Bart Gets an Elephant
"Bart Gets an Elephant" is the seventeenth episode of The Simpsons' fifth season. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on March 31, 1994. In this episode, Bart wins a radio contest and is awarded a full-grown African elephant that he names Stampy. After Stampy wrecks the Simpsons' house and eats all the food, Homer decides to sell Stampy to an ivory dealer. Bart runs away with Stampy to save his pet, but the family finds the two at a museum exhibit, where Homer falls into a tar pit. Homer is saved by Stampy, and so gives the elephant away to an animal refuge instead.
The episode was written by John Swartzwelder, and directed by Jim Reardon. It introduced the fictional elephant Stampy, and marks the first appearance of the recurring character Cletus Spuckler. The episode features cultural references to the songs "Sixteen Tons" and "Do-Re-Mi", and the La Brea Tar Pits cluster of tar pits located in Hancock Park in Los Angeles, California. Since airing, the episode has received mostly positive reviews from television critics. It acquired a Nielsen rating of 10.7, and was the highest-rated show on the Fox network the week it aired.
During a cleaning day at the Simpsons' house, Bart wins a KBBL radio contest after the station's DJs, Bill and Marty, call him. They give Bart the choice of two prizes: $10,000 in cash or the "gag" prize – a full-grown African elephant – and Bart chooses the elephant. This surprises Bill and Marty, who (understandably) believed that no one would ever actually take the gag prize, and thus have no elephant to give away. They instead offer Bart the money and a variety of other prizes, all of which he refuses, saying that he only wants the elephant. Word spreads throughout town about Bill and Marty's refusal to give Bart an elephant, prompting their boss to give them a choice: either arrange for the delivery of an elephant, or lose their jobs to a DJ machine. They decide on the former option.
Bart names his new elephant Stampy and ties him to a post in the backyard. Lisa complains that it's cruel to keep an animal like an elephant as a pet, while Homer is concerned that Stampy will eat him out of house and home. In an effort to offset food costs, Bart and Homer exhibit Stampy by charging customers to see and ride him, but fail to earn enough to cover even one day's food bill. Homer declares they can't afford the elephant and must sell him, much to Bart's dismay. The family is visited by a representative of a game reserve, who says their acres of open land similar to the African Savannah would be a good habitat for the elephant to live in. However, Homer dismisses this as he learns that he won't receive any money for it since the reserve is a nonprofit organization.
A wildlife poacher named Mr. Blackheart then offers to buy Stampy. Homer wants to take the money, but Bart and Lisa are against the idea, especially after Mr. Blackheart openly admits to being an ivory dealer. Homer and Mr. Blackheart reach a deal, but Bart and Stampy run off, wreaking havoc throughout Springfield, and are soon nowhere to be found. The family begins searching and finds them at the Springfield Tar Pits, where Homer still plans to sell Stampy to the ivory dealer for the money. Bart and Lisa then angrily ask if Homer would like to be sold to an ivory dealer himself, to which Homer responds positively, before finding out that he's stuck in one of the tar pits. Bart orders Stampy to free Homer, to which he does (after first pulling out Barney Gumble). A grateful Homer agrees to donate the elephant to the wildlife reserve.
While at the reserve, Bart tearfully says goodbye to Stampy. After that, Stampy starts head-butting other elephants, cheered on by Bart. Marge is surprised by this, and the representative explains that animals are a lot like humans: some act badly because they've had a hard life or they've been mistreated; but, like humans, some animals are just jerks (which he says while Homer is head-butting him).
The episode was written by John Swartzwelder, and directed by Jim Reardon. The Simpsons' creator Matt Groening thought it was a "quintessential" Swartzwelder episode, and executive producer/show runner David Mirkin said it was a "fantastic job by one of the most prolific writers of the show". The most important thing to Mirkin while making the episode was to make sure that the elephant would be a "bastard" and behave rudely, unlike other animals on the show. For example, instead of putting people on his back, Stampy would put them in his mouth. Mirkin said the elephant "never quite bonds because it's a very cantankerous animal, a concept that was very important to this episode". Stampy has since been used several times in jokes later on in the series. For example, Stampy made an appearance in the season nine episode "Miracle on Evergreen Terrace" in one of Bart's dreams, and in the season fourteen episode "Large Marge", where he is used by Bart in a stunt to help Krusty the Clown win back his popularity. Stampy appeared briefly in The Simpsons Movie, where he tries to break down the giant glass dome lowered over Springfield. The episode also introduces the character Cletus Spuckler. He is shown as one of the "slack-jawed yokels" gawking at Stampy in the Simpson family's backyard. Cletus is not named in the episode, so the staff simply referred to him as the Slack-Jawed Yokel.
The Springfield Tar Pits are inspired by the La Brea Tar Pits located in Hancock Park in Los Angeles, California. The museum in the background of the scene where Homer sinks into one of the tar pits resembles the George C. Page Museum of the La Brea Discoveries. When Stampy runs away, he passes the Republican National Convention, with people cheering, and then he passes the Democratic National Convention, with people booing. This is a reference to the fact that an elephant is the symbol of the Republican Party. Homer uses Mr. Cleanser, a parody of the detergent brand Mr. Clean, to clean the basement. While waiting for Bill and Marty to call, Bart eats the chocolate part of a Neapolitan ice cream. As Bart cleans, he accidentally scrubs the paint off an American Gothic painting hanging on the wall. Under the paint is a message signed by the painter, Grant Wood, reading: "If you can read this, you scrubbed too hard."
The scene in which Stampy's eye is seen through a window of the Simpson family's house is similar to a scene with a Tyrannosaurus rex in the film Jurassic Park. While cleaning the house, Marge turns on the radio and the song "Sixteen Tons" by Merle Travis is heard. The scene in which Homer crashes his car into a deer statue at the Springfield Tar Pits parodies the lyrics to the Sound of Music song "Do-Re-Mi" as Homer shouts: "D'oh!" followed by Lisa: "A deer!" and Marge: "A female deer!" Homer reads an old TV Guide in which the synopsis of an episode of Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. reads "Gomer upsets Sgt. Carter", a possible synopsis for every episode of that series. He also imagines the episode with a thought of both Carter and Pyle standing next to each other. Carter yells, "Pyle!" and Pyle responds, "Shazam!". As Stampy wreaks havoc throughout Springfield, Patty and Selma are sucked up by a tornado and fly through the air in rocking chairs, similar to a scene in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz.
In its original broadcast, "Bart Gets an Elephant" finished forty-second in the ratings for the week of March 28 to April 20, 1994, with a Nielsen rating of 10.7, equivalent to 10 million viewing households. It was the highest-rated show on the Fox network that week. The episode won an Environmental Media Award in the Best Television Episodic Comedy category, which has been awarded every year since 1991 to the best television episode with an environmental message. The episode has also received a Genesis Award in the Best Television Comedy Series category. The Genesis Awards are given out annually by the Humane Society of the United States "to the news and entertainment media for shining that spotlight into the darkest corners of animal abuse and exploitation."
Since airing, the episode has received mostly positive reviews from television critics. The authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, wrote: "Another favourite. It's hard to explain the special appeal of this episode. Perhaps it's because Homer is so exceptionally dumb. Or perhaps because it contains the 'D'oh!' 'A deer!' 'A female deer!' gag." This gag was also praised by BBC News's Mark Milne, who said: "[It] just cracks me up every time. Brilliant!" DVD Movie Guide's Colin Jacobson thought the fifth season included "plenty of programs with potentially cheesy concepts", such as "Deep Space Homer" and "Bart Gets an Elephant". However, he thought the episode managed to "easily overcome its possible flaws" to turn into a "very fine program". Homer's line "Marge, I agree with you in theory. In theory, communism works — In theory" was Jacobson's favorite of the episode. Patrick Bromley of DVD Verdict gave the episode a grade of A, and Bill Gibron of DVD Talk gave it a score of 4 out of 5.
- Silverman, David (2004). The Simpsons season 5 DVD commentary for the episode "Bart Gets an Elephant" (DVD). 20th Century Fox.
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