Last night’s couch gag on The Simpsons might go down as one of the oddest in the history of the series. The 26th season opener propels the “Sampsans” into a grey null space of protoplasmic, shriek-talking figures and might just be mainstream America’s first real introduction to Oscar-nominated animator Don Hertzfeldt.
The deliberately off-putting (and lengthy) clip blends live-action and animation while pitch-shifting the voices of The Simpsons clan beyond recognition (although I kind of think Yeardley Smith is voicing the tentacled Marge). Set in the year 10,535, it’s like Hertzfeldt boiled off all of the joy from the long-running animated series and skimmed the broadest cultural signifiers off the top. Then had aliens animate it.
The 38-year-old animator has quite a healthy list of credits to his name, starting with his first animated short, Ah, L’Amour. He went on to write, direct, and produce a half-dozen more shorts of before adapting his 2011 short “It’s Such a Beautiful Day” into a feature film of the same name in 2012. That experimental work picked up a couple of awards including the second place price from the Los Angeles Critics Association.
His most well-known work, however, was 2001’s “Rejected” (which you can see below). The premise is that the animator was recruited by the Family Learning Channel to create a series of shorts. However the final products – a collection of non-sequiturs assembled over the span of five weeks – were handily rejected. It might have had something to do with the octo-pig, or maybe the profanity. Who knows?
You can watch It’s A Beautiful Day in its entirety via Vimeo’s On Demand service.