Saturday, May 29, 2004

South Park The Movie: A Retrospective

This review was first published on Harry Knowles aint-it-cool-news site, the very first review of the incomplete SOUTH PARK movie. Believe it or not, creator Matt Stone read it and commented on it, taking on-board the comments about the over-long Kenny in Hell sequence (it was significantly trimmed in the final cut). Who says online opinions dont matter?!


I recently had the chance to view a post-production VHS copy of the eagerly awaited South Park movie. The film is in the final stages of post-production: some frames of animation are not yet completed (they are replaced by a series of stills) and some of the dialogue track is to be redubbed. Otherwise, the film is pretty much ready for release - the story is clear and all the dialogue is present, voiced by all the correct actors.

[This paragraph contains spoilers]
So, how does it fare? It kicks off in style as Cartman and the gang sneak in to the brand new Terrence & Philip movie. This film-within-a-film ("Asses of Fire") is a hilarious excuse for offensive bad-language (not bleeped!) and vulgar toilet humour. It contains a brilliant musical number containing nothing but four-letter words, clearly a celebration of the new-found freedom SOUTH PARK's creators have found with an 18 certificate ('R' in the US). Naturally, the South Park kids are impressed, and are soon repeating the swearing at school. Soon, the news of the kids' foul mouths filters through to the teachers and the parents, who are up in arms. The film then turns into an unsubtle attack on a society of censorship, as the parents point the blame at Terrence & Philip themselves, putting them on trial, sentencing them to death, and declaring war on their homeland (Canada).

[Spoilers end]
So far, so good. There are some brilliant gags and one-liners (as you'd expect) and the relationship between Satan and Saddam Hussein is possibly the sickest thing I've ever seen - so the film must be doing something right.

Unfortunately, it seems that the natural length for SOUTH PARK is half an hour. The film simply can't sustain the cartoons simple one-note inanity for the full running time of the feature. All the best ideas are in the first half-hour, after which SOUTH PARK begins to slide into repetition and tedium. There is no denying the thrill of hearing the South Parkers swear for real, but basing an entire film on this premise suggests laziness. Certainly, its watchable and enjoyable enough (as any average episode of the TV show is), but you get the feeling that SOUTH PARK has possibly exhausted its format with this movie. There is very little left to explore, meaning the film has to resort to cliched fantasy and war sequences.

The most irritating aspect of SOUTH PARK THE MOVIE is undoubtedly the boring musical numbers. There are far too many of them, of which only one-or-two are remotely amusing. They exist only as filler, padding the story out to reach feature film length. Equally tedious is the sub-plot involving Kenny's death (yes, he dies - no spoilers there).

SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER AND UNCUT is a fan's film. It is good to see that the creators are not compromising their vision in an attempt to draw in a more mainstream audience: this is as acerbic and cruel as any TV episode. Unfortunately, as a fan's film, it follows the strict formula of 'more of the same'. There is nothing particularly special here to distinguish it from the TV show other than the swearing, some poor songs, and some snazzy animation sequences. Building it up as an 'event movie' is possibly a mistake: it would be more at home as a sell-through video release.

This film's potential under-achievement, combined with the TV show's dwindling audience figures in the States, could well spell the end of the SOUTH PARK franchise. This may be a blessing in disguise. Parker & Stone are undoubtedly talented people, and it may be time for them to move on to projects new: the clear parallel is with a similarly controverial cartoon, BEAVIS & BUTTHEAD, which ended with a major motion picture, to be replaced by the more emotionally rich and mature KING OF THE HILL.

So, in conclusion, SOUTH PARK THE MOVIE just about stands on its own merits, and all fans should certainly see it, not least because it may be the last you will ever see. It was fun while it lasted, but no more SOUTH PARK please.

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