Why does everything I whip leave me?– Homer Simpson, The Simpsons Movie
The Simpsons Movie is characterised by imprisonment vs agency – the central plot revolves around the incarceration of the town of Springfield using a giant glass dome as a punishment for environmental damage – therefore it seems only right to extend the conversation of agency to the freedom and treatment of animals within the film. This article could discuss the agency of the “spider-pig,” liberated from execution only to continue his existence as entertainment for humans; or the mutant squirrel, liberated from a predator by his mutations only to be captured by EPA. However, of most interest is the 34-second cameo of the huskies pulling Homer’s sled, which presents a succinct discussion about human interactions with animals and how these impact animal agencies.
As a partly-satirical comedy, The Simpsons Movie relies heavily on stereotypes in order to mock them, which is exactly what it does in employing a portrayal of working-dog huskies to pull a sled in Alaska. Immediately, these animals lack agency as they exist solely for the purpose of furthering Homer’s story and have no identity separate from him – as is the case for all the animals in this film, who exist only for the human characters’ arcs.
However, the use of satire in the film provides an interesting lens to view these portrayals. In this montage, the huskies are whipped and overworked for Homer’s gain in a comedic fashion – they are whipped even while resting in order to complete the repetition of the montage. Despite the fact agency is taken from them in such a violent way, the non-diegetic music behind this montage is lively and upbeat. In itself, this appears to portray a human disregard for the emotions of the animals, further emphasised by the separation of human and animal by the sled which allows the audience to separate the actions from the consequences. However, this film utilises satire, crafted to alter the tone in a way non-satirical films portraying similar scenes wouldn’t. The meta-filmic irony of the continuous whipping alongside the tone-altering upbeat music makes this scene quietly horrific as opposed to endorsing Homer’s actions. The animals lack agency, but the genre of the film works to portray this as a negative.
This is amplified in the following scene where the perspective shifts, showing the huskies gaining back their agency in a defiant act. Where previously the huskies were viewed through a long shot from a third-person perspective, in this scene close-up shots show Homer’s perspective of the huskies breaking the separating boundary and attacking, enacting their agency of revenge for the way they were treated. These shots occur in quick succession, heightening the emotion and emphasising the active, rather than passive, animal. The close-up style works to centre the huskies and their actions to portray this agency – they no longer serve the human narrative and instead set boundaries on what they will tolerate.
If the film truly prioritised human emotion over animal agency, it would remove the comedic aspects of this attack, such as Homer’s exclamation “that’s my whipping arm!” Homer’s sadness – a result of his abandonment and loneliness – does permeate both scenes which portray the dogs, in what would at first appear to be a sympathetic portrayal towards him. The landscape in every shot is filtered with the colour blue – the colour of sadness – becoming even more prominent in the ‘attack and run away’ scene, when Homer is once again left alone by the animals. This is a stark emotional contrast when compared with scenes in which Homer is surrounded by family and love, connoted by the colour pink. The lively soundtrack also fades to quiet in the attack scene in a sombre act of sympathy towards Homer.
Despite these anthropocentric techniques which would in any other genre make the audience sympathise, the comedy once again works against this and favours the huskies and their agency. In fact, during the huskies act of demanding justice for their mistreatment through the attack, the comedy contrasted with the sadness that is portrayed works against anthropocentrism to connect the audience to their own emotions regarding their treatment of animals as a consequence of their feelings.
Why does everything Homer whip leave him? Because no emotional reaction justifies violence, especially against animals, and the huskies enact their agency to set boundaries against this.
Core, Ericson, dir., Togo (Disney+, 2019)
Silverman, David, dir., The Simpsons Movie (20th Century Fox, 2007)