Watching South Park’s Imaginationland trilogy with commentary by creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, I learned very little about the Imaginationland trilogy, new on DVD Tuesday from Paramount.
Instead, I listened as they droned on and on about their pet peeves in story structure and how TV writing is better than movie writing and which directors they really, really like and which ones they don’t and the fact that they both were fooled by the ending of The Sixth Sense and on and on and on with maddening irrelevancies. Meanwhile, one of the wildest, most eventful and most character-dense South Park stories ever unfolds on screen — and they almost completely ignore it.
Trey and Matt might as well have spent the time singing their own amusingly inane ode to imagination, “The Imagination Song.” You know how it goes: “Imaginaaaaaaaaation. Imaginaaaation. Imaaaaaaaaagination. Imaginaaaaaaatioooon.”
Hey, I love these guys, and I love their show. It’s funny as hell, it bravely hits Hollywood on the nose (for two guys who “will never work in this town again,” Trey and Matt keep doing so) and it tries valiantly to be timely and pertinent, not to mention cheeky and subversive. But their first stab at feature-length commentary showed that Trey and Matt are as clueless as some of the directors they disdain.
I’m sure many fans will agree with me that the BEST commentaries are scene-specific, while the WORST commentaries are self-indulgent ramblings which ignore what’s unfolding on screen. Why bother even playing the episodes if you’re going to talk instead about Mel Gibson movies? This is no true commentary on Imaginationland. It’s “Tangent Talk.” In fact, about as close as it comes to assessing the trilogy is giving tedious details about what was considered for it — and discarded. Who cares, if it wasn’t good enough to make the cut? Tell us about what you DID do, not what you didn’t do.
Now, Trey and Matt may ask, what should we have discussed instead? Well, how about the ways in which various good and bad imaginary characters were chosen for scenes in Imaginationland, where several South Park kids wind up during an elaborate plot involving the U.S. military, terrorists, a clash between good and evil and — oh yes — Cartman pushing Kyle to pay up on a bet to suck his balls? From Tron to Yellow Submarine, that’s a lot of ground to cover. Which movies, TV series, comic books, etc. were most represented, and which were left out, and why?
Speaking of which, how about explanations of how they can get away with showing copyrighted characters such as Mickey Mouse getting bloodily blown away — not to mention Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz?
Or how about details on which shots and lines of dialogue had to be trimmed for telecast on Comedy Central but made it into the DVD? Did you really think some of this would fly, or was some of it done just for the DVD?
Or how about why the DVD, by contrast, has a tamer title (Imaginationland) than the telecast (Kyle Sucks Carman’s Balls)? That seems inconsistent. Why?
While these and other questions beg for answers, we do get a little bit of insight from Trey and Matt, including their explanation that, in South Park’s limited animation, expressions are all about eyebrows and mouths. They’ll tell the artists a character needs “worried eyebrows” and “a number 4 mouth” and, magically, that gets it.
Parker also owns up to the fact that this trilogy was trying. “I don’t want to do another trilogy,” he says. “This is probably it.”
He probably doesn’t want to do another feature-length commentary, either. For boxed sets of season series, the boys have commented for just the first four or five minutes of an episode, and that’s it. Here, they actually make it to the start of the trilogy’s third part when, at 47 minutes into a 68-minute presentation, they quit. “That’s the longest commentary we’ve ever done,” they say triumphantly — but they quit. They have nothing more. Meanwhile, all hell breaks loose on screen, with many characters doing crazy things, and many fans raising many questions, but from Trey and Matt, it’s “No comment.”
Oh well. Perhaps we should just appreciate the trilogy in itself, which is one of South Park’s finest hours. Heck, I even love that inane little “Imaginaaaaation” song, especially as it plays over a menu featuring lovable little Butters in Imaginationland. And adding bonus episodes on Manbearpig and the Woodland Critters (can they please get their own show?) is totally fitting, since they all appear in the trilogy, too.
So check it and out and enjoy a triple dose of South Park. For on-screen entertainment, this is a terrific disc. But to make it through the commentary without nodding off, you’ll need a little bit of imagination yourself.