It’s been 10 years since South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker gave us Team America: World Police, the greatest marionette action movie ever made — not to mention the patriotic anthem that is “America, F*ck Yeah.” When Matt and Trey brought the idea of doing a satire with puppets to Paramount, the studio jumped on the idea, thinking it would save them from having to pay real actors or pricey animators. That decision ended up creating a gigantic headache for the team assigned to make an entire world for puppets to destroy.
Creating the 270 different puppets used in the film wasn’t just an incredibly arduous process, but an expensive one, too. Just building the tiny Uzi used by Team America members cost $1,000, and the production quickly stacked up a $32 million price tag — not as pricey as a Michael Bay film, but expensive for a puppet show. To celebrate the film’s 10th anniversary and what is certainly the most graphic on-screen puppet sex scene ever, let’s take a look at how Matt, Trey, and the Chiodo Brothers puppeteer team went about making Team America.
1. Matt Damon wasn’t originally going to be mentally challenged. Trey and Matt hadn’t always planned on making Matt Damon a babbling dolt. They had initially planned to make the puppet version of him somewhat charming and intelligent, but when they saw how utterly stupid the puppet looked they decided to dumb him down. Unlike some of the other actors parodied in the film, Damon took the ribbing pretty well and told Reddit that he enjoyed the movie.
“I thought it was brilliant! I mean, I never understood it, and then I heard an interview with them and they said the puppet came in looking kind of mentally deficient and they didn’t have time to change it, so they just made me someone who could really only say his own name. All the comedy they’re doing is really next-level stuff.”
2. Michael Moore was made of ham. Matt Stone agreed to be interviewed by Moore for his documentary, Bowling for Columbine, because he grew up near the school. But Stone was unhappy with the way his interview was edited, and took his revenge by making Moore a mustard-stained slob of a puppet. Moore’s puppet was filled with ham when he blew himself up.
3. The opening puppet shot was a prank on the studio. Matt and Trey shot the opening scene with a puppet in front of a crappy painting of the Eiffel Tower as a goof, causing one studio executive to blurt out “They f*cked us!” during the screening. It wasn’t until the camera pulled back to reveal a more detailed set that the test audience realized they had been pranked.
4. There were only two puppet models. Only two model sizes were used for the puppets in the movie — one for females and one for males. Different heads were switched out for the various characters, with each character having up to five different heads and Kim Jong Il’s head being a little larger to make his body appear smaller.
5. The puppet sex was considered pornographic by the MPAA. Due to Gary and Lisa’s hot sex scene, the MPAA slapped the movie with an NC-17 rating. The sex scene had to be edited nine times before the MPAA finally dropped from NC-17 to an R rating. Gary and Lisa’s uncensored sex scene made its way onto the DVD and, of course, YouTube:
6. We’re constantly reminded of the marionettes’ size by everyday household items. Trey and Matt didn’t want the audience to forget how small the puppets were, which is why many of the props are everyday household items. A pair of nail clippers can be seen on Team America’s utility belts, many of the buildings outside Kim Jon Il’s palace are Chinese take-out boxes, and in the Cairo scene a puppet can be seen walking down the street carrying Goldfish crackers on his head. The streets of Paris were made to resemble croissants because that’s how people who’d been to Epcot but not Paris might envision the city.
7. Before Team America, Trey and Matt wanted to make a puppet version of Armageddon or Day After Tomorrow. Trey and Matt thought the script to Ben Affleck’s 1997 blockbuster about the oil rig team that saves the world was hilariously bad and wanted to shoot a word-for-word version using puppets. They developed the concept for Team America: World Police after legal issues with the studios that owned Armageddon and Day After Tomorrow shut those ideas down:
STONE: All the puppets are basically is that you’re watching Day After Tomorrow but you got high. That’s it, you know. You watch Day After Tomorrow, you get high, this is what it feels like.
PARKER: When you’re watching Armageddon and the Aerosmith song starts… Super funny.
8. Sean Penn wasn’t happy about his puppet portrayal. Sean Penn hadn’t even seen the movie yet when he mailed an angry letter to Matt and Trey, closing with “a sincere fuck you, Sean Penn.”
STONE: We got the letter the day before; like he wrote a letter to us, but it had a PR fax, it had a PR company’s phone number at the top. I got it the day before and I was like, ‘Oh, wow. Sean Penn sent us a letter.’ And we were reading it and we were like, ‘This doesn’t really sound like it’s really to us. It sounds like it’s to the world.’
PARKER: But before the movie came out, he had only heard about it. And he didn’t realize in writing the letter he was saying the things he says in the movie. He was like, ‘I’ve been to Iraq and I’ll take you there.’ That’s all he does in the movie. ‘I’ve been to Iraq so I know everything.’
9. Each puppet was based on Spottswoode. Spottswoode was the first puppet completed by the puppeteer team of Stephen Chiodo, Edward Chiodo, and Charles Chiodo. Coming in at 22 inches tall, the puppets were made to be one-third the size of an actual human being, with each one taking about a day-and-a-half to complete. The process first involved forming a clay mold the puppet’s face, then making a foam mold that had a thin skin-like layer of rubber placed over it. The layer was then hand-painted, removed, and placed on a mechanical skull.
10. The jungles of Panama were made of marijuana. The jungle foliage used for the Panama Canal terrorist attack were Cannabis plants. Following the flooding of the Panama Canal scene, production had to be halted so the puppets involved could be wrung out and dried.