July 6, 1999 -- Seeing "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut," is a very strange experience for someone who has never seen this particular cartoon before. I could tell there were people in the audience who had seen it, because they were cheering for this one particular character to sing this song about his teacher being a **** (rhymes with witch).
Once the shock wears off of the images of little kids saying words like f***, s*** and b***, there's not a lot of humor left in that part of the dialogue. What was surprising was how good the musical numbers were. The original music by Marc Shaiman is inventive, varied and catchy. There's a knockout number by Satan singing about how he wants to get back in the world after being marooned in Hell.
The story is really about the film itself and how tough it was to get it through the film rating process, which discriminates against profanity and sex in favor of violence. The story starts with the South Park kids getting around that very rating system to see a cartoon filled with foul language and crude humor.
When the kids start using the same language at school, they get into trouble. When one of kids imitates what he saw on screen and dies as a result of igniting a certain noisy gaseous bodily vapor, all Hell breaks loose, literally. War breaks out between the U.S. and Canada over the film and the censorship issue. The fate of the world is at stake.
There is an interesting subplot involving Satan and Saddam Hussein (who I thought was still alive and in this world) as gay lovers in Hell. It turns out that Hussein is a lot more evil than Satan, who seems weak and manipulated in that relationship. Christianity is just one of the many sacred cows that are butchered in this movie. There is heavy satire involving politics, racism, anti-semitism, education, censorship, war, sex, etc.
In its irreverence, the humor reminded me of Monty Python, a group which loved to attack everything, especially religion. That old Python, Eric Idle, by the way, does play the voice of Dr. Vosknocker in the movie. This movie owes much to Beavis and Butthead, who paved the way for this kind of humor, and this film acknowledges that debt in its own way.
The artwork is crude for the most part, but there are occasional flashes of brilliance. There are some breathtaking sequences in the scenes of Hell, for instance. A variety of different animation and digital effects are used in the movie and some of those are very effective.
As for the film's central argument, that censorship, even for children, is bad, it seems kind of sophomoric. Sure, censorship is bad, but it is hard not to sympathize with parents who are trying to raise their children according to one set of values when society is bombarding them with opposite values. "Please! Just give us some small shred of control over what our children see and hear," they wail.
The message of this movie is the kid is responsible for his own actions and he has to make his own choices about what is right and wrong. You, as a parent, have no control over those choices. In an ideal situation, with trained, professional, full-time parents, that would probably be O.K. However, when the parents both have to work and the kids are raised, to a large extent, by television and babysitters, the movie's argument about raising responsible children is probably far from practical.
Another message that this film is sending out is that the filmmakers have no responsibility for the effect their films have on people, even children. It is always convenient to evade responsibility for one's own actions, especially when there is profit at stake. At a time when some people in Hollywood were starting to talk sense about the links between criminal behavior and film, this argument is a step in the wrong direction. People are influenced by films and the filmmakers will have to accept some of the responsibility for those influences.
So what do we conclude from all this? The film is definitely thought-provoking. Parts of it are funny, parts of it may not be if the shock value of the language wears off for you. There are some good visuals and a fairly good storyline, but all of these qualities are very uneven. Nothing, except high energy and edginess, are maintained very long. This film rates a C+.
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