Director-composer-lyricist-performer Trey Parker's first film, made in his pre-South Park days, was a low-budget comedy called Cannibal! The Musical, which dressed up the legend of the notorious Colorado people-eater Alferd Packer as a rollicking frontier musical in the vein of Oklahoma! or Paint Your Wagon. Cannibal! showed that Parker had a deep and plainly affectionate understanding of the musical-comedy form. Parody or not, it was almost certainly the best American live-action musical film of the '90s. But since it only had Newsies to beat out, if memory serves, that praise may be too faint.

With South Park, Parker and his crony Matt Stone put the Disney-style animated feature through their meat grinder of defiant scatology, sacrilege and savagery. The film just might be the most verbally obscene and profane ever to come out of a major Hollywood studio, yet what really emerges triumphant from it is musical-comedy, that great American art form fallen into disrepute.

Most of the tunes from South Park's song score, written by Parker (with an assist from veteran composer Marc Shaiman), are direct parodies of immediately recognizable song types. "Mountain Town" spoofs the opening number of Beauty and the Beast ("You can see your breath hanging in the air/You see homeless people but you just don't care/It's a sea of smiles in which we'd be glad to drown. . . . It's Sunday morning in our quiet, little, white-bread, redneck mountain town.").

"Up There," a longing lament sung by Satan about his desire to live in the world above, recalls the tunes in The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Little Mermaid in which misfit heroes sing of their desire for acceptance ("Up there, there is so much room/Where babies burp and flowers bloom/Everyone dreams, I can dream too . . ."). And the marvelous "La Resistance" medley, which shifts between the viewpoints of the various factions of characters in the manner of Les Miserables, is a thrilling first-act curtain.

The closing reprise of "Mountain Town" features a couple of seconds of Isaac Hayes' beautiful, rolling basso profundo as Chef, of which we hear too little in the film. Devastating as these lampoons are, the real surprise is how genuinely rousing many of them are--the anthem "What Would Brian Boitano Do?" could bolster anyone's courage.

--M. V. Moorhead

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