Movie Article

Puppet Masters

The ''South Park'' guys on ''Team America'''s backstory. Trey Parker and Matt Stone talk about the extended sex scene and their beef with Sean Penn

Matt Stone, Trey Parker, ... | WORLD ON A STRING Provocateurs Parker and Stone let loose on the making of Team America
WORLD ON A STRING Provocateurs Parker and Stone let loose on the making of Team America

A marionette movie may sound kid-friendly, but in the hands of sick and twisted South Park masterminds Trey Parker and Matt Stone... well, let's just say there are strings attached. The duo's Team America: World Police (opening Oct. 15) takes potshots at North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, celebrities like Alec Baldwin and Sean Penn, and cheesy, big-budget action movies like Pearl Harbor. To ensure kids stay away, the equal-opportunity offender features graphic puppet sex, an exploding Michael Moore, and an R rating. Here are some fun (and creepy) facts about Parker and Stone's most challenging project ever.

THE ORIGINAL IDEA WAS COMPLETELY DIFFERENT While Team America's parody of U.S. involvement in overseas battles is timely, it wasn't what Parker and Stone initially planned, they claim. ''It was right around the same time that the Day After Tomorrow script came out,'' says Parker. ''We got our hands on it and read it and were like, This is the perfect puppet movie!'' But, they say, a call to their lawyers revealed they couldn't get the script, so Team America was born instead.

Early drafts had a more political slant than what ultimately shows up in the movie (Kim Jong Il may be a real North Korean dictator, but in Team America he could just as easily be Dr. Evil). ''As soon as we started reading [the first scripts] through, we were just like, Who f---ing cares?'' Parker says. ''We satirize movies way more than we satirize politics, because it's funnier.''

THEY HAVE BIG PLANS FOR THE DVD Just because several scenes had to be trimmed for an R rating doesn't mean you won't get to see them... eventually. ''The sex scene was basically more than twice as long,'' says Parker — he and Stone included some extra-graphic moments ''specifically to be cut out [by the ratings board].'' But, they hope, the extended puppet lovemaking will turn up not only on DVD but also in the overseas theatrical version. ''That would just point something out -- that America is the only country that can't see the whole puppet sex scene [on the big screen.]''

THEY DON'T HATE CELEBRITIES... Although stars like George Clooney and Ethan Hawke come across as pompous puppet jerks (and Matt Damon appears to be mentally challenged) in the movie, Stone says he doesn't have a bone to pick with them. ''I know Matt Damon, and he's a great guy,'' he says. ''This isn't so much a statement on who they are as people, but it's the idea that as celebrities, they know everything about everything. You're actually trying to figure out what's going on in the world, and then all of a sudden, on your TV news show is Janeane Garofalo. These stars really aren't authorities on anything.''

...BUT THEY AREN'T CRAZY ABOUT SEAN PENN After Parker and Stone received a letter from the Oscar winner — in which he condemned them for recent comments in Rolling Stone urging uninformed voters to stay away from the ballot booths — the duo had a laugh at the actor's expense. ''It was like he missed the point,'' says Stone. Adds Parker: ''It's obvious what he's really pissed off about is that we made him into a puppet and had him eaten by a panther [in the movie].... It's hysterical, because nothing could make us happier. It's like, Spicoli's pissed at you. What does he think, we're going to be like, 'Dude, Sean Penn's pissed at us! What should we do?''' One thing they briefly considered doing was taking Penn up on his offer to escort them around Iraq: ''We were going to take him over there and kick his ass,'' laughs Stone.

THERE WON'T BE A SEQUEL The filmmakers initially thought working the pint-size marionettes would be easier than wrangling the giant egos of real actors, but they quickly learned otherwise. ''We went to shoot the test scene thinking, 'Well, we'll spend a few hours shooting and we'll shoot it a couple ways,''' says Parker. ''After spending 18 hours, we had barely gotten one version of the scene.'' Getting the marionettes to blink, open their mouths, run, and fight ultimately required 35 puppeteers and an extended shooting schedule. ''After the first week of shooting, I would have done anything to get out of it,'' groans Parker, who has said he'd rather see his own mother die than make another puppet movie. Well, then, guess there's no point in waiting for Team 2.

Originally posted Oct 12, 2004