Not 'The Simpsons' | Walt Disney Pictures
Not 'The Simpsons' | Walt Disney Pictures

Why You'll See a 'Simpsons' Short in Front of Pixar's New Movie 'Onward'

When audiences file into the theater for a Pixar film, they expect a certain aesthetic to greet them, that familiar style of CG animation. But sitting down to see Onward, the studio's latest heartbreaker about two elf brothers on a quest to spend time with their dead dad, moviegoers might experience a bit of whiplash. The usual short that will play before Onward not a Pixar product: It's a Simpsons one. "Playdate with Destiny," a short featuring the cartoon family's perpetual infant Maggie, will screen alongside the fantasy adventure movie. It's the latest in a series of developments that herald a new age following Disney's acquisition of Fox that's indicative of all the confusion this new era is bringing. 

Is this the first time a non-Pixar short has screened before a Pixar film? 

Actually, no. Lest you forget, chaos ensued when Disney put the 21-minute Frozen short "Olaf's Frozen Adventure" in front of Coco. "Olaf's Frozen Adventure" was so reviled that people strategized ways to get to the theater later and avoid it. Traditionally, the pre-movie entertainment has been used as a way for Pixar to show off work from its artists that's technically or thematically challenging. Incredibles 2 was intro'd by the wonderful and odd "Bao," a short in which a mother eats her dumpling son. Finding Dory had the gorgeous "Piper." The comments in the Simpsons Instagram post that announced "Playdate with Destiny" were a mix of joy and outrage. "Rip the Simpsons," reads one. Another: "So odd.... just so odd before a Pixar film."  

Tell me about this Disney-Fox merger. 

As you probably already know, Disney bought 20th Century Fox in a deal that went through in March of last year. The effects of that major acquisition have been slow, but now we're really seeing the impact of Disney's ownership. 20th Century Fox was rebranded 20th Century Studios. Fox Searchlight Pictures is now just Searchlight Pictures. And, now, Maggie Simpson is introducing a Pixar movie. 

So are the Simpsons Disney characters now? 

Technically, yes. Weird, right? Disney now owning The Simpsons catalogue has become one of the most fraught parts of the Fox acquisition. Matt Groening and James L. Brooks' sitcom had a history of making fun of the Mouse and its capitalist tendencies, even predicting Disney's corporate takeover in a 1998 episode. When Disney+ launched, it stirred outrage among Simpsons fans who were angry that the show wasn't available in its original aspect ratio, essentially chopping off visual gags. 

Wait, isn't The Simpsons for adults?  

Obviously, plenty of people, across generations, have grown up watching The Simpsons, but the thrill of catching episodes when you're at a formative age is that the humor is often more mature than you are. Still, Disney has been wrestling with what to do with content that doesn't fit within its "family friendly" box in this new era, especially when it comes to streaming platforms. It recently booted a show spinning off the movie Love, Simon, a Fox title, to Hulu, which it also now owns, from Disney+ after reportedly deeming its content too risqué for the latter platform. The Lizzie McGuire reboot hangs in limbo as its star Hilary Duff advocates for a storyline befitting a 30-year-old woman. But it appears that Disney has firmly decided that The Simpsons should be categorized with the rest of its more theoretically wholesome animated fare, even if that's not keeping within the history of The Simpsons

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.