South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut

(Trey Parker & Matt Stone, USA, 199


Public opinion is a queer and unpredictable thing.


Cultural commentators observed how, for instance, while the new version of Lolita (1997) caused a moral storm before it had even been seen, the far more confronting Happiness (1998) breezed by under the protective cover of its arthouse respectability.


Will some utterly unsuspecting parents accompany their young children to this South Park movie and have their brains well and truly fried? Its makers, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, must surely hope so – which is undoubtedly why they plant, early on, an elaborate musical number in which two tasteless cartoon characters compare notes on how frequently they copulate with their uncles.


Of course, nothing is to be taken seriously in the under-animated universe of South Park. Parker and Stone's most profound message is that the vulgarity of little children is a natural, human and indeed entirely innocent reflex. And the key to the TV show’s cult success is that they have managed to tap the stinky kid still dwelling in most of us.


South Park is a post-Simpsons phenomenon, and to my mind inferior to its predecessor. Parker and Stone marry, even more ruthlessly than Matt Groening and James L. Brooks, an assembly-line carelessness as regards the art of animation to a breathtakingly referential obsession with popular culture fads.


The plot of the South Park movie, such as it is, revolves around a moral panic in the sleepy, small-town community familiar from the TV series. Kyle's mother decides that those Canadian cartoon characters encouraging unbridled flatulence and a “potty mouth” must be wiped out – literally, by exterminating all Canadians.


The other principal location of the story is Hell – where Kenny goes after death, only to discover that Satan and Saddam Hussein are preparing to take over the world once the “blood of innocents” is cruelly spilt. The extremely unholy union of these two bad guys prompts a rather too protracted string of songs and gags concerning dildos and anal sex.


Any student of our pop landscape is obliged to ponder the significance of the South Park cult. Its values are fascinatingly muddled. While trumpeting its own instantly-whipped sermon about artistic freedom and racial tolerance, it mocks any belief or gesture that is overtly political. While espousing sexual frankness and sophistication, it remains locked within a boyish nerdishness. Where is Lisa Simpson when you most need her?


As a relative newcomer to the South Park phenomenon, I was unable to gauge whether die-hard fans of the series present at the preview were really satisfied with this bigger, longer and uncut incarnation. Technically, many of the lines and song lyrics on the soundtrack rush by in an incomprehensible gabble, and purely visual gags are few and far between.


Like all movies adapted from TV programs, this one has problems finding and sustaining a plot. Since the characters and their world never really change within a thirty-minute episode, Parker and Stone play with fire by introducing cataclysm and death. Fortunately, they have a splendid, handy plot move in reserve for the finale.


While the sensibility of this movie may be, ultimately, rather closer to the National Lampoon school than its makers would possibly care to admit, there is no denying that it has, in places, a wild energy and some rousing moments of outrageous humour.


For its jokes about the clitoris, Bill Gates, car alarms and even its own roughshod animated craft, this South Park movie deserves its fleeting fame.

© Adrian Martin July 1999

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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