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Distributors: Paramount Pictures (US) and Warner Bros. Pictures (International)
Production Companies: Comedy Central Films, Braniff Productions and Scott Rudin Productions
Director: Trey Parker
Producers: Trey Parker and Matt Stone
Scriptwriters: Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Pam Brady
Main Cast: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Mary Kay Bergman and Isaac Hayes
Released: June 30 1999 (US) and August 27 1999 (UK)
Running Time: 81 Minutes
When it debuted on Comedy Central in the States back in 1997, South Park was a revelation. At a time when cartoons rarely pushed the envelope, South Park used crude humour and shock tactics, along with some pretty funny dialogue and situations, to provide a truly groundbreaking television show. It wasn’t afraid to mock celebrities, companies, religions, or even itself; its initially poor animation would be a subject of its own ridicule in the years to come.
Whilst ratings were at their peak during the earliest years of its run, the show has grown into something more akin to political commentary through the most asinine yet hilarious storylines imaginable, resulting in a far more polished and entertaining programme. The initial elements which made the show stand out (strong language, sexual themes etc) are now taken for granted by viewers, even though they are laid on thicker than ever. Any episode from the last few years would probably have sent some people bonkers, had they been aired in the late 1990s. Which, ironically, provides the plot for its motion picture, South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut, released in 1999.
The story is based around the boys (Cartman, Kyle, Stan and Kenny, for those unfamiliar) sneaking in to see the new Terrance & Philip film, which features strong language and a ton of innuendos which the kids start using as part of daily conversation. As more and more people see the movie, and start casually swearing (more than usual), school staff and parents are shocked at how the film has influenced the children, and begin lambasting and protesting against Terrance & Philip. Cue the arrest of the two Canadian TV stars (T&P, again for South Park newbies), the reactionary killing of the Baldwins, and the resultant decision for the US to go to war with Canada, including the planned execution of Terrance & Philip at a USO show. Giving away further plot developments would spoil the movie for those who haven’t seen it, but I can add that there are a number of secondary storylines, the most notable being Stan’s attempts to “find the clitoris” as he looks to win back Wendy’s affections, who seemingly has a new boyfriend in Gregory. Oh, and Satan and Saddam Hussein plan to take over the world.
As this film was created during the early years of South Park’s run, it relies a lot on the shock tactics which initially made the programme stand out, albeit pushed to a new height (all swearwords are unbleeped, sexual innuendo is fairly consistent and stronger than it had been previously in the show, etc), and less on political commentary, although it becomes obvious that Trey Parker and Matt Stone are using the film’s theme to generally comment on the reaction to its own programme; namely, those whose reactions to a provocative TV production are over-the-top end up doing more harm than good with their attempts to censor material that they find offensive.
Music was used heavily in this film, a lot more so than what South Park fans had been accustomed to. At the time, this seemed like a bad idea beforehand; but most songs were in tune with the plot-lines, and many either provided witty one-liners or were comedy gold, for reasons ranging from the language used to the ridiculous voices and humorous visuals. In fact, a number of the songs are fondly remembered today as being some of the funniest or most memorable musical numbers ever in any movie. Of course, the show has since incorporated music to such an extent that the songs are usually hilarious for the aforementioned reasons, so in hindsight any concerns that the film would drag because of its large use of music were unnecessary.
Watching the film again, all these years later, obviously provides a different perspective than when I first saw it, but the two experiences have one important thing in common: both then and now, I found the movie to be hilarious. It bursts into life with the Terrance & Philip movie, and from there the number of funny, clever or simply hilarious quotes and moments is vast. Watching it in modern times obviously alters one’s reaction to certain scenes; for example, the prevalent use of the f-word is far less shocking now than back then, and as the show routinely uses unbleeped swearing nowadays, the fact that strong language is used so often and is uncensored in the movie doesn’t have much of an impact. The animation is a bit rough-around-the-edges, but by no means a distraction; as stated, South Park’s animation would often be made fun of by the show itself (including in this film). I was surprised by how quickly scenes flowed; at times, I was almost out of breath due to how fast lines were being delivered. The other slight downside is that some of the show’s funnier characters in later years either play a minor role (Randy Marsh, Butters) or had yet to be introduced, so they aren’t present at all (Timmy, Jimmy etc).
But without question, one comes away from the film feeling positive. The show uses a number of simple themes which, in fact, had already been used or touched upon in the series beforehand, and creates an unforgettable animated experience. The one-liners, the musical numbers, the ridiculous situations, the simple yet massively detailed animation, the self-parodying, the heavy yet clever use of adult themes – everything comes together brilliantly, and the outcome is what will probably be the funniest animated movie that you will ever see. I would expand further but you really have to see this film to appreciate how funny some moments are. For first-timers, I will simply advise you to watch out for the T&P movie, the scene where Cartman is fitted with a V-chip, and a musical number about Canada; chances are that you won’t easily forget them.
Fans have been clamouring for a sequel since then, with the nearest thing being the hugely enjoyable three-parter Imaginationland from Season 11. Trey and Matt have often pointed out how exhausting the production of this movie was and its knock-on effect on the TV series, and given the amount of problems they encountered during the process (including plenty of confrontations with Paramount Pictures over the movie’s rating), they have publicly stated that if there ever was a second film, it would most likely close the series as a whole. It would be great to see a proper follow-up one day, though, especially given how the programme has evolved since the movie was released at the close of the 20th century.
Overall, then, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut doesn’t have quite the same impact as it did back in 1999, but it remains a hugely enjoyable movie that will have you repeating one-liners, and maybe even one or two of the songs, for a long time to come. If you’re a South Park fan then you’ve probably seen it at some point, but even if you’re not, you really should see what stands out as one of the all-time great animation experiences.
Overall Rating: 8.5/10 – Excellent