STUDIO:  Comedy Central
MSRP: $19.99
RUNNING TIME:  67 Minutes
-Bonus Episodes: 814 – Woodland Critter Christmas and 1006: Manbearpig
-Commentary by Matt and Trey

The Pitch

South Park meets Hollywood epic in this three-part arc that combines the plotting and narrative propulsion of a summer blockbuster with the frequently on point messages and endless supply of crude humor that South Park has to offer.

The Humans

Cartman, Kyle, Stan, Kenny, Butters and a limitless cast of thousands of the characters that composed a great deal of the CHUD audiences’ adolescence.

The Nutshell

After insisting he spotted a Leprechaun just outside of town in the woods, Cartman gets Kyle to agree that if somehow these characters of folklore actually do exist, he’ll suck Cartman’s balls. To everyone’s shock, they do catch a Leprechaun and then are later ensconced to Imaginationland where all of the fictional characters, good and bad exist, with only a wall separating them from all-out chaos. While all of the boys are inside this place, terrorists attack with a vengeance and take the ‘good’ characters hostage, taking hold of our imagination.  Butters is captured in the ensuing violence and is stuck right in the middle of the terrorist plot to break down the wall that separates good and bad and destroy our imagination once and for all. It’s up to Stan and Kyle to somehow get Butters home and evade having to suck Cartman’s balls while Butters tries desperately to help the denizens of Imaginationland save our imagination from terrorism.

The Lowdown

The comedy of South Park has always been there, even in its earliest episodes there’s still material solid enough to make you chuckle even a decade after the fact. What’s been exhilarating about the most recent seasons of the series is that they’ve finally mastered the craft of animation and allowed it to supplement the humor. The character design is still rudimentary and raw, but they’ve given into their biggest Hollywood filmmaking impulses and have started to embrace and play with genre convention both structurally and visually. This reaches its apex with the three-part Imaginationland, which manages to embrace all of the elements that make South Park the most consistently brilliant animated show on television, perhaps ever. The crass collides with the socially and politically astute, the violent collides with the innocent and the simple and complex intermingle freely. The effect is dizzying, rewards multiple viewings, and showcases exactly what makes South Park the endless parade of comedy that it’s been for so long.

One of the most appreciated aspects of this three-parter is that it manages to play in the sandbox Family Guy (whose method of joke-telling was obliterated by South Park in a two parter a season or two ago) created, which is free-floating nostalgia with references to fringe-level pop culture characters without indulging in the obligatory sense of joke-telling the aforementioned Family Guy often resorts to. Instead, here, we see these characters appearing in an extremely plausible way, allowing one to enjoy the use of obscure nuggets from our past in the service of a bigger story that serves to argue for the necessity of these ridiculous characters from our past. It’s a high-wire act, indulging in something that could so easily go off the rails in any number of ways, but through an assured narrative that never lacks for jokes, it manages to giddily tiptoe past the finish line without having collapsed
upon itself at any point.

It speaks well of this three-parter that they somehow manage to fit in one of their greatest triumphs (The Woodland Christmas Critters) alongside one of their weakest (Manbearpig) all in one fell swoop without missing a beat or losing any focus on its premise. That they do this while at the same time highlighting the real terror being aimed for by terrorists, the American government’s use of force whenever possible instead of when necessary, and making an impassioned plea for the necessity of pop culture artifacts as being something sacred in the twentieth century. That they do this while telling the story of one boy’s determined attempt at having his balls sucked speaks volumes about how this show manages to balance thoughtful (if sometimes incomplete) commentary alongside extremely hilarious broad humor. For some South Park fans this might be a little too heavy on the side of drama instead of comedy, as they play by the rules of the genre picture and serial television to maximum effect meaning dramatic beats, cliffhangers and overarcing plotlines. However, the majority of the pleasure one can glean from this is by allowing the old standards of the genre to have their way with you and let the action beats carry you away into the drama of the narrative, with the still-sharp comedy as a bonus to the epic storytelling. And anyone who is a Butters fan (personally, my favorite South Park character) will be ecstatic over his moment in the sun during this series. It’s funny, exciting and smart and yet another high-water mark for a show that only seems to become surer of itself over time.  Recommended with a caveat as detailed below.

The Package

The cover art is fine as it showcases numerous parts of what makes this miniseries so fun and it has different art on its outer box than on the inside, which always is nice (never really understood the exact replicant box art covering the DVD case, do people paint houses or make pizza next to their DVD’s?). There isn’t much here that makes it a director’s cut that I could notice beyond each episode transition more loosely into one another and all of the expletives being uncensored. So there isn’t much use for this disc if you buy South Park in full season form unless you’re a completist. It looks and sounds as good as the show has on DVD (and it actually makes use of its audio/visual audacity much more so than usual during this three-parter). 

In terms of extras we get the rarest of treats, an attempted full-length commentary by Stone and Parker, something the guys haven’t even tried to achieve in years (despite the beauty of their drunken ribaldry on the Troma Cannibal: The Musical disc) and even though they only make it to the first act of the third episode, it’s much more than the mini-commentaries provided on all of the DVD box sets. Also included are a couple of storyboard comparisons for the diehards and a couple of bonus episodes, the aforementioned rare miss that is Manbearpig and the all-timer that is Woodland Critter Christmas. It’s a nice package for one of the benchmarks of this show’s decade long run, and I’d recommend picking it up unless you’re planning on picking up the just released Season 11 which contains these episodes within it. 

7.0 out of 10