We’re so used to seeing South Park turn real people into animated caricatures, but there’s always something uncanny about how they choose to turn cartoons into real people.
When South Park first premiered in 1997, Trey Parker and Matt Stone attempted to use cutout animation and construction paper in the style of their successful short films to create the characters of their cartoon world. That archaic and painstaking method of production quickly gave way to computer animation, but the charm of the almost improvised art style remains a defining feature of the now-billion dollar franchise a quarter century later. The simple South Park art style is one of the most iconic in adult animation, which makes the show’s occasional live-action scenes and episodes so three-dimensionally jarring.
Over in the South Park subreddit, fans recently discussed which of the show’s implementations of live-action footage they found to be the funniest and most effective. Here are their top picks, starting with…
The Boat Sequence
Apparently, ziplining is so boring that it brings cartoons to life. The Season 16 episode “I Should Have Never Gone Ziplining” satirized sensationalized reality television by putting Michael Zazarino, Eli Bildner, Brandon Hardesty and Josh Beren in the places of Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny as they breakdown during the most boring boat ride to ever cross dimensions. Using adult actors to imitate the fictional children was a much better move than the time South Park had a bunch of actual kids play the roles two seasons later with “Grounded Vindaloop” — thank God they never had to explain herpes to a real child.
When A Nose Job Turns Mr. Garrison Into David Hasselhoff
Somehow, it doesn’t seem completely out of the realm of possibility that some sleazy Hollywood plastic surgeon has, at one point, pitched an aging patient on rhinoplasty by telling him that he’ll come out of the cosmetic surgery looking like he belongs on Baywatch. In the Season One episode “Tom's Rhinoplasty,” Mr. Garrison’s new nose turns him into the spitting image of a real-life David Hasselhoff, a gift that he comes to see as a blessing and a curse as the burden of handsomeness becomes too great to bear. If the real Hasselhoff has to spend each day fleeing for his life from hungry hordes of horny women due to his overwhelming sex appeal, then I get why he needed that cheeseburger so bad.
It’s always a little uncomfortable when Trey Parker and Matt Stone recruit actual children to take part in their profane production — let’s hope that the two kids featured in the Season Three episode “Korn’s Groovy Pirate Ghost Mystery” didn’t learn a single lesson from Alabama Man when they shot a fake commercial for the thankfully fictional action figure. Between beer, bowling and lip-busting, Alabama Man doesn’t have much to offer the average non-Alabaman child, so it seems unlikely that these two kids actually wanted to be “just like Alabama Man” — besides the fact that he got to be in South Park.
Van Halen Uniting Actual Muslims, Christians and Jews in Rock
This depressingly topical entry comes from the Season 17 episode “Ginger Cow,” in which Cartman unintentionally ushers in an unprecedented era of peace in the Middle East while attempting to bully Kyle for his red hair. The Abrahamic religions all agree that a red cow will herald the end of times, but they quickly evolve to interpret it as the end of wars as they combine their ideologies under the symbol of a certain hair metal megagroup. Scenes of actual Jews, Muslims and Christians interspersed throughout the band’s 10-year animated concert in Israel would have been the funniest part of “Ginger Cow” if the episode didn't end with the dissolution of world peace because Cartman couldn’t admit to having a tiny penis.
Pam Brady’s Performance As Mr. Adler’s Dead Fiancée
Brady is a foundational figure in the South Park franchise, having worked as a writer and a producer on the show through the show’s first four seasons, but fans probably know her best as the would-be Mrs. Adler in the classic Season Three episode “Tweek vs. Craig.” Woodshop teacher Richard Adler is haunted by the hilariously live-action memories of his late lover throughout the episode, in which we hear iconic original lines like “Don’t worry, Richard! I’m a pilot” along with a confusing reference to The Omen in “It’s all for you, Richard!” before the teacher’s Amelia Sweethart spirals to her doom, skywriting all the way down.