With Team America Trey Parker and Matt Stone take a step away from computer animation by using live action puppets to tell the story of ordinary American people fighting terrorism as a team and saving the planet from Kim Jong-Il. Team America is absurdly wonderful, and if you're over seventeen, it's a must have for your DVD collection. Set it on the shelf somewhere between Army of Darkness and Scary Movie. It'll be the one with the worn out box because this movie you're going to want to watch a few hundred times. From the creators of South Park, Team America: World Police is crude, violent, offensive, sexually explicit, and relentlessly graphic, all using harmless puppets for the purpose of sick jokes, one liners, and making fun of real celebrities and politicians. It's F-ing great!
For starters, Team America builds interest and depth faster and better than most movies you watch today. The characters are laid out on the table to see and get to know rather than holding them back or excluding information about them for the sake of “suspense”. This film also follows all the typical lines and situations that make up the classic action genre movie, but in this case, watching these puppets, the context is purely hilarious. There’s the girl that’s been hurt before. The guy that doesn’t believe in himself. The other guy that doesn’t know how to trust actors. They’re all there and yet the nature of watching puppets tells you this is not to be taken seriously. I mean, come on, it’s just plain funny to hear marionettes cussing.
I loved that Parker and Stone made no attempt to conceal or erase out the strings of the puppets and they let the fact that these were puppets become a character in and of itself. They don’t walk smoothly. They don’t always have the best hand-eye coordination. But that’s no reason to reshoot a scene. The comedic awkwardness of the puppets themselves is a nice touch to get that extra laugh, especially when they’re talking about dying, feelings, or smoking; things you wouldn’t expect puppets to discuss.
I think Team America is better than South Park because the characters are adults. There are fewer limits to what they can do and cannot do. If Cartman wanted to drive a car, a whole episode might be devoted to that, because this is something he is not allowed to do as a child. If Gary, an adult puppet in the movie drives a car, the comedy comes from crashing into things and being reckless, all much more funny than a child character cussing and trying to press a gas pedal that’s a foot too low.
However, there are other aspects involved in using adult characters, such as drinking and sex, all of which give the movie the ability to be crude at times, but that’s the nature of Parker and Stone: they push limits while still making political and social statements as well as poking fun at movies, American ignorance, and Hollywood.
Sadly, at my video store there was only one version available to rent, but there is an unrated version out there that I’m sure just puts the cherry right on top of all this ridiculously funny icing. While I thought Team America: World Police was probably one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a long time, and the theme song has been stuck in my head for days, I wish there was just that little oomph more to make me think about the film on a higher level. Oh wait, there is. Why are we letting poor millionaire celebrities into the political arena? And isn’t it amazing that after all that extensive work just writing, producing, and directing the movie that Parker and Stone actually had the time to then create extras. It’s just so unfortunate that everyone else in Hollywood consumes all of their energy in the “process” that they can’t be bothered to do anything else, and yet, Team America has special features. And not just special features; good special features! Worth your time special features, several of them, and they aren’t all two hours long. Most of the features range from five to ten minutes and get stright to the point. No fluff, no giggles, right to the nitty gritty of how the movie was made and all the effort that went into it.
The "Team America: An Introduction” section subtly points out how hated celebrities are in Parker and Stones' point of view. They loved building puppets of celebrities just to kill them. In "Building the World" you get to really geek out on the “making of” type stuff like set design, short cuts in the modeling of the cities, techniques, etc.
Likewise, in "Crafting the Puppets" you see how they designed the puppet heads and made the costumes for them to wear. There's more great stuff about the puppeteers in "Pulling the Strings" as well as information about how the faces of the puppets move. My only problem here is that I would have liked to see more about he puppets' movement and how they are manipulated using the strings to get different effects.
Next in "Capturing the Action", Director of Photography Bill Pope (from The Matrix), tired of working on green screens, leaps in front of the camera to talk about some of the work involved in doing an action film that is really a comedy. "Miniature Pyrotechnics" gives explanations about all the numerous explosions in the film and how some were created. I wish this part was longer, but even at a cool five minutes, it gives you some interesting information.
And if you ever wanted to know more about the puppet or the real Kim Jong-Il, there is an “Up Close” segment on both of them that’s pretty good. Then there is an unfortunate “Dressing Room Test” which seems to be just a different version of a scene that’s already in the movie. This is followed by a “Puppet Test” that is funny to see, but not that entertaining.
If you want a really good laugh (that is if the actual movie wasn’t enough) the deleted scenes and outtakes are great. These scenes fill in a few places where a line would have been good in the movie to set up a gag but you can see where the movie succeeds without it.
The animated storyboards are some of the longest features on the disc, and while they’re cute, I think the puppets are far better. It is fun to see how the story was changed through production from the original concepts to the final product. And finally, of course, there are two versions of theatrical trailers for Team America, each one adding to the whole package. What would have made the disc complete, however, would have been a commentary track with Parker and Stone, but I’m not going to push it. I’m so thankful to have extras at all.
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