Wednesday, 1 February 2012

South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut

It seems almost unbelievable that when this came out, South Park had been airing for less than two years. It’s even harder to believe that it came out in 1999, well over a decade ago.

I’ll leave it until I write my thoughts on the full series, which will be when it finally ends for good, to talk about how I first got into it, remarkably early and certainly before its popularity exploded over here in the UK (I’m so 90s hipster), but movies get separate entries, and this one definitely made enough of an impact to deserve it. South Park was still young in 1999, still fresh and rebellious and admired for the political edge Drawn Together so inadequately tried to criticise in their direct-to-video movie. Timmy wasn’t a character yet, and Butters was barely more than a face in the background (a fact Parker and Stone remark on when they gave their audio commentary for this film in 2009).

But it also marks about the time when South Park got a lot smarter. The first episodes that were so anarchic and bizarre now mostly seem to be trying too hard or to fall flat, but this film showed just how far Parker and Stone grew from anal probes and lame cliffhangers about Cartman’s parentage. The film built on many of the show’s ideas and was chock-full of moments to please fans, but it was also very clever, very varied and satisfying in terms of basic narrative.

When the South Park boys get mixed up in a debate about censoring a comedy film, their parents as ever take things to extremes and decide to wage war against Canada, because that’s where the film came from, and because it’s easier to attack a scapegoat than to question whether it’s actually their parenting at fault. Adding – fittingly, given how it happens – fuel to the fire, Kenny dies emulating something from the film, but this time we see him in the afterlife and meeting the angsty Satan, as ever locked in an abusive homosexual relationship with Saddam Hussein – as the one suffering. The parents manage to succeed in getting the stars of the offensive film condemned to death, so Stan and Kyle decide to form a resistance movement to rescue them. Cartman’s potty-mouth leads him to be subjected to a ‘V-chip’ not for the TV but for the head, which shocks him when he swears to correct his behaviour, Eric Idle’s short turn as the doctor who implants the chip making up a little for his bewildering turn in the previous year’s Timmy to the Rescue (Timmah!). All these plot strands come together at the end in a rather contrived way revolving around prophecies of Hell breaking free, but it cannot be denied that it is awesome when it does, especially with Cartman featuring in one of the best of the show’s numerous anime pastiches and Mike Judge showing up to give Kenny a voice just for a moment or two.

The film probably has the best pastiche soundtrack of any comedy film. The remarkable thing is that it not only imitates Menken numbers and the soundtrack of Les Misérables, it does it to a level of quality about on a par with them. James Hetfield pops in for an anonymous vocal cameo that presumably because of legal wrangling couldn’t be on the soundtrack and he pretended for a few years he didn’t do, the extremely silly ‘Kyle’s Mom is a Big Fat Bitch’ from the series gets fully expanded and ‘Blame Canada’ even got nominated for an Oscar – complete with a performance on awards ceremony night by Robin Williams (losing, inexplicably, to Phil Collins’ dreck from Tarzan). The medley that grows out of the Les Mis parody, including the great couplet ‘They may cut your dick in half and serve it to a pig/And though it hurts you’ll laugh and dance a dickless jig’, is inspired and should’ve been the one that won that academy award.

This was made while South Park was a rising star, and long before anyone was bored of it. And it shows: it’s clever, confident, full of ideas and absolutely hilarious. Miles better than The Simpsons Movie and a little better than Beavis and Butthead do America, it’s very probably the best movie adaptation of a TV animated comedy there’s ever been.

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