Circa-World War II, it was common for big studios to release animated shorts before their live-action movies. Warner Bros. had Looney Tunes, MGM had Tom and Jerry, and The Walt Disney Company had that Mickey Mouse club. These theatrical shorts became a lot less common by the 1960s for various reasons, but they've never completely gone away. (Pixar has churned out a consistent supply alongside their feature-film work.) Last year, 20th Century FOX got in on the action with The Longest Daycare, a 4½ minute Oscar-nominated short based on The Simpsons.

The Longest Daycare centers around Maggie Simpson being dropped off at the Ayn Rand School for Tots (a funny callback to a popular fourth season episode, "A Streetcar Named Marge"). Of course, you might be wondering why producers chose a pacifier-sucking, constantly-tripping-over two-year-old as the lead when there are so many characters to choose from. Well, it seems twofold. One, cost. You can probably count on Homer's hand the number of times that Maggie has actually talked, and she otherwise just laughs, cries or sucks on a pacifier. The last one is a stock sound effect and no other character has any significant dialogue, so it sure sounds like a way to save money for other aspects of production.

Second (and maybe this is just me), Maggie is the least exaggerated character on the series. The series is built on constantly resetting the status quo every week-something that frequently gets acknowledged in-show. The writers have long since resorted to embellishing pre-existing traits with each passing season. Homer? Dumber and angrier. Marge? More Stepford smiler-like. Bart? More sociopathic or depressed. Lisa? Well, she just gets more annoying. Let's not even pad the word count with supporting characters. Now, Maggie has gotten a surprising amount of focus for a baby and is often implied to be very smart, but since she can't talk, she's still only used sparingly. After 20+ years on the air, Maggie may be the only character where something might feel fresh.

Following the daycare's "Often Wrong Technologies" scan, Maggie is slotted into the "Nothing Special" group and placed in a dank room with some of the dumbest babies the dumbest town has to offer. The one bright spot is a passing butterfly... which is promptly squished against the wall by Baby Gerald, the one eye-browed baby (another old callback). And just in case you thought it was an accident, he squishes a second one immediately. (A fun visual gag sees Gerald draw a square around both to make it look like he drew them.) When Maggie finds a caterpillar, she hustles it out of the room to protect it. After seeing the (conveniently placed) Goodnight Cocoon popup book, Maggie realizes the caterpillar will become a butterfly and that Gerald will then squish it. Thus begins a chase through the daycare-admittedly not a long chase, since the short is halfway over by this point.

The story is, of course, very simple. James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, Al Jean, David Mirkin, Joel H. Cohen and Michael Price (six writers?!) have put together an entertaining story with some clever gags, but this thing would fall apart without solid animation and music. Fortunately, both succeed. Director David Silverman (a mainstay on the TV series and the 2007 movie) has overseen a fantastic job. Animation on the series these days often feels stiff and lacking. The designs may look nicer, but the early seasons were more expressive. This short, however, boasts more exciting animation: Gerald chasing Maggie through the daycare, navigating around a crowd of baby walkers; the purposefully amped up dramatic climax; some clever angle tricks and camera movements; and some great visual gags (I particularly laughed at Maggie's attempt to phone for help, only to find it was a Busy Box). Through it all, Hans Zimmer delivers a rousing score that would be featured in the kind of movie this short is spoofing. Maggie's final move is also rather clever.

A FOX YouTube channel currently carries the short, so take four minutes out of your day to watch this short. It's not an in-depth character study; it's just a fun ride.

View The Longest Daycare

Terence Salmon is a senior majoring in English. Interests include sci-fi, horror, comedy, procrastinating until the last possible minute, and writing two sentence submissions I don't expect you to read without shaking your head.