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15 Patriotic Facts About Team America: World Police

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Parodying oversized action flicks and sharply mocking the political landscape in the contentious and anxiety-ridden mid-2000s, South Park co-creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker—along with screenwriter Pam Brady and hundreds of puppets—brought us Team America: World Police. Here are some facts about the movie that nearly made the pair swear off moviemaking altogether.

1. THE 1960S PUPPET SHOW THUNDERBIRDS WAS AN INSPIRATION.

Stone and Parker were not fans of the show growing up, but when they rediscovered it as adults they quickly recognized its comedic potential. Shortly after that, they read about the sale of the script for the disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow. "And we were like, 'That's genius. That would be the best puppet movie ever made,'" Parker told The Boston Globe.

2. IT WAS ORIGINALLY GOING TO BE A DIRECT PARODY OF THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW.

Then their lawyers explained how much of a potential legal disaster that would be.

3. IT'S A GENERAL TAKE ON JERRY BRUCKHEIMER'S MOVIES.

In developing the movie, Parker and Stone repeatedly found themselves asking one another what Bruckheimer—the producer behind such action movies as Con Air, Bad Boys, The Rock, Armageddon, and Top Gun—would have the characters do or say in each scene. Stone, Parker, and Brady studied Top Gun, plus Alien and S.W.A.T., and read Joseph Campbell to help them write their script.

4. THE CITIES WERE MADE IN ONE-THIRD SCALE.

In order to create the Team America world, Stone and Parker brought in architect David Rockwell—designer of the Dolby (formerly Kodak) Theatre, several W Hotels, and the Nobu restaurants—as a visual consultant, as well as production designer Jim Dultz (Muppets Tonight). The movie was filmed in a Culver City, California warehouse.

5. THE PUPPETS WERE 22 INCHES TALL.

Or about one-third of the average person’s height. Spottswoode was the first puppet made by Stephen, Edward, and Charles Chiodo. In total, 270 puppet characters were created for the film.

6. MATT DAMON’S PUPPET LOOKED WEIRD.

Matt Damon was made into an idiot in the film because his puppet, Parker and Stone noted, didn’t look like him. The creators apologized to Damon, who the two are friendly with. The actor later said he thought their portrayal of him was “brilliant.”

7. MICHAEL MOORE WAS STUFFED WITH HAM.

The skulls of the exploding puppets were loaded with latex, rubber, blood, and dried fruit or meat. Michael Moore got ham. Matt Stone didn’t appreciate Moore’s editing of Bowling for Columbine, in which Stone appeared.

8. HANS ZIMMER WAS HAPPY THAT SOMEONE WAS MAKING FUN OF HIS ACTION FILM MUSIC.

According to Parker and Stone, Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer—who has scored a number of action movies over the past several decades, including many of Jerry Bruckheimer's films—said he hoped Team America would “put the stake through the heart of this genre.”

9. IT WAS CLOSE TO GETTING AN NC-17 RATING BECAUSE OF THE PUPPET SEX.

They had to cut more than half of the sex scene to get an R rating. It took the filmmakers 10 tries to get it to the MPAA’s satisfaction.

10. STONE NEVER WORKED HARDER IN HIS ENTIRE LIFE.

Stone and Parker worked 14 hours a day from May through September, taking just one day—July 4th—off. For a time, three units were shooting at the same time. The two didn’t see the final, complete cut from beginning to end until after it had already been screened in some theaters.

11. A STUDIO EXECUTIVE THOUGHT PARKER AND STONE HAD SCREWED THEM OVER.

The opening scene starts with a very cheap replica of the Eiffel Tower, and an equally poorly constructed puppet. When Paramount executives first saw the footage, one executive exclaimed, “Oh, god, they f*cked us!” The film's $32 million budget was spent largely on the remainder of the movie. Parker, Stone, and producer Scott Rudin waived their fees, which totaled $7 million, to help get the movie made.

12. GEORGE CLOONEY AND ALEC BALDWIN WERE FANS.

Clooney was a South Park fan from way back, but Parker and and Stone didn’t inform him that he was going to be made fun of in their movie. Clooney didn't mind: "Trey and Matt are still friends of mine," the actor told Empire magazine. "Remember, I helped get their show on the air."

Alec Baldwin thought the movie was funny, even though his daughter’s classmates would tell him “You are useress to me, Arec Bardwin” like Kim Jong-il in the movie. Stephen Sondheim, Russell Crowe, and Elton John also loved it.

13. SEAN PENN WAS NOT A FAN.

Sean Penn wrote a letter to Parker and Stone, expressing his outrage with the movie, and the letter quickly went viral. Which thrilled the filmmakers. "We read the letter and it was like okay, well, he seems to be pissed off. But there’s no single thing he could have done to help this movie more," said Parker. "Now we’re on the front page of everything again. It’s like, you go to Drudge Report, big picture of Team America, Sean Penn’s letter, and I’m just like, 'Thanks.' I mean, we’re seriously like, 'Dude, thank you.'"

14. THE NORTH KOREAN EMBASSY TRIED TO BAN THE FILM IN THE CZECH REPUBLIC.

The Czech Foreign Ministry claimed the North Koreans were denied the request.

15. STONE SAID MAKING THE MOVIE WAS "THE WORST TIME" OF HIS ENTIRE LIFE.

He also claimed that he would never make another movie with Parker again because of all of the stress he had been through. Parker said that if someone threatened to kill his family, he still wouldn’t make another puppet movie. Parker and Stone are currently writing the movie adaptation to their hit musical The Book of Mormon.

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The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day Marathon Is Back
Shout! Factory
Shout! Factory

For many fans, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is as beloved a Thanksgiving tradition as mashed potatoes and gravy (except funnier). It seems appropriate, given that the show celebrates the turkeys of the movie world. And that it made its debut on Thanksgiving Day in 1988 (on KTMA, a local station in Minneapolis). In 1991, to celebrate its third anniversary, Comedy Central hosted a Thanksgiving Day marathon of the series—and in the more than 25 years since, that tradition has continued.

Beginning at 12 p.m. ET on Thursday, Shout! Factory will host yet another Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day marathon, hosted by series creator Joel Hodgson and stars Jonah Ray and Felicia Day. Taking place online at ShoutFactoryTV.com, or via the Shout! Factory TV app on Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire and select smart TVs, the trio will share six classic MST3K episodes that have never been screened as part of a Shout! Factory Turkey Day Marathon. Here’s hoping your favorite episode makes it (cough, Hobgoblins, cough.)

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11 Bite-Sized Facts About Cannibal! The Musical
Troma Entertainment
Troma Entertainment

Back in their film school days, the creators of South Park made a twisted tribute to Rogers and Hammerstein. Cannibal! The Musical is (very) loosely based on the life of Alfred "Alferd" Packer, an American prospector who resorted to eating his travel companions in the harsh winter of 1874. Below, you’ll find a buffet of bite-sized facts about this weirdly upbeat black comedy. Bon appétit!

1. IT ALL STARTED WITH A GAG TRAILER.

In 1992, Trey Parker was studying film at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where pretty much everyone knows all about the legend of Alfred "Alferd" Packer. Indeed, when a new restaurant opened up on campus in 1968, the student body chose to name it after this famous man-eater. The restaurant’s slogan? “Have a friend for lunch.” As a joke, Parker rounded up some of his fellow film majors and spent three days shooting a phony trailer for a nonexistent movie called Alferd Packer: The Musical. Included in the ensemble was Matt Stone, with whom Parker would go on to create South Park.

Once the Alferd Packer promo was finished, those who worked on it weren’t sure if they could turn this concept into a feature-length picture. Fortunately, the trailer was a huge hit. “People thought it was really funny,” Parker told The Denver Post, “so we went around … and said, ‘So do you want to invest?’” Thanks (for the most part) to donations from a few CU grads with wealthy parents, Parker and his co-stars amassed a $100,000 budget.

2. LIANE THE HORSE WAS NAMED AFTER TREY PARKER’S EX-FIANCÉE.

At age 21, Parker was all set to marry his high school sweetheart. “We had plane tickets, the dress was bought, the church was paid for,” Parker shared on the DVD commentary. Then, about a month before the wedding, he caught his bride-to-be with another man. Devastated, Parker broke off the engagement and came up with an unusual way to get even. “I really wrote this movie for her,” he said.

A major character in Cannibal is Liane, Packer’s beloved horse, who leaves him for another rider. The two-timing equine was named after Parker’s former fiancée. Some artistic license was taken here, as there’s no proof that the real Packer ever owned a horse named Liane—or that he ever wistfully sang about being on top of her.

3. AN AVANT-GARDE LEGEND WAS CAST IN A MINOR ROLE.

World-renowned for his experimental filmmaking, the late Stan Brakhage taught off and on at the University of Colorado, where he met Parker and Stone. The two convinced him to appear in Cannibal! as George Noon’s father, who gets about two minutes’ worth of screen time.

4. PARKER’S DAD WAS IN IT, TOO.

Just like Stan Marsh’s dad in South Park, Trey Parker’s father, Randy, is a geologist. In Cannibal! The Musical, he portrays the Breckenridge judge who sentences Packer (played by Trey) to death.

5. “SHPADOINKLE” WAS MEANT AS A FILLER WORD.

In addition to penning the Cannibal! script, Parker also wrote the film’s musical numbers. The first of these is “Shpadoinkle Day,” an offbeat tribute to “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Parker knew that the first verse had to include a positive, three-syllable word, but couldn’t think of any that fit. So he used the made-up term “Shpadoinkle” to plug the gap until he could come up with an alternative. However, the creative team liked “shpadoinkle” so much that it stayed put and became one of Cannibal’s running jokes.

6. THEY SHOT IN THE COURTROOM IN WHICH PACKER WAS ACTUALLY TRIED.

On April 6, 1883, Packer was put on trial at the Hinsdale County Courthouse in Lake City, Colorado. Over the next few days, he admitted to dining on two of his dead travel companions—one of whom he supposedly killed in self-defense (the other died of natural causes). Packer was found guilty of murder, but avoided the hangman’s noose by fighting for a second trial, which took place 30 miles away in Gunnison. This time, he was charged with five counts of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 40 years in prison. However, while Packer languished behind bars, public opinion slowly turned in the cannibal’s favor. Under near-constant pressure from The Denver Post, Governor Charles S. Thomas pardoned Packer in 1901.

More than 90 years later, Parker filmed the trial scenes of Cannibal! The Musical at the still-standing Hinsdale County Courthouse. About halfway through the movie, the judge delivers a big speech in which he sentences Packer to death. His on-screen monologue was copied word-for-word from the court transcript of that 1883 Lake City trial.

7. AS THE MINERS SING “THAT’S ALL I’M ASKING FOR,” YOU CAN SEE PARKER MOUTH THE WORD “CUT.”

It goes by fast, but you can see Parker call "cut" to end the shot at the 3:06 mark in the clip above.

8. PARKER USED A PSEUDONYM FOR THE OPENING CREDITS.

Parker billed himself as "Juan Schwartz" in the cast of Cannibal because, according to the movie's website, "Trey doesn't like seeing one person's name plastered all over a movie's credits." Since he is properly credited as writer and director, he likely felt the additional acting credit was a bit too much. Incidentally, Packer called himself “John Shwartze” while evading the law before his arrest.

9. A FEW SONGS WERE DELETED.

The original cut of Cannibal! The Musical ran for two and a half hours, but thanks to some major-league editing, the runtime was reduced to a breezy 93 minutes. “There were fights about that from the get-go, but I give credit to Trey for being the toughest critic,” producer Jason McHugh told MovieMaker Magazine. “He had the maturity to know that a musical comedy about cannibals can’t be two and a half hours long.”

In the streamlining process, two musical numbers got the axe. The first was a quick little dirge called “Don’t Be Stupid,” wherein some nameless miners tell Packer’s group to postpone their journey until springtime. The other was “I’m Shatterproof,” a rap/funk song that Packer, hardened by his recent ordeals, delivers during a bar fight. Also deleted was a reprise of “When I Was On Top of You.”

10. COMEDY CENTRAL WOULDN’T BROADCAST IT.

Cannibal! was distributed by Troma Entertainment, an independent production company best known for creating The Toxic Avenger series. When South Park began to emerge as a major player on cable TV, Troma’s co-founder, Lloyd Kaufman, assumed that Comedy Central would jump at the chance to air some of Parker and Stone’s earlier work. Instead, the channel flatly refused to air Cannibal.

Kaufman was sent a rejection letter from Comedy Central, which read: “Thank you for submitting and re-submitting Cannibal! The Musical, but it is simply not up to our standards for broadcasting.” Troma forwarded a copy of this dispatch to Parker. Today, it’s prominently displayed in his office—at Comedy Central!

11. IT HAS BEEN TURNED INTO A STAGE MUSICAL ON MANY OCCASIONS.

Can’t get tickets to The Book of Mormon? Perhaps you can catch a live reenactment of Cannibal! The Musical instead. Since 1998, the movie has been seen more than 60 stage adaptations. There’s no “official” version of the theatrical show. As such, acting troupes that might be interested in performing Cannibal! have to write their own scripts based on the original movie. 

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