The evolution of South Park

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

South Park

In August of 1997, the world was introduced to four elementary school boys who lived in the small, backward mountain town of South Park, Colorado.

South Park is the brainchild of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who met while studying at the University of Colorado. The two created a film short, Jesus vs. Frosty that introduced the prototypes of characters who would later become Cartman, Kenny, Stan and Kyle. A Fox Television executive picked up on the short, which, after the 1995 followup Jesus vs. Santa, eventually led to the creation of the series.

South Park was an overnight success, channeling massive attention due to its crude, cardboard cutout style of animation, fused with an overwhelming amount of profanity.

Yet, it didn’t take long for the series to get stale. The novelty of excessive profanity began to wear thin with viewers, leaving the impression that South Park was nothing more than a fleeting hit.

Fortunately, it was at this particular moment that South Park shed its reliance on profanity, and focused on its satire of controversial issues.

The writing of subsequent seasons improved the overall quality of the show due to its deconstruction of controversies, as did the advances in animation that have made South Park the show it is today.

Parker and Stone abandoned their cutouts and replaced them with industry-standard animation tools, most notably CorelDraw and Maya. The change in technique allowed for quicker production of episodes, to which Stone likened the process as “building a sandcastle with a bulldozer.”

With these tools, Stone and Parker enjoy a shorter production schedule, which enables them to react quickly to current events. This is most readily seen in the episode “Christmas in Canada,” where a captured Saddam is depicted, three days after the actual event.

South Park has parodied celebrities and movies, including Michael Jackson in “The Jeffersons,” Paris Hilton in “Stupid Spoiled Whore Video Playset,” as well as Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ in “The Passion of the Jew.”

Moreover, South Park addressed serious political issues such as terrorism in “Cartoon Wars,” American immigration policy in “Goobacks,” and gay marriage in “Follow that Egg.”

Now, 11 years later, South Park reigns as a cult favourite and will continue to dominate television until at least 2012, when Stone and Parker’s contract ends. The only question remaining is what do they have in store for us next?

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