They are the champions of modern animation — The Simpsons — and after nearly two decades on-the-air they are nearing their 500th episode. But this week belongs to the challenger — South Park — which airs its own 200th episode on Wednesday night, April 14. Both TV animation sensations have spawned exactly one feature film. Even though it came to TV on the heels of the success of “The Simpsons,” it was “South Park” that broke free from the small-screen to try its luck in the cineplexes first. Both film versions tested whether audiences would pay good money to see something they were used to getting for free. History now tells us that the box office winner was “The Simpsons Movie” with $527-million worldwide box office compared to “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut” which brought in only $83-million worldwide.
In an industry dominated by flashy special effects and high-tech computer-generated animation, both series have spared us the frills and kept their animation styles ever so simple — opting instead to deliver satirical storylines laden with witty pop-culture references. We’ll let the series fight it out amongst themselves for TV honors — for now we simply ask the question, which series made a stronger transition from television to big screen? You’ll find out in a few minutes…so… just don’t have a cow, Man!
The town of Springfield is in a state of environmental chaos after somebody illegally dumped toxic pig droppings into Lake Springfield. EPA Chief Russ Cargill cunningly convinces president Arnold Schwarzenegger to quarantine the town in a giant glass dome to contain the problem. When the town residents discover that their beloved Homer J. Simpson is the one to blame for all their troubles, they form a mob and force the Simpson family to flee from the bubble and become fugitives. While the Simpsons are trying to start a new life in Alaska they discover that the EPA and the president have one last plan of action for the Springfield situation–eradicate the town by blowing it up! Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie decide to abandon Alaska immediately and return to save Springfield. However, stubborn Homer is still preoccupied with his selfish rituals and refuses to leave the comforts of Alaska. When he later realizes that he is nothing without his family and friends he charges back to Springfield and saves the town from its calamitious fate. The one draw back is that there sadly isn’t enough time in this fast paced movie to explore the many characters and places that audiences have come to admire from the television series.
The Defending Champion
“South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut” takes us to the tiny little suburb of South Park where a group of parents are in an uproar because “the boys” sneaked into an R-rated movie (starring their favorite Canadian comics Terrance and Phillip) and emerged with potty mouths that quickly infect all the other kids in town. The parents launch a wild protest against the morally corrupt movie and eventually the United States is forced to declare war on Canada. The plot gets even sillier as we intercut to lovers Saddam Hussein and Satan in the underworld as they scheme to take over the planet. “Park” takes full advantage of its R-rating by bombarding the audience with the rich, over-the-top, no holds barred raunchiness that we’d naturally expect from gifted writers Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
It’s no secret that as they near their 500th episode since the famed family first hit the airwaves that the the writing for “The Simpsons” television show has gone a little stale. Maybe that’s why the plot of “The Simpsons Movie” came across as somewhat unoriginal: Homer does something really terrible, sees the error of his ways, and saves the day in the end. That’s not even “Must-See” TV, let alone shell-out-the-cash cineplex time.
The movie did have a strong opening sequence and first act, however the writers appeared to run out of ideas during the lazy second act and they definitely just threw some things together in the haphazard third act in a weak attempt to give the audience some semblance of closure. Though “The Simpsons Movie” was well written overall, it still did not manage to capture the color and energy of the early television series. This is not to say that the film was not entertaining because it did dish out bountiful servings of the sophisticated social and political humor that has made the television series a household name.
Not to be outdone, “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut” weighed in with it’s own original satirical social and political humor which, because of its R-rating, it had the liberty to take further than “The Simpsons Movie.” “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut” attacked everybody and everything and did so using an unbelievable barrage of profane words and musical numbers. The storyline was completely ridiculous and severely keen at the same time. Writers Parker and Stone skillfully satirized an issue that is undoubtedly near and dear to their own hearts–censorship. However, the film was not without problems as the story did get a tad bit bogged down by the more than twelve musical sequences.
And the winner is…
Though Parker and Stone usually successfully exploit inappropriate language to make their points, I felt that they overshot in “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut.” The musical sequences sometimes did nothing to advance the story and often just served as filler. I can appreciate toilet humor as much as the next guy, but there has to be method to the madness. I’m not necessarily saying that Parker and Stone used too much obscene language…they just failed to justify why they were using it in many instances. “Park” felt less like a big feature and more like an exaggerated and drawn out television episode. The movie was clearly bigger and longer, but the musical numbers seriously needed to be cut.
“The Simpsons Movie,” on the other hand, has never relied on filthy language and cheap jokes which is why it appeals to a much wider audience. Though the story in this case was not spectacular, the film was definitely entertaining from beginning to end. “Simpsons” stays true to the form that has made it a cultural phenomenon for the the past two decades–quick, clean, and sharp wit–and unlike “Park,” does not try too hard just because it’s on the big screen. “The Simpsons Movie” wins hands down. Which is not to say that we won’t still look forward to that 200th episode of “South Park.”