At some point during a rewatch of this for the purpose of this article, the fact hit that this movie is twenty years old. Twenty. Years. Old. That’s two decades of time that have passed. Two decades of pop culture and societal development that has transpired since Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny did battle with Satan and Saddam Hussein.
Whilst one of the best things that has possibly come from South Park as a franchise, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut comes from a period of the series reaching the peak of its popularity, when it was a strong part of popular culture. Its populist peak – yet nowhere near its creative peak.
It’s ridiculous to think of a time before the show had Butters, when killing Kenny hadn’t overstayed its welcome as a joke, and before Parker and Stone had realised that Randy Marsh was gold as a character. It would be several seasons before they’d evolve Cartman into the highly intelligent immoral mastermind who would kill and bake his enemies’ parents into food, and instead the film still has him in his bullyish profane mode.
If you’re unaware of the story of South Park, it follows the aforementioned eight year old boys as they navigate life in a snowy Colorado town. Which happens to end up with them getting involved in all sorts of absolute weirdness. The movie sees the boys sneak into a R-Rated movie starring their comedic idols and learn the swear words. It’s when they start using the words at school that events spiral, and that eventually leads to a war between the US and Canada, and the rise of Satan.
It sounds outlandish, and it is – but the best part (of many) is how the film manages to escalate the story at pace and it does not feel like it drags. The inevitable climax somehow works and builds up perfectly, with all the different plot threads for the main characters coming together to pay off. Stan’s quest to impress his crush leads him to talking to giant clitoris; Kyle has to deal with his mum blaming everyone for her son swearing; Cartman gets a chip in his head that stops him swearing; and Kenny dies but ends up in Hell talking to Satan and Saddam Hussein.
Whilst the inclusion of Hussein feels like it’s dated, the overall message of the film hasn’t. Issues regarding censorship and how children can access adult entertainment is an issue that’s relevant today, but twenty years ago was made more apparent due to certain events including (but not limited to) the Columbine High School Massacre. This throwback isn’t going to go into too much detail regarding this, as it is not directly related to the film, but it was an event that led to an increase of outcry regarding what children and teenagers can see.
The debate regarding censorship lies in two schools of thought: should the content exist at all, or should access to it be monitored. Parker and Stone flirt between the two different schools of thought. The film is about children sneaking into films they’re too young to see. Arguably that’s what probably happened with this one as well. But what Parker and Stone take shot at is the outcry.
South Park as a franchise has always been quite clever in how to balance its subtlety. You can take it as face value in that its message is fairly unsubtle, but there are always deeper layers to uncover. It often seems to be taking shots at the attitudes towards controversial topics rather than the topics themselves. It means it’s more rewarding for it in the end. The real evil being the warped view people take on things – and the film does this by making the real villain Saddam and turning Satan into a three-dimensional lost soul who just doesn’t want to be in Hell anymore.
Does censorship on this level work in the modern world? Even more so. The internet is accessible from practically everything from phones to fridges, and adult material is easy to distribute. If anything, modern technology dates the film even more on that level – yet it still maintains a great sense of humour and sense of fun whilst maintaining a strong message.
Also, what would Brian Boitano do?