Released: 30 June 1999
Director: Trey Parker
Distributor: Paramount Pictures/Warner Bros.
Budget: $21 million
Stars: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Mary Kay Bergman, and Isaac Hayes
After seeing the new Terrence and Philip movie, the kids of South Park cause controversy when they freely spout a whole slew of new swear words and profanity. This leads to Kyle Broflovski’s (Stone) mother, Sheila (Bergman), becoming so outraged that she pushes for all-out war against Canada! However, the situation escalates when, after dying, Kenny McCormick (Stone) uncovers a plot between Saddam Hussein (ibid) and Satan (Parker) to use these events as a catalyst to bring an age of darkness to the entire world!
Back in 1992, Matt Stone and Trey Parker created a crude animated film using only glue, construction paper, and an old 8mm film camera. After being commissioned to create a follow-up short, the pilot episode first aired on this day in 1997 and a full series soon followed, which saw the duo joined by a team of around seventy employees. The duo also switched to replicating their cardboard cut-out style with computers, and the popularity of the show’s first season led to discussions of a feature-length production in 1998. Right off the bat, Stone and Parker made it clear that a feature-length film would have to be R-rated and eventually got this wish even after studio executives tried to sway them to tone things down. The filmmakers used a variety of additional computer effects to help the film stand out from its television counterpart, something further bolstered by the duo’s decision to make the film a musical, though production was made tense due to several battles with producers and executives regarding the film’s tone and marketing. Despite its vulgar humour, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut released to widespread critical praise and earned over $83 million at the box office, making it the highest-grossing R-rated movie until it was knocked from its perch about sixteen years later.
Man, I was so hyped for this film as a kid; funnily enough, though, I don’t actually remember if I knew that it was a musical until I was sitting in the cinema with my friend and the opening sequence started. As surprising as this may have been, it definitely didn’t put me off and only added to the film’s charm. Considering how popular and notorious South Park was when the film released, it’s unlikely that many audiences went into it without at least some knowledge of the show, its crude humour, and its colourful cast of characters and yet the film helpfully introduces us to the snowy, quiet, and apparently unassuming town with its opening song (“Mountain Town”) and by having Stan Marsh (Trey Parker) tour through the streets recruiting his friends to the cinema event of their lives, Terrance Henry Stoot (Matt Stone) and Phillip Niles Argyle’s (Parker) Asses of Fire. Fans of the show will remember Terrence and Phillip from the season episode “Death” (Stone, 1997), which actually contained a similar sub-plot to this movie; the duo (sometimes depicted as crudely animated cartoon characters) are a couple of vulgar Canadian comedians known for foul language and toilet humour but they’re heroes to the South Park kids.
This opening song not only introduces the four main characters but also sets up many of the themes of the movie; Stan’s mother, Sharon (Bergman), sings about Stan’s pure-hearted innocence, Kenny’s mother, Carol (ibid), chastises him for skipping church to see the film and warns him that he’ll have to answer for Satan for his actions, and Kyle’s overbearing and controlling mother forces him to not only lie about where he’s going to avoid upsetting her further but to also take his adopted baby brother Ike (Various) along with them. Of course, Eric Cartman (Parker) doesn’t have to worry about his mother, his family, or money troubles like his friends since he emotionally manipulates his kind-hearted and doting mother, Liane (Bergman), with his callous and demanding persona but even he can’t get past the movie rating laws that forbid them from seeing Asses of Fire due to being underage. Stan, however, bribes a homeless man to pose as their legal guardian and get them into the film, which is a typical nonsense Terrence and Phillip affair of fart jokes and baloney but with the added bonus of including a whole new array of uncensored swear words and insults for the kids to pick up (“Uncle Fucka”). While the adults in the audience are horrified by the vulgarity, the kids are captivated and waste no time in impressing their fellow kids with their new vocabulary. Stan, however, is disheartened to find his long-time crush and on-again/off-again girlfriend, Wendy Testaburger (Bergman), has latched on to newcomer Gregory (Parker), an eloquent and sophisticated transfer student who appeals to her sensible and rational mindset.
To try and win her back, Stan goes to Jerome McElroy/Chef (Isaac Hayes) for advice but the smooth-talking womaniser accidentally informs him that the best way to make a woman like him is to “find the clitoris”; since Stan is too young to understand this, he believes that this is more of a spiritual quest and begins a sub-plot revolving around him trying to decipher Chef’s words and win back Wendy’s affections. Thanks to the kids, though, the rest of their class bribes their way into Assess of Fire and, before long, they’re all singing and quoting lines from the film (with the exception of the sensible Gregory and Wendy). Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny’s blatant use of swears horrifies their teacher, Herbert Garrison (ibid), and sees them sent to the school councillor, Mister Mackey (ibid), and lands them in hot water with their mothers. Although Mr. Mackey tries to dissuade the children from swearing (“It’s Easy, M’Kay”) and the school places a ban on Terrance and Phillip apparel, the kids continue to sneak into the film at every opportunity and Asses of Fire becomes a huge hit all across the country despite concerns that its content is ruining America’s youth. This all comes to a head when the kids try to recreate a scene from the film and, in the process, Kenny burns himself to death trying to light his fart. For Sheila, this is the final straw; not only do the mothers ground their kids for two weeks but she takes her opposition to the movie, and all of Canada, to the next level by reorganising the Parent/Teacher Association into Mothers Against Canada (M.A.C.) and vehemently opposing any and all Canadian products and imports in the town (“Blame Canada”).
After paying off Conan O’Brien (Brent Spiner), Sheila then has Terrence and Phillip arrested for corrupting America’s youth; when the American ambassador (Stone) refuses to let the duo go and insults his Canadian counterpart (Parker), Canada responds by bombing and killing the Baldwin family and before long an all-out war between America and Canada is declared, with Sheila positioned as President Bill Clinton’s (ibid) chief advisor and Terrence and Phillip set to be executed as war criminals. While Kyle is angered at Cartman’s views on his mother (“Kyle’s Mom’s a Bitch”), the kids agree that they have to do something to stop their mothers and the war (“What Would Brian Boitano Do?”) and so unite the town’s kids under the banner of “La Resistance”. While they struggle to come up with a practical plan, Gregory leads them to Christophe/The Mole (Parker), who helps them to infiltrate the United Service Organisations (USO) show where the duo are set to be executed. Their motivations are only bolstered when Cartman is visited by Kenny’s ghost, who warns that this is all playing into an age-old prophecy that will allow Satan to rise up and bring devastation to the world. Having been denied entrance into Heaven, Kenny’s soul is cast down to the fiery depths of Hell where he finds Satan in a toxic relationship with former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. While Satan is trying to focus on his opportunity to finally have his time in the sun (“Up There”) and wants more from their relationship, Saddam is an egotistical and self-centred schemer who’s focused only on sex. Although Kenny tries to convince Satan to leave his abusive partner, Saddam is easily able to emotionally manipulate Satan’s good nature (“I Can Change”) and, when the war culminates in Terrance and Phillip’s deaths despite the best efforts of La Resistance, he immediately usurps Satan’s position to steal the spotlight as the new dark ruler of the world.
As you might expect from South Park, the film is full of crude humour, sight gags, and ridiculous jokes; we see this right from the start as Cartman accuses Terrence and Phillip of having crappy animation and the kids are immediately seen jerking along in stilted movements. Cartman shines even brighter during his big solo where he complains about Kyle’s mother, his little gag with the microphone where he tells Mr. Garrison to suck his balls never fails to amuse, and he even absurdly tries to beat Kenny’s flames out with a stick! Kenny’s botched operation is similarly hilarious as Dr. Gouache (George Clooney) and his attendants slice his charred corpse up, beat him with a hammer, and accidentally replace his heart with a baked potato! The film also dips into comical satire with the “March of War” promotional video, Kyle randomly tapping keys on his computer to “re-route the encryptions” and get a message to the town’s kids (Cartman’s insistence on advertising that they’ll have punch and pie is a riot), and while Chef only has a small role he’s perfectly placed to lampoon the army’s notorious racism. Although created solely for the film, Christophe proves to be a true highlight; a foul-mouthed atheist with a dodgy French accent, the Mole provides some of the best and most absurd lines of the film with his rants about God, his mother (who stabbed him with a coat hanger while still in the womb!), and his “butt for” gag that are matched only by the wacky levels of blood and violence during the final conflict between the American and Canadian armies.
In true South Park fashion, the reaction to a vulgar film is suitably over the top and comical; all of the town’s adults are outraged that their children have become “corrupted” by Terrence and Phillip and resort to more extreme measures when their attempts to ground their kids fail. In addition to burning all Canadian paraphernalia and causing all Americans of Canadian descent and blood to be sent to death camps, M.A.C. employs the services of Doctor Vosknocker (Eric Idle) to create the “V-chip”, an electronic device that is implanted into Cartman against his will and delivers a painful electric shock any time he speaks a swear word. As if these extreme methods weren’t bad enough, Sheila’s commitment to opposing the vulgarity of Asses of Fire expose her as an all-out racist; as Kyle says, she even forgets that her adopted son is Canadian and not only takes every opportunity to attack the physical characteristics of Canadians (which are exaggerated in the film’s animation) but to wage all-out war against them. She’s so obsessed with blaming and punishing everyone else, that she’s willing to put countless lives at risk in a senseless and bloody war simply because of a few swear words, which is just another fantastic example of how clever South Park’s social commentary can be as it parodies how extreme parents and social groups can be when opposing things they believe to be morally questionable.
As a result of Sheila’s pompous and fanatical ways, Satan comes across as a far more sympathetic and relatable character; while you can kind of see where Sheila’s coming from, she quickly goes to unbelievable extremes to persecute Canadians under the façade of protecting her son that it makes her thoroughly unlikeable, whereas Satan simply longs to escape his aeons of banishment to the netherworld and claim the world as his own. Not only that, it’s clear that he’s a sensitive and introspective demon who’s being manipulated by Saddam Hussein; when he spreads his army of darkness across the world and begins his reign of terror, he specifically states that it’s in reaction to Sheila’s bigotry and that the world must pay for her actions but he’s quickly pushed aside by Saddam’s own desire for power and conquest. Initially unable to work up the courage to stand against Saddam, Satan finally frees himself from his lover’s toxic influence after seeing him unsuccessful try and fool Cartman with the same lies he used on Satan earlier and, in gratitude for Kenny’s help in seeing Saddam for what he truly is, Satan agrees to restore the world and the lives lost prior to the war. Unfortunately, this means that Kenny has to go back too and, in a surprisingly poignant moment, he reveals his face for the first time and bids a fond farewell to his friends and ascends to Heaven as peace and understanding returns to the world (“Mountain Town (Reprise)”).
Even after all this time, my love and appreciation for South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut remains unchanged; it’s as fun, entertaining, and poignant to me now as it was back when it first came out, when the hype and excitement about South Park was at its most palpable. Indeed, the one complaint I have about the film is that it came maybe a little too soon in the show’s lifecycle, meaning that later breakout characters like Leopold Stotch/Butters (Stone), Tweek Tweak (ibid), Jimmy Valmer (Parker), and Timmy Burch (ibid) either don’t feature (due to not being created yet) or have extremely minor roles. This, however, is a revisionist criticism and does absolutely nothing to reduce my enjoyment of the film; by recycling a few of the gags from the show’s first two seasons and expanding upon the premise, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut proves to be as thought-provoking and surprisingly touching as it is vulgar and controversial. Many like to criticise South Park for appealing to the lowest common denominator with its immature jokes and crude humour but the showrunners often lace their episodes with commentary of modern society and media and the film is no different; by parodying the extreme reaction to vulgar content, the film holds a mirror up to South Park’s own critics and shows how there are things that are far worse than some naughty language. Add to that the legitimately funny jokes, the tight writing, a whole slew of catchy songs, some fun new characters, and the moving reveal of Kenny’s face and you’ve got an extremely humorous, witty, and touching animated feature that I enjoy just as much now as I did all those years ago when I first saw it at the cinema.
Did you enjoy South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut? Were you a fan of the musical approach and, if so, which of the songs was your favourite? Which of the kids is your favourite and did you enjoy Kenny’s side plot in Hell and Cartman’s troubles with the V-chip? Were you a fan of the film’s satire on the extreme reaction to bad language in films and cartoons? Do you agree that Canada isn’t a real country? Would you have liked to see a sequel made that included some of the show’s later breakout characters? How are you celebrating South Park’s anniversary this year? No matter what your thoughts on South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, or South Park in general, I’d love to hear from you so feel free to leave a comment below by signing up or on my social media.