‘The Simpsons’ – ‘Treehouse of Horror XXXI’ recap: ‘Toy Story’ parodied, The Simpsons go CGI and Homer is an anti-masker

It’s the annual event that even lapsed fans are tempted back by

Homer Simpson is an anti-masker. Should we be surprised? The Simpson patriarch is, essentially, an icon for the libertarian movement, a guy for whom Pepe The Frog’s “feels good, man” slogan serves as a life motto. Homer does what he wants, when he wants. And so, in ‘Treehouse Of Horror XXXI’, we see Homer indulging in unsheathed aerosol spray while those around him (Marge, obviously, but also Chief Wiggum, Doctor Hibbert, even Agnes Skinner) wear facemasks. Yes, this is The Simpsons in the age of COVID.

The annual ‘Treehouse Of Horror’ episode is always a special one for fans, and the writers tend to pull out the stops accordingly. No exception this year with its parodies of Toy Story, Spider-Man: Into The Multi-verse and Russian Doll, the 31st Halloween extravaganza – airing in the UK for the first time today (Feb 5, 2021) – begins with a once-very-topical skit set on US election day, 2020.

The Simpsons has always been political, but political in the way that Have I Got News For You is: all politicians are subject to equal suspicion and ridicule. In ‘Treehouse Of Horror XXXI’, however, there’s no effort made to be unbiased – the most pointed gag is a list of Trump’s most damaging acts while in office, among them “imitated disabled reporter; called white supremacists “fine people”; invaded Portland”. There are three columns. It’s all worth saying, of course – Trump is a stone cold bell-end. But is The Simpsons the place to say it?

Treehouse of Horror
‘The Simpsons’ airs its ‘Treehouse of Horror XXXI’ episode for the first time in the UK tonight (February 5). Credit: Sky

Heavy-handed responses to real-world stuff have crept uneasily into The Simpsons over recent years, arguably since they broke the fourth wall in 2018 when addressing the growing realisation that the character of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon is a racist stereotype. Turning to face the viewer in ‘No Good Read Goes Unpunished’ (Season 29, Episode 15), Lisa said: “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?” Not this, came the general answer.

It wasn’t a good response to the Apu situation and ‘Treehouse Of Horror XXXI’’s election skit isn’t a good response to 2020’s challenges. Do you want to see the Simpson family in face masks? Is that what you go to Springfield for? The Simpsons is at its satirical best when using stories as allegories – like when George Bush Sr. moved next door and Bart nearly restarted the Cold War. The makers of the show would be wise to remember that The Simpsons was built on nuance, and leave the cheap gags and fish-slap satire to Saturday Night Live.

Treehouse of Horror
‘Treehouse of Horror XXXI’ features the standard three-story arc. Credit: Sky

Plot synopsis

As usual, it’s three stories in one.

In ‘Toy Gory’, a Krusty doll and Radioactive Man toy take on de facto Woody and Buzz roles as Bart’s toybox comes to life. But instead of being unfailingly loyal to their owner, the toys revolt and seek revenge for all the torment Bart’s subjected them to.

In ‘Into The Homerverse’, Homers of multiple dimensions appear. There’s an anime Homer, an 8-bit Homer, a Disney Princess Homer, even a Sin City Homer. And of course, you can’t have that many Homers running around causing chaos at once.

Finally, in ‘Be Nine, Rewind’, Lisa gets stuck in a time loop on the day of her ninth birthday, in a story inspired by Netflix’s Russian Doll. Her partner in time is Nelson, prompting us to wonder, once again, when, oh when, oh when will those two finally get together?

What was good

‘Toy Gory’’s Pixar-style animation. The short is animated in high-quality CGI, with the Simpsons family looking a bit like old-school claymation characters. It works amazingly well, making you think: wouldn’t a full-length Simpsons movie made in the style of a Pixar film be kinda incredible?

What wasn’t good

Remember when ‘Treehouse Of Horror’ episodes tried to be scary? There remain strong opposing schools of thought on Halloween (is it an excuse to indulge your love of the macabre, or a night to dress cute/slutty/both?) but The Simpsons at least used to try to terrify.

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‘The Simpsons’ uses Pixar-style CGI animation for the ‘Toy Gory’ skit. Credit: Sky

Best one-liner

Krusty doll to Bart: “I’m going to do what clowns do best: kill!”

Classic character cameo

Recognise that Furby-lookin’ thing in ‘Toy Gory’? Yep, that’s a Funzo, the toy unwittingly designed by a focus group of Springfield kids in season 11 episode ‘Little Big Mom’.

Did you spot these Easter eggs

Is that Frink’s battle robot Killhammad Aieee/Smashius Clay (Season 15’s ‘I, (Annoyed Grunt)-Bot’) who storms into the election day chaos? Or is it Ed-209 from Robocop, itself once parodied as police admin bot The Cyborganizer (Season 11’s ‘Last Tap Dance in Springfield’).

Musical moment of the week

Harry Nilsson’s ‘Gotta Get Up’ forms the perfect, Randy Newman-esque soundtrack to Lisa’s own Groundhog Day.

The Simpsons
The annual terror-themed ‘Treehouse of Horror’ episode. Credit: Sky

Ralph Wiggum-ism of the week

After eating glitter: “I can burp magic!”

Boomer-humour of the week

The Homer-verse gang includes a Yogi Bear Homer and a Snagglepuss Homer. You know, Snagglepuss. The cartoon mountain lion? Catchphrase is “heavens to Murgatroyd”. First seen on The Quick Draw McGraw Show in 1959? Yeahhhhh…

Best horror-themed end-credits name-changes

“Bat Groening” (Matt Groening); “Rank Ass Area” (Hank Azaria)

Eye on Springfield

  • Writer(s): Julia Prescott
  • Guest stars: US film critic Ben Mankiewicz plays himself
  • Couch gag: n/a
  • Blackboard message: n/a
  • Is it as good as the old ones? Yeah, just about
  • Like this episode? Try this one: ‘Thanksgiving Of Horror’ (Season 31; Episode 8) – an extra helping of Halloween-y stuff from the season that celebrated episode 666.
  • Where to watch? Sky One, February 5 at 8pm
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