Team America: World Police (Fun Movies)

File this one under…absurdities.

Team America: World Police is a 2004 film 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 variation of the Supermarionation technique developed by Gerry Anderson in the 1960s (although Stone has jokingly called it “supercrappymation”).

This film was produced by Paramount Pictures.


The inspiration for ”Team America” came from the 1960s 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 parodies of movies like ”Armageddon” with puppets.

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. (In fact, a poorly-received, live-action feature film version of ”Thunderbirds” was also released in 2004.)

The movie uses some fairly advanced marionettes which make use of servo motors to move the puppets’ faces in sync with dialogue and other actions. Puppet character designer, Norman Tempia was given the challenge to put a face on “Team America”.

Having over 25 years of experience in puppetry and special effects this skilled artist created the distinct look and style of over 250 marionette characters seen in the film.

The satire is in the Parker/Stone trademark over-the-top style, and several original songs are reminiscent of the South Park feature film, an earlier project by the same team.

”Team America” uses clever prop design and is unafraid to lampoon itself and the entire action movie genre, such as using cats to play deadly panthers to match the diminutive size of the puppet stars, and nurse-sharks to play man-eating sharks having a tasty snack of UN weapons inspector Hans Blix.

When lip-synching the puppets’ mouths with their lines, the producers actually could have made the lip-synching realistic.

However, the end result was too realistic, almost to the point of being “creepy,” according to the filmmakers. In addition, while the marionette strings easily could have been digitally edited out of the film, the producers chose to keep them visible for the humorous effect and as a reference to ”Thunderbirds” and other Supermarionation productions infamous for occasionally allowing strings to become visible on screen.

The producers reportedly had to tone down a scene of simulated oral sex between two of the marionettes, and eliminate an “explicit” sex scene between two others 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.

The film was released on DVD in two different versions: the R-rated version that was shown in theaters, and an unrated version with the sex scenes intact.

Plot synopsis

The film tells the story of an overzealous gang of anti-terrorist “global peace” enforcers known as Team America. Much of the film is a parody of the Bush Administration’s War on Terror. Most of the heroes and villains represent extreme caricatures of both conservative and liberal attitudes towards the war, and American foreign policy in general. The film also heavily parodies the clichés of other action movies (including a song about having a montage, a version of which had previously appeared in the South Park episode “Asspen”).

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 are actually seen or mentioned, although puppets that look similar to them (and their wives) can be seen in the audience of ”LEASE”, a parody of ”Rent”. While the protagonists are fictitious, the real names of several Hollywood celebrities and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-Il, are used. None of them approved the use, nor were asked for their approval of their names and likenesses in this movie.
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 (in the movie all of the major Paris landmarks are located in one small plaza). ”’Sarah”’ destroys the Louvre to foil the terrorist’s plan. 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, Team leader ”’Spottswoode”’ tries to recruit Broadway actor ”’Gary Johnston”’ to join the team. After some confusion, Gary joins Spottswoode in a limo (a comically stretched version of a Lamborghini Countach), which turns into an airplane and takes them to the Team America Headquarters inside Mount Rushmore. Gary is introduced to the other team members: Sarah, an empath who senses the obvious, from San Francisco, California; ”’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.”’ (voiced by radio personality Phil Hendrie); and Lisa, to whom Gary is attracted. After some soul searching in Washington D.C. (with a satire of country music playing the background), Gary is convinced to join.

Gary’s first mission involves going undercover in a tavern 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 including the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid along the way. During the firefight, the female team members discuss their love lives.

After rescuing Gary they return to their headquarters and celebrate, convinced that they have foiled the terrorist plan. In fact, it was a complete fiasco that eliminated a few low level terrorists while the primary targets were alerted and unmolested. During the victory celebration, Gary and Lisa are shown alone and discuss their feelings for each other. Lisa is attracted to Gary but still hurting from the death of Carson, and says she will become involved with Gary only if he promises he will never die. After stating he could never make that promise, she appears unfazed, saying, “If only you could promise that, I could make love to you right now.” Gary hastily promises. This leads to an extended graphic love scene between Gary and Lisa, which was severely edited by Stone and Parker, in order to produce an “R” rating.

”’Peter Jennings”’ reports that Alec Baldwin is head of the ”Film Actors Guild” (the news screen showing “Alec Baldwin – F.A.G.”). Alec Baldwin, Tim Robbins and Sean Penn are interviewed. Hollywood celebrities show themselves. (In a deleted scene shown on the DVD, a news-report states that France and Egypt hate Team America and will probably kill them when they come again, though this was a parody of the BBC News in Britain rather than American reports.). But the real terrorist plan is masterminded by ”’Kim Jong-il”’. Hans Blix shows up at his palace asking for an inspection and threatens to write him an angry letter, 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”, 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 is shot down over the ocean and captured by Kim Jong-il. F.A.G. protests in front of the Team America headquarters, with Tim Robbins saying they should put an end to the team, as they cause more harm than good. Michael Moore commits a suicide bomb attack against the headquarters, and Spottswoode, who was the only one there, is believed to be dead. In the F.A.G group, Helen Hunt suggests a new course of action for the guild, while Janeane Garofalo feels they should read the newspaper and repeat it on television like it is their opinion. All Matt Damon can say throughout the film is his own name in a voice that makes him sound mentally handicapped. As the meeting concludes, Baldwin introduces their new leader, who turns out to be Kim Jong-Il himself.

Gary decides he must re-join Team America. Spottswoode survived the attack, and Gary performs oral sex on Spottswoode to prove his loyalty. After that, Spottswoode takes Gary through an intensive one-day crash course (wherein the song “Montage” is played) 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 Kim Jong-Il is pushed off a balcony, which leads to his body being impaled by a German diplomat’s World War I-era helmet. A cockroach-like alien, however, escapes from the mouth of Kim Jong-Il, with the implication that the dictator’s body was merely a robot or puppet, controlled by the insect. The roach, taunting Team America in Kim’s voice, escapes in a small spaceship. The song played at the end of the closing credits, “You Are Worthress, Arec Bardwin,” explains roach-Kim’s motivation. He is from the planet Gyron and his species, the Zypods, are at war with the bee-like Barmacks. Earth, after its human population had been eliminated through war, was intended as a new home for the Zypods. Since that mission has failed, roach-Kim anticipates condemnation to the “pit of Cryrock”.

Targets of satire

Team America itself satirizes the perceived jingoism that leads American administrations to take unilateral foreign policy action that critics deride as “policing the world.” The Film Actors Guild (FAG) satirizes the absolutist Left-ism of Hollywood celebrities.

The “Film Actors Guild” is an obvious reference to the Screen Actors Guild, and the acronym of the fictional organization, FAG, is an obvious allusion to the word “fag,” an often-derogatory term for homosexual men.

There is a scene early on in the movie where Gary (the main character/puppet in the movie) is in a play called “Lease”, singing the song “Everyone has AIDS”. This is an obvious satirical play on the musical Rent where most of the characters are suffering from HIV. Gary himself satires Mark Cohen, the main character of the play: this is determined by the telltale scarf that Gary wears which is Mark’s trademark.

According to Parker and Stone, to avoid being pigeon-holed as simply a movie about the 2004 election, the film deliberately does not name any American politicians; Kim Jong-il and Hans Blix are the only real political figures directly identified in the film. Team America acts without any guidance from the White House or the Department of Defense. On the other hand, others see Team America’s incompetent and needlessly destructive operations as a jab at current American counter-terrorism policies. The titular team’s reliance on an actor who is inexperienced in politics, foreign policy or military operations possibly satirizes incompetence in foreign policy matters, or in the government in general. Political and social commentator Andrew Sullivan considers the film brilliant in its skewering of both the left and right’s approach on terrorism. Sullivan (a fan of Stone and Parker’s other work too) coined the term ”South Park Republicans” to describe himself and other like-minded fiscal conservatives/social libertarians. Parker is a registered Libertarian.

The movie names many Hollywood actors by their real names. Sean Penn is portrayed making an outlandish claim about Iraq. (“Before Team America showed up, it was a happy place. They had flowery meadows, and rainbow skies, and rivers made of chocolate where the children danced and laughed and played with gumdrop smiles.”) Janeane Garofalo’s character states, “Our job as actors is to read the newspapers, and repeat what we’ve read on TV, like it is our own opinion.” In the film, Alec Baldwin is portrayed as the leader of FAG and proclaimed on two different occasions to be “the greatest actor ever.” According to Parker and Stone, Penn sent an angry letter inviting them to tour Iraq with him and ended it with the words, ””Fuck you.””

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 ”Bowling for Columbine”. But what he did do was put this cartoon ”A Brief History of the United States of America”, written by Moore, animated and directed by Harold Moss and the Idealabs studio right after me that made it look like we did that cartoon.”

”Bowling for Columbine” includes a brief interview with ”South Park” co-creator Matt Stone, who suggests that ”South Park” was largely inspired by Stone’s childhood experiences in Littleton, Colorado. Stone presents a vision of Littleton as painfully normal, and highly intolerant of non-conformist behavior. In a segment that immediately followed the interview in the first release, an uncredited cartoon in a style strongly reminiscent of ”South Park” is featured, depicting the NRA and KKK as interchangeable evil organizations. However, this sequence was not the work of Matt Stone, nor that of Trey Parker. It became a point of contention between the two and Moore, as they believed Moore meant to imply they had contributed to his film beyond the interview. The animation was in fact made by FlickerLab. Subsequent releases attempted to distance this assumption by delaying the animation until ten minutes later in the film. Parker later claimed on The Charlie Rose Show that he does have a gun and has the opposite opinion of the animation in Moore’s film.

The film also plays on the assumed ethnocentrism of its largely American audience. When a new location is shown, the caption will give the place’s name and its distance from the United States in miles (in reality measured from New York City). All landmarks in Paris and Cairo are closely located. Also, other languages are simplified to the point of ridicule. French is reduced to stock phrases such as “sacre dieu”, the only Spanish line is “no me gusta”, repeated several times, and Arabic is given as a guttural combination of the words “derka”, “jihad”, “sherpa”, “bakala”, “Mohammed”, and “Allah”. The Korean language was also simplified for the movie. While no real Korean words were actually used in speech, the real verb endings of “~~ㅂ니까 (~~mnikka)?” (sentence ending in a question) and “~~ㅂ니다 (~~mnida)” (sentence ending in a statement) were used after ”nonsensical words” to give the dialogue a Korean-like sound. The movie’s sound track features a song entitled ”North Korean Melody”, consisting of mostly gibberish words on top of a stereotypically Asian melody; the only recognizable words in the song were “Kim Jong-Il”, presumably referring to the cult of personality surrounding the ruler. Despite not using real Korean words in speech, real and sensical Korean written characters are used in all Korean writing in the movie. The stereotypical Asian pronunciation of English “R”s instead of “L”s is used heavily by Kim Jong-il. For example, he greets people with “Herro” and calls Hans Blix “Hans Brix.” When Koreans write their names or introduce themselves, they always use their family name first: Kim (family name) Jong-il (given name). Western culture is the opposite. So, when Hans Blix meets Kim Jong-il in Kim Jong-il’s palace, Blix addresses Mr. Kim as “Mr. Il”. This could be a reference to Harry Truman’s infamous faux pas greeting of Chiang Kai-Shek (the president said, “Mr. Shek”).

In some scenes, particularly in the Panama Canal scene, hemp plants are placed around the scenery, made to look like ferns due to their relative size.


*Moriarty Visits Matt & Trey On The TEAM AMERICA Set! – set report from
*Team America: World Police – synopsis, clips and images from
*(October 2004). Play: South Park’s Puppet Regime. ”Wired” 12.10. Accessed October 6, 2004.
*BBC Interview with Matt Stone

External links

*Official Site
*Unofficial Site
*QuickTime trailer
*”Team America: World Police” at the All Movie Guide
*An analysis at Flakmagazine
*Team America Photo Gallery

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