Team America: World Police
Team America: World Police is a 2004 movie by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of the Comedy Central television program South Park. The movie uses marionettes, rather than animation or live action, by employing a technique known as Supermarionation (although Stone has jokingly called it "supercrappynation").
The inspiration for Team America came from the British television series Thunderbirds, which Parker and Stone came across by accident. Speaking to Variety, Stone said, "Trey and I loved that Thunderbirds series because of the artistry of the marionettes." Their original idea was to create a parody version of The Day After Tomorrow with puppets to be released simultaneously with the real film. A second idea was to create an R-rated version of Thunderbirds. Legal problems with both ideas led to them writing their own original script.
The movie uses some fairly advanced marionettes, that make use of servo motors to move the puppets' faces in sync with dialogue and other actions. It also uses clever prop design in animal scenes by replacing panthers with house cats and sharks with small fish. In addition, while the strings easily could have been digitally edited out of the film, the producers chose to keep them visible for the artistic effect.
The producers reportedly had to tone down a scene of simulated oral sex between two of the marionettes in order to get an R rating. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) was prepared to give the movie an NC-17 rating until it saw at least nine progressively modified versions of the scene, eventually rating it R for "graphic, crude and sexual humor, violent images and strong language; all involving puppets." Parker said he was surprised that the MPAA was not very concerned about violent content in the movie.
A gift reel of this film was sent to North Korean leader/film buff Kim Jong-il (who has a prominent role in the film) by the movie's creators.
The film tells the story of an overzealous gang of anti-terrorist "global peace" enforcers known as Team America. Much of the film is intended to be a parody of the Bush Administration's War on Terror. Most of the heros and villians represent extreme caricature of both conservative and liberal attitudes towards the war, and American foreign policy in general. The film also heavily parodies the cliches of other action movies.
Despite the teaser trailer's boast that George W. Bush and John Kerry along with a whole slew of celebrities are going to be really, really mad when they see Team America: World Police, neither Bush nor Kerry appear in the film nor are they even mentioned. While the protagonists are fictitious, the real names of several Hollywood celebrities and the North Korean leader are used. None of them approved the use of their names and likenesses in this movie, for obvious reasons.
The story starts with an attempted terrorist bombing in Paris which is foiled by Team America, although the team manage to lay ruin to Paris in the fight, destroying a number of French landmarks such as the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. As Carson, one of the team members, proposes to colleague Lisa, a terrorist—left for dead—rises up and shoots Carson, killing him.
In New York City, federal agent Spottswoode tries to recruit Broadway actor Gary Johnston to join the team. After some confusion, Gary joins Spottswoode in a limo, which turns into an airplane and takes them to the Team America Headquarters inside Mount Rushmore. There Gary is introduced to the other team members: Sarah, an empath who senses the obvious; Chris, the best martial artist from Detroit, Michigan; Joe, an all-American quarterback from the University of Nebraska; the computer I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E.; and last, but not least, the afore-mentioned Lisa (whom Gary finds absolutely stunning). After some soul searching, Gary is convinced to join.
Gary's first mission involves going undercover in a bar in Cairo, Egypt, in an attempt to discover the terrorists' plans. Just as he is about to discover the plans his teammates are spotted and the terrorists run, taking Gary with them. Team America chases after them, almost killing Gary and destroying Egyptian landmarks like the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid along the way. During the fire-fight, the female teammembers discuss their love-lifes. After rescuing Gary they return to their headquarters and celebrate, convinced that they have foiled the terrorist plan when it was actually an almost complete failure that only eliminated a few low level terrorists while the primary targets were alerted and unmolested. This leads to an extended graphic love scene between Gary and Lisa.
But the real terrorist plan is masterminded by Kim Jong-il. Hans Blix shows up at his palace asking for an inspection, but Kim Jong-il feeds him to his sharks.
Meanwhile, terrorists angry about what happened in Cairo bomb the Panama Canal in retribution, killing thousands. The Film Actors Guild (F.A.G. for short), led by Alec Baldwin, blames Team America for the Panama bombing. Gary, who admires Baldwin, concludes that his acting has once again caused death and quits Team America. Team America goes on a mission but gets shot down in the ocean and captured by Kim Jong-il.
F.A.G. protests in front of the Team America headquarters. Michael Moore commits a suicide bomb attack against the headquarters, and Spottswoode is believed dead.
Gary decides he must re-join Team America. Spottswoode survived the attack, and Gary fellates him to prove his loyalty. After that Spottswoode takes Gary through an intensive one-day crash course in combat skills.
Gary goes to North Korea to rescue the rest of the team, fight F.A.G. and foil Kim Jong-il's plan. He succeeds, and a roach inside the dictator escapes in a tiny spacecraft.
Targets of satire
The creators of this movie, who might be expected to promote one particular point of view, satirise both the left-wing and right-wing points of view. While Team America itself is intended to ridicule the gung-ho right-wing attitude that leads American administrations to "police the world", the Film Actors Guild (FAG) is intended to ridicule the left-wing Hollywood actors who think they have the answers to the world's problems. While the film deliberately does not name any American politicians (to avoid being pigeon-holed as simply a movie about the 2004 election, according to Parker and Stone), it does name many Hollywood actors by their real names.
For example, Sean Penn is portrayed making the outlandish claim about Iraq that "Before Team America showed up, it was a happy place. They had flowery meadows, and rainbow skies," etc. The real life Sean Penn sent a letter to Parker and Stone through the Drudge Report inviting them to go with him on a tour of Iraq. Left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore is portrayed as a suicide bomber; Stone explained the reason for this portrayal in an MSNBC interview: "We have a very specific beef with Michael Moore... ...I did an interview, and he didn't mischaracterize me or anything I said in the movie. But what he did do was put this cartoon right after me [in Bowling for Columbine] that made it look like we did that cartoon."
Aside from Kim Jong-il, real life politicians are spared satire. Team America acts without any guidance from the White House or the Department of Defense. On other hand, others see Team America's incompetent and needlessly destructive operations as a jab at current American counter-terrorism policies.
Film critics had a mixed view of the film. Some praised the film's sense of humor and spirited musical numbers, while others derided it for being a comedy without enough laughs.
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times:
- "An equal opportunity offender, and waves of unease will flow over first one segment of their audience, and then another. Like a cocky teenager who's had a couple of drinks before the party, they don't have a plan for who they want to offend, only an intention to be as offensive as possible."
- "If I were asked to extract a political position from the movie, I'd be baffled. It is neither for nor against the war on terrorism, just dedicated to ridiculing those who wage it and those who oppose it. The White House gets a free pass, since the movie seems to think Team America makes its own policies without political direction."
Jeff Meyers, Metro Times:
- "Where the film stumbles is with its characters. The Team America squad is a pretty boring bunch with little to no personality. Only super villain Kim Jong-il is fully realized, and he's little more than a Korean version of Cartman from South Park. Still, the shtick works and Kim's plaintive musical solo, "I'm Ronery," is one of the film's highlights."
A.O. Scott, The New York Times:
- "Without question the finest R-rated puppet action-musical of the past decade...there are plenty of profane, catchy songs and giddily offensive jokes to keep you amused. But like any good satire, this film has a distinct moral point of view. The members of Team America, the square-jawed action heroes who take on Kim and his supporting cast of left-wing Hollywood stooges, may blow up a lot of stuff, but they do it by accident, not by design. And while the movie is happy to mock American bluster, it also expresses a blunt, uncynical patriotism."
Box office performance
Given the divisive nature of the film, the one-time popularity of South Park, and the intense publicity surrounding the project, many expected Team America to debut at #1 in a generally slow box office weekend, as Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 had several months earlier. Instead, the film shocked (http://nodq.com/misc/100043171.shtml) many by only making $12 million its first weekend, not only losing to the innocuous family film Shark Tale, but also a Billy Bob Thornton movie, Friday Night Lights. Since then the film has made a profit internationally, but domestically, had only (http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=teamamerica.htm) made back its production costs ($32 million) after over 2 months in release. Some observers have said that the surprise poor box office performance of the film is the result of a backlash against Matt Stone and Trey Parker because of their attack on Mel Gibson and his blockbuster movie, The Passion of the Christ in March of 2004 in an episode of South Park titled The Passion of the Jew (http://www.tvtome.com/tvtome/servlet/GuidePageServlet/showid-344/epid-319439/). Others believe the overtly political film had arrived at a time when the public was weary of the incredibly bitter election contest between John Kerry and George W. Bush, and that since the film was so harshly critical of Democrats and liberals, word of mouth and interviews may have kept many of the more moderate and left-wing South Park audience at home, leaving only a more right-wing section of the public who had little interest in a film which featured foul language, graphic violence, and sexual content between puppets. Still others felt that any film starring marionettes would have a limited appeal to the public.
- Moriarty Visits Matt & Trey On The TEAM AMERICA Set! (http://www.aintitcool.com/display.cgi?id=17970) - set report from AintItCool.com
- Team America: World Police (http://www.latinoreview.com/films_2004/paramount/teamamerica/teamamerica.html) - synopsis, clips and images from LatinoReview.com
- (October 2004). Play: South Park's Puppet Regime. (http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.10/play.html?pg=3) Wired 12.10. Accessed October 6, 2004.
- (October 6, 2004). 'Team America' cuts puppet sex, gets R. (http://www.cnn.com/2004/SHOWBIZ/Movies/10/06/leisure.teamamerica.reut/index.html) Reuters/CNN.com. Accessed October 6, 2004.