I’ve talked before about episodes that felt like a dry run for later episodes; we’ve officially crossed a line into a new version of the show, because this feels like a redo of older episodes. We’ve seen the family go on holiday before, and they haven’t yet reached “The Simpsons are going to Uzbekistan!” mode yet, so this feels like a redo of the concept with everything the show has learned in that time, not just about comedy and animation but about the family as a unit and the family as individuals and about America as a whole. Holding this episode together is the exact same thing that held “The Call Of The Simpsons” together – trying to capture the less positive feelings that come from going on holiday with your family. Rereading my article on that episode, one of my complaints was how little character work was being done, and that’s definitely not a problem this time. Each of the family bring their own quirks on the trip.
Homer and Bart are predictable in the sense that Homer would be obnoxious and Bart would be a brat, but the writers find fun nuances on those behaviours – Homer not only trying to smuggle fruits and vegetables across the state border and not only trying to do so by the trunkful but crumbling under the slightest pressure is the perfectly inexplicable and yet so Homer, and Bart slingshotting a stink bomb into the suit of a mascot is so precisely cruel that it cracks me up (even better that he has a Li’l Bastard Travelling Kit); when they’re both in jail and Homer tells Bart he kicked an Itchy in the butt, Bart says “There’s just no way to resist it, is there?” and the way Nancy Cartwright delivers the line makes it feel like a moment of recognition, as if Bart is seeing his impulses with perfect clarity. This is also a great episode for making comedy out of Marge’s wet blanket tendencies; it’s silly to call any part of this show underrated or to say we underrate it but I wonder if the image of Marge as an unfunny scold is us misremembering the show or downplaying her drier comedy – I certainly got a laugh out of her excitement for the bird sanctuary playing off the kid’s horror.
(Lisa floats around this episode a bit but it’s a great example of her getting really excited about kid’s stuff. I’ve said before that the two are the only sibling characters on TV that actually remind me of my sister and I, and their scheming to convince their parents to go to Itchy & Scratchy Land is exactly what it’s like when siblings unite: two otherwise polar personalities work together to achieve the same goal.)
And next to all this is the show’s vision of America as a whole. Itchy & Scratchy is a parody of all cartoons at once, and here it manages to parody not just Disney cartoons or Tom & Jerry, but the business practices of the companies that churn out these cartoons. The joke about Roger Meyers Sr being a Nazi sympathiser is a hilariously dark riff on the antisemitism of beloved figures like Walt Disney, but I love Bart’s cynical description of the Itchy & Scratchy and Friends Hour, exactly the kind of thing I would have said at his age about the terrible shows I’d seen (“I dunno. Disgruntled Goat had his moments.”). I think the harshest but most poignant point is the recurring laughing executive, who condescends to parents’ worries about safety and the portrayal of violence while his park falls apart and his show gleefully indulges in violence (note: I love gratuitous violence, I’m a Tarantino fan for god’s sake, but pretending it’s a social good is pretty silly). I think if there’s any one thing I took from this show politically, it’s that companies will not care about your physical, mental, or spiritual health unless it actively gets in the way of them making money, and even then they’ll talk the talk more than walk the walk. Lisa’s punchline to the episode feels more honest; violence is funny and we don’t care.
Chalkboard Gag: I am not the reincarnation of Sammy Davis Jr.
Couch Gag: The family teleport in a la Star Trek.
This episode was written by John Swartzwelder and directed by Wes Archer, or more accurately it was written by the whole staff and credited to Swartzwelder, which makes sense given how riff-heavy it gets at points. Nicest little detail is giving the characters vacation clothes. This episode was written in response to Fox trying to cut Itchy & Scratchy from the show due to more stringent censorship laws.
The whole concept is a parody of Disneyland, with a cameo from EuroDisney (now known as Disneyland Paris). Several scenes and the whole third act parody Jurassic Park and Westworld (film). Scratchtasia is a parody of Fantasia. Pinitchio is a parody of Pinocchio. The birds going wild is a reference to The Birds. The sound of the vehicle taking Bart to jail is a reference to Star Wars.
Iconic Moments: 5. “Nothing could possib-lie go wrong.” | “My son is also named Bort.” | “I was a political prisoner!” / “How were you a political prisoner?!” / “I kicked a giant mouse in the butt! Do I have to draw you a diagram?!” | “I need the biggest seed bell you have. No, that’s too big.” | “With a dry cool wit like that, I could be an action hero.”