Launched in 1997 and having just kicked off its 12th season on Comedy Central, Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s South Park remains perhaps the most freewheeling, irreverent and consistently anarchic half-hour of comedy on the small screen, certainly since the dissolution of Chappelle’s Show. While other series (Queer Duck, for instance) may be more outré in their conception or framing, South Park comes by its outrageousness more legitimately, if that makes sense. The entire raison d’etre of the series is the slaughter of sacred cows. (Well, that and the dissemination of scatological jokes.) If further proof is required, one only need submit to Imaginationland — originally presented last season as part of a three-episode arc, and now available as a feature-length, uncensored DVD with all-new material added in.
Imaginationland opens with all the South Park kids trying to capture a leprechaun that Cartman swears he has seen. In fact, Cartman has a $10 bet with Kyle that if said leprechaun does exist, Kyle then has to suck Cartman’s balls. Everyone is astonished when it turns out not to be another case of Cartman’s exaggeration or lying. The leprechaun escapes, though, and some of the boys of South Park are transported to the magical realm of Imaginationland, where all the characters of fiction cavort in a brightly colored gumdrop heaven. Circumstances are dire, though — Stan, Kyle, Jimmy, Kenny and Butters find themselves in Imaginationland just as terrorists launch an attack that unleashes all of mankind’s most evil characters — a legion of nasty, bloodthirsty villains that includes Darth Maul, storm troopers, the Big Bad Wolf, a marauding Alien, Jason Voorhies, Freddy Krueger, Frankenstein, etcetera.
With the world’s imaginations spinning out of control, the government prepares to nuke Imaginationland — and thus put an end to all imagination — in an effort to quell the chaos. Racing against time to prevent total nuclear annihilation, the citizens of Imaginationland realize their only hope of salvation lies with the unlikeliest of heroes: Butters. Cartman, on the other hand, couldn’t care less about the impending apocalypse; he just wants his balls sucked. After seeking a court order to uphold the legitimacy of his signed contract bet with Kyle, Cartman sets out on a Jack Bauer-style quest of tunnel-visioned justice and retribution, following Kyle — who, along with Stan, has been detained by the government in an attempt to help contact Butters — to extreme lengths to impose the terms of their agreement.
The show’s spoof of the questing-hero plot machinations of dramatic serials like 24 and Battlestar Galactica is airtight, and as with the more politically trenchant South Park episodes, the notion that terrorists most win only when we cede them permanent space in our heads is a worthy, if debatable, leaping off point for satirical exploration. Likewise, the single-mindedness of Cartman’s efforts at subjugating Kyle is a brilliantly lewd (if perhaps off-putting, to some) encapsulation of certainly his ego-centric, maniacal personality, as well as to a certain extent the entire macho world of testosteronized adolescence.
Housed in a white Amray case with a giant, text-free portrait of a rampaging Manbearpig (more on this in a moment) on the back cover and an open-front cardboard slipcover, Imaginationland is presented in full screen. A pair of two-minute, black-and-white storyboards chart the progress of the episode’s animation, and executive producers Parker and Stone also sit for an audio commentary track that’s a much deeper and more substantive offering than their typical episodic mini-commentaries on the seasonal DVD sets of the series. While they joke around some, indicating that the show’s bumper music will play whenever lawyers deem it necessary to block out defamatory content for which Comedy Central could be sued, the pair also talk (semi-) seriously about the issues at the core of the show, and admit that they strongly considered using the idea as the basis for a second South Park feature film. They also talk about the front-loaded production value and work schedule (the first episode got a lot of extra time and attention), and point out some of the dialogue content trims in the project dictated by television, including a portion in which some of the villains talk about raping children in front of their parents.
Also included on the disc are two bonus episodes from past seasons whose characters play an active role in Imaginationland — “Manbearpig,” about Al Gore’s “super-serial” obsession with the so-named mythical creature, and the scathingly hilarious “Woodland Critter Christmas,” an earnestly narrated tale in which Stan stumbles upon a group of chipper forest animals and
helps them build a manger for
their savior child, only to discover that the critters are actually Satanists, and he
just paved the way for 10,000 years of darkness and the return of the
(woodland) Antichrist. These are nice inclusions, but the release undeniably does feel a bit thin, especially for those who might already have the seasonal DVD sets containing the two bonus episodes. Still, it’s hard to push for supplemental extras that simply don’t exist for an episodic creation like this. To purchase the DVD, click here. A- (Show) B (Disc)