000 release that I'm sure played in very, very few screens, I saw it in NYC; it was basically an anthology film of different CG animated segments, which included some short films, the dance scene from Antz, and of course, Homer^3. And it was in 3D! And I only saw it because I wanted to see The Simpsons on an IMAX screen. Anybody?