Gary Susman
June 30, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Having mastered the art of paper cut-out animation, ”South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone are stepping up to stop-motion animation with wooden puppets. Their feature film follow-up to ”South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut” will be an all-marionette movie adventure called ”Team America.” In the Paramount film, a ”Thunderbirds”-like team of hand-carved heroes will take on the twin evils of terrorism and overexposed celebrities.

Stone tells Variety the project had two inspirations. ”What we wanted was to do a send-up of these super important huge action movies that Jerry Bruckheimer makes,” he said. Specifically, the pair wanted to lampoon ”The Day After Tomorrow,” the upcoming global-warming film by disaster-movie maven Roland Emmerich (”Independence Day,” “Godzilla”) by secretly filming the ”Tomorrow” screenplay themselves, with a puppet cast, then release the spoof on the same day as the real thing. But their lawyer said the idea wouldn’t fly.

The puppet idea stuck, however, especially after Parker and Stone learned that Universal was remaking ”Thunderbirds,” the classic British puppet action-adventure show from the ’60s, as a live-action movie starring Bill Paxton and Ben Kingsley. ”Our cast will be deliberately made of wood, but that will only be taking to the extreme what is evident in many Hollywood movies right now,” Stone said. ”I hate all these new Hollywood films that are CGI-driven. Trey and I loved that ‘Thunderbirds’ series because of the artistry of the marionettes. It’s amazing that a studio would make a movie out of it and take out the only thing that was good about the series.”

The movie’s anti-celebrity take is nothing new for Parker and Stone, though the notion of smashing celebrity images into sawdust and toothpicks is. ”We hate those actors who take themselves so seriously and think they are a productive and important part of society,” Parker said of the soon-to-be-splintered stars. ”The subtle joke here is that all actors are puppets. This will probably piss off everyone in town and might well be our swan song.”

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