Tuned In

What shocks most about South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut isn't its well-documented gross indecencies but their context: the film's a straight-up, big-screen musical. Better yet, Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and composer Marc Shaiman's use of a genre abandoned by everyone aside from Disney types is not a smug, jaded pose but a means of storytelling both practical and inspired. The opening number, which strolls through South Park's microcosm of "quiet Podunk white-trash mountain U.S.A.," is equal parts Oklahoma! and Meet Me in St. Louis. The film's main guiding model, however, is West Side Story: Saddam Hussein sings an apologia, "I Can Change" ("It's not my fault that I'm evil/It's society's, society's"), that echoes the snide disingenuousness of West Side's "Gee Officer Krupke." "La Resistance," a late-inning medley, reiterates everyone's motivations just like West Side's "Tonight, Tonight." Satan's longing, Peabo Bryson–ified ballad "Up There" mocks all the statement-of-intent songs requisite to Disney films (especially The Little Mermaid), but it also sounds a whole lot like Maria and Tony's ode to star-crossed love, "Somewhere."

South Park isn't the only summer film employing the stylistic devices of movie musicals; Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me boasts several song-and-dance interludes, including a poolside Benny Hill–meets–Esther Williams credit sequence. Parker and Stone don't share Mike Myers's sense of sheer kicky joy, but unlike Myers, they always borrow with real objectives in mind. Big Gay Al's number takes place at a USO program showcasing the execution of two Canadian comics as "war criminals"; as in the Powers sequel, the song occasions an aquatic extravaganza straight out of Bathing Beauty, but uses it to mock the insatiable American thirst for blood and circuses. The Sousa-like "Blame Canada" continues the righteous pomp and circumstance: As hysterical moms ask of Kenny's premature demise, "Should we blame the matches?/Should we blame the fire?/Should we blame the doctors who allowed him to expire?" Parker and Stone neatly summarize the pious hand-wringing by both right and left following Littleton.

The marriage of South Park and the musical is both fitting and poignant—fitting because the over-the-top absurdism of one condones that of the other, and poignant since any hope or good faith the film possesses is invested in its antiquated chosen genre, which, like South Park itself, is an institution most likely past its prime.

 
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