South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
The sign of the apocalypseBy Vladimir Zelevinsky
Directed by Trey Parker
Written by Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Pam Brady
Voiced by Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Mary Kay Bergman
Song music and lyrics by Trey Parker
The Apocalypse is upon us. South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (bigger, longer & uncut what, I wonder -- but perhaps I shouldn’t) has opened in a theater near you. It’s indeed all that the title promises it to be: an hour and a half of all that made the animated TV show a cult phenomenon -- only more of it.
The movie features more fart jokes (approximately 1.2 every second), more crude humor (sample: Satan in bed with Saddam Hussein), and more equal-opportunity offending than just about anything else out there (the assorted targets include Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, William Baldwin, as well as other assorted celebrities, nations, ethnicities, and religions). As an added bonus, this is a movie, not a TV show, so it also has copious amounts of profanity (approximately 2.1 swear words per second), full-frontal nudity, and giant glowing talking sex organs.
It also has more laughs than in all films in a year combined, more incisive satire than in all the movies that came out in the last three years, and better songs than anything that Disney managed to create in the last five years. For South Park is not a mere adaptation of a silly and crude (and occasionally brilliant) TV show; it’s an R-rated animated musical comedy adventure satire. As the TV show, it is occasionally brilliant; it is frequently hilarious; it is consistently offensive; it is sporadically inane and soporific; and it is ultimately rather good-natured and sweet, and the last is the biggest shock of all.
The story, which is just right for the current state of societal consciousness, concerns four kids sneaking into an R-rated movie (obviously a highbrow arthouse movie: it’s titled Asses on Fire and features defiantly flatulent Canadian duo of Terrence and Philip), where they learn a few choice profanities. No, make it a whole lot of rather indiscriminate profanities. Soon, the kids start using their newly-acquired lexicon, and the school gets alarmed. This leads to their parents forming a national task force, and that’s just the start of the snowballing sequence of events, which becomes a truly epic story, linking in one single band of destiny Heaven, Hell, America, Canada, and a sock puppet named Mr. Hat.
And, of course, South Park is also a musical, taking the worn-out Disney formula (the gradually expanding introductory number, a show-stopper or two or three, and a tender wistful ballad, here warbled by Satan, trying to escape a suffocating codependent relationship with Saddam), and raises it to new heights of creativity, while also lowering it to new depths of depravity. But it’s precisely when it’s a parody that South Park really comes to life. The reason for this is that all those musical numbers --more than a dozen -- are not only funny by themselves and amusing as parodies; all of them are also better than the songs that inspired them.
In last years, we’re lucky if an animated movie leaves behind at least one memorable tune. Mostly, it’s tired, syrupy, safe, bland stuff. South Park songs (most of them written by Trey Parker, who also co-wrote and directed the movie, also providing about half of all male vocals) are clever, unexpectedly fresh in both melodic and harmonic rhythms, and, most impressively, irresistibly catchy. I couldn’t resist from toe-tapping during “It’s Easy,” “MMMKay” and “Blame Canada”; I was honestly moved and stirred by the revolutionary anthem “La Resistance” (a fiendishly clever spoof of “One Day More” from Les Miserables). For the last two days, I can’t get out of my head that ditty that’s sung by Terrence and Philip; unfortunately, I can neither hum it aloud in a decent company nor print its title in a fine family newspaper such as this one.
There are other pleasures as well: the unexpectedly sophisticated visuals (even the crude paper cutouts look neat on the big screen, because of the varied texture and grain of construction paper), rapid-fire barrage of gags, and weird celebrity cameos (Minnie Driver voicing Brooke Shields and Brent Spiner voicing Conan O’Brien!).
To balance this, there are more than enough scenes when the movie comes to a grinding and rather painful halt. Every single sequence set in Hell is a total waste, most likely because it focuses on Saddam, whose character is pointless and unfunny. It’s not coincidental that he is the only one without any single redeeming feature.
And that presence of redeeming features is, by and large, the point. For whatever amounts of profanity and crude violence the characters engage in, by the end one thing is absolutely obvious: Parker and Stone are warm and affectionate toward them, even toward the ones that are, at the first glance, worthless. The ending clearly underscores the point, with a surprisingly graceful and touching coda. Ultimately, South Park not only manages to make some succinct points about the modern societal dynamics; it also embraces the interests of all things honest, humble, downtrodden, earnest, and Canadian.
Don’t walk out until the credits are over. There’s another great gag afterwards.