By Nick Maylor
Trey Parker and Matt Stone started their cartoon franchise over twenty years ago and the show is still putting out new episodes. Unlike The Simpsons Movie (2007) which took a long, slow journey to the big screen, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999) was green-lit almost immediately after South Park began airing on Comedy Central. As mentioned in the documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated (2006), Parker and Stone ran into several speedbumps when trying to secure an “R” rating from the Motion Picture Association of America and had to submit several cuts of the film before they got past the repeated “NC-17” rating they had been receiving. Getting the “NC-17” is a killer for any film’s release and Parker and Stone knew it.
The great irony here is that the entire film is a brilliant commentary on censorship when it comes to violence vs sexuality/profanity in the United States. Films like Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004) had no trouble securing an “R” rating, despite being arguably the most violent film ever made. Whereas sex comedies like Parker and Stone’s Orgazmo (1997) received the dreaded “NC-17” rating due to their “mature” sexual content and use of swear words.
The South Park film follows the four protagonist boys and their obsession with cursing after seeing a movie starring Canadian Comedians Terrance and Phillip. To explain what exactly is going on with South Park’s Canadians, a little backstory is needed.
Being originally animated with construction paper, South Park was ridiculed for its lackluster animation quality and the immature nature of its humour. Being ridiculed as nothing but “fart jokes”, Trey Parker and Matt Stone decided to parody that criticism with Terrance and Phillip. While South Park’s very nuanced humour was indeed crude, Terrance and Phillip was a show that literally was nothing but fart jokes. Terrance and Phillip were originally meant to be a cartoon within a cartoon, explaining why they look so strange. This is even alluded to in the film when Cartman describes Terrance and Phillip’s “animation” as “crappy”. The idea for the cartoon within a cartoon was later abandoned and South Park decided to portray all Canadian characters in this style, lampooning the entire country as full of people with disconnected heads who were obsessed with flatulence.
As a Canadian, I’m not bothered by any of the depictions of my country by Stone and Parker. It’s bloody hilarious.
The song that invigorates the boys to embrace profanity is the opening number in the “Terrance and Phillip” movie, “Uncle Fucka”.
This is one of the numerous examples of how Parker and Stone were forced to make changes to their film that only ended up benefiting them. The song was originally supposed to be called “Mother Fucka” but this was deemed too obscene. When “Uncle Fucka” was deemed acceptable, Stone and Parker admitted that it was funnier that way, thus surpassing any perceived censorship the duo was pressured into, giving them a win.
This would happen time and again as a scene where the boys watch pornography shows Cartman’s mother being defecated upon. This was originally supposed to be a scene involving Mrs. Cartman and a horse; but for reasons beyond me, the studio settled on coprophilia.
Aside from being an insightful commentary on censorship, the film is itself a fantastic musical. Acclaimed composer Marc Shaiman collaborated with Parker in creating some truly fantastic musical numbers. “What Would Brian Boitano Do” rouses the boys together to stop their parent’s from starting a war. Kyle’s mom Sheila (Mary Kay Bergman) rouses the parents against the great white north in “Blame Canada”, a song that was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song and sung by Robin Williams’ at the 72nd Oscar ceremony (the same one where Stone and Parker showed up dressed in drag, tripping on acid.) Parker performs (as Satan) “Up There” is a parody of “Part Of Your World” from Disney’s The Little Mermaid (1989) and “La Resistance” lampoons “One Day More” from Les Miserables by revisiting all of the film’s many songs in a single musical number. Clearly Parker and Stone were already huge musical fans. The duo would later go on to win several Tony Awards for their Broadway Musical The Book of Mormon.
The insane plot includes a forthcoming apocalypse, Satan and Saddam Hussein as gay lovers, a political action group called “Mothers Against Canada” who wage war against Canada in the name of decency and all manner of chaos which the four boys try to stop. The film is truly epic in scale and while still resembling the construction paper animation that was originally used for the characters, the film’s animation encompasses fire, brimstone, battle landscapes, and excellently choreographed musical numbers with stunning set pieces. Clearly a dizzying array of computer-animated wonder. Nothing that the television show has done since has quite matched the grandiose nature of Bigger, Longer & Uncut.
While nearly all of the male voices in the film are performed by Stone and Parker themselves (with Mary Kay Bergman providing the voices for females), the movie features voice cameos from Eric Idle, George Clooney, Mike Judge, Minnie Driver, Dave Foley, and Brent Spiner. James Hetfield of Metallica sings “Little Boy You’re Going to Hell” with Parker and Stone’s band D.V.D.A. It’s best that you google those letters if you want to know where the name comes from.
It is gratuitous and obscene but that’s the point. It’s also delightful and it has something meaningful to say. I highly recommend revisiting South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999)
Nick is an actor/writer/comedian/musician from Hamilton, ON Canada. Having been a film nut since the early days of his life, Nick has had an obsession with cinema and popular entertainment. Nick has written for thecinemaholic.com and is currently working on a book about the American Cinema Renaissance (1967-present) with John H. Foote. Nick met John when studying acting at the Toronto Film School, for which John H. Foote was director and Film History professor. The two have been arguing ever since.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickMaylor