Film: Who ruined Kenny?

'South Park' is to make its transfer from small to big screen this summer. But the last thing its makers want is for you to go and see it. Off the Drawing Board: More Cartoon Spin-offs

Trey Parker ought to be pretty happy. With his college mate Matt Stone, he created South Park, the everyday story of foul-mouthed, sick- minded Colorado pre-teens that is currently the world's coolest cartoon and the UK's most ubiquitous T-shirt. This week, he's scheduled to deliver a finished print of the big-screen version to his bosses at Paramount.

South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut is the story of what happens when Cartman, Kenny and Kyle are forced to spend their summer in a military training camp, and features the same mix of mad 'Nam vets, armless nurses, canine homosexuals and talkative pieces of faecal matter that made the television show such a hit with children all over the world. The movie will open in the United States in June. So shouldn't Parker be lighting a fat Havana with a $100 bill and looking around for a supermodel to marry?

In fact, he seems to be in a state of despair. He's giggling like a man in the first stages of hysteria. He's pining for his happy-go-lucky life before he sold his soul to Paramount Studios. "I'm dealing with insane people," he insists, like the hero of a Fifties why-won't-they-believe- me? alien invasion film. "Honestly. The people at the top are these old guys who don't have families and who've decided that their life is movies. Which is fine, except that it's made them insane. They can call you up and scream at you and say the most horrible things, and then call back an hour later as if nothing had happened. Matt and I are real close to being crazy ourselves."

And for South Park fans, here's the bombshell: "This is probably going to be the last thing we ever do for a studio." Oh my God, you're probably thinking, they're going to kill off Kenny. It may not be within their power to do so. "We love all the characters we've created for South Park. But Comedy Central [the cable channel that produces the TV series] owns South Park, not us. They could fire us tomorrow and continue doing the show, and we wouldn't be able to do a thing about it."

If you want a peek at Stone and Parker's idyllic pre-Comedy Central and Paramount life, then you should see Orgazmo, a low-budget comedy that they were in the middle of filming when South Park was greenlighted for production. Except now, you can't. It opened in the UK three weeks ago, and it's already disappeared without trace. The public, it seems, didn't share its creators' enthusiasm. Although it's easily the best kung fu comedy about a Mormon who inadvertently becomes a porn superstar that you're ever likely to see, Sight and Sound magazine found it "almost unwatchable" and Loaded declared it "one of the worst films ever made". For Parker, however, it's a nostalgia trip that makes him feel all warm inside.

It all began as a prank on Robert Redford and the Latter-day Saints - a kind of revenge thing. Redford funds the Sundance Film Festival, held annually in the Mormon state of Utah. And the festival's selectors had snubbed several of Parker's previous efforts - works such as Cannibal: The Musical, a song-and-dance spectacular about a group of Colorado miners who eat each other for breakfast. "Orgazmo was a film festival joke," he explains. "People were meant to go in expecting something artistic, and find themselves watching a film about two guys who use a dildo ray gun to give spontaneous orgasms to rabbis."

After being turned down by New Line Cinema (ostensibly, Parker says, because Boogie Nights was already in pre-production), they received offers of funding from two sources. The cable company Showtime agreed to produce Orgazmo on the condition that they made it as a genuine porn film. ("If I did a movie like that my sister and my mom would kick my ass," says Parker.) A Japanese outfit, Kuzui Enterprises, agreed to produce it on the condition that there was no sex in it at all. "The censorship laws in Tokyo are very tough. And they figured that a movie with American porn stars that didn't have nudity in it would make loads of money in Japan." They went with the Kuzui proposal.

The idea of working on such an absurd project for such eccentric clients, and with such weird cult performers as Jeremy and Lain, is now a distant, happy memory for Parker. Since Paramount contracted him for the South Park movie, he's not had more than three consecutive days off work.

"I did bring my family to England for a couple of days over Christmas. We went up to York on the train. It was like something out of Charles Dickens." Did he, I wonder, manage to go to Betty's Tea Rooms? "Oh yes," he breathes, as if I've just alluded to some fragile Shangri-La, glimpsed momentarily in a dream. "We did."

In the real world, the South Park movie deadline is fast looming. But Parker is still thinking cosy thoughts about the larks that he had with his porno chums, before everything became so serious. "Back in the Orgazmo days it was about trying to make a film for very little money," he reflects. "Now the challenge is to get something on film that's remotely like what you wanted, and where you have to freak out at eight people in suits to make the smallest changes.

"Basically, there are two kinds of film-making. There's that which is really fun, like Orgazmo, and there's the shit we're doing right now."

The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle

Jay Ward's crime-fighting squirrel-and-moose team is brought to life this summer by the director Des McAnuff, with Robert De Niro heading the cast. This doesn't mean, unfortunately, that the Taxi Driver star will be squeezing into a furry costume and flying-goggles: the animal characters will be animations added into the action, Roger Rabbit style.

Dudley Do-Right

Another Jay Ward adaptation heading your way this summer, in which the erstwhile George of the Jungle, Brendan Fraser, stars as the Canadian Mountie who always - inadvertently - gets his man (in this case Alfred Molina). Fraser promises he will bring out the hero's "dark side" - but he may just be joshing.

Scooby-Doo

Though the job was initially offered to Kevin Smith, the shagadelic Mike Myers will script - and some say star - in this live-action version of the Sixties Hanna-Barbera series. Tim Burton has denied that he'll direct; Ricki Lake has not denied that she'll play Velma. A Scooby Snack says that it'll be a dog's breakfast.

The Flintstones in

Viva Las Vegas

The prequel to the 1994 movie starring John Goodman, but this time with our very own Mark Addy in the Fred Flintstone mastodon pelt. The plot - as if you cared - involves Wilma's wooing by an unscrupulous millionaire. Alan Cumming also stars - perhaps as Dino.

The X Men

Usual Suspects' director Bryan Singer is currently steering this film - based on the Marvel comic strip - through development Valhalla. Movie versions of The Jetsons and The Fantastic Four are in a similar position. Front-runners for X person roles are Edward Norton, Patrick Stewart, Julianne Moore and Keanu Reeves.

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