‘South Park’ Fans Miss When the Show Used Actual Celebrity Faces for Their Parodies

The days of Jimmy Stewart and Saddam Hussein showing their faces on ‘South Park’ are sadly in the past
‘South Park’ Fans Miss When the Show Used Actual Celebrity Faces for Their Parodies

‘Member when South Park would use the actual, un-animated faces of the celebrities they were lambasting and either slap a cartoon mouth on them or make the two halves of their face open and close like they’re some sort of Canadian? The fans ‘member.

It used to be a part of South Park’s low-budget, construction paper, “impersonated… poorly” charm. Some super-famous celebrity, like Mel GibsonBen Affleck or Saddam Hussein, would be mocked and parodied using a preposterously exaggerated South Park character, and their hilariously live-action faces would clash with the simplistic, solid-color character design of the rest of the cast. And, of course, no one within the South Park universe would bat an eye at the out-of-place real person among them. Then, gradually, over a period of many seasons, Trey Parker and Matt Stone phased out the real faces, opting to fully animate the celebrity facsimiles instead of swiping their headshots from IMDb.

Over in the South Park subreddit, fans recently commiserated over this de-evolution in celebrity parody portrayals in a thread titled, “Not gonna lie, I kinda miss when the show would just have a famous/historical character’s head just cut onto the body,” a sentence that would make no sense (and probably be completely terrifying) to someone who has never watched the show.

Over the years, South Park has given Ben Affleck, Christina Aguilera, George Burns, Tony Danza, Jeffrey Dahmer, Princess Diana, Jerry Garcia, Mel Gibson, Allen Ginsberg, Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, John F. Kennedy, John F. Kennedy Jr., Michael Landon, Dean Martin, Walter Matthau, St. Patrick, Frank Sinatra, Gene Siskel, Jimmy Stewart, Tiny Tim and Mao Zedong the real-face treatment. In addition, in the first season episode “Tom's Rhinoplasty,” Mr. Garrison gets a nose job that makes him look like David Hasselhoff – as in, exactly like David Hasselhoff.

That episode marked the first instance of South Park using real faces, as it also introduced the most recurring semi-live-action character in the series, Saddam Hussein, who would become one of the most beloved antagonists in the early seasons. Other standout uses include the "pink Christina Aguilera monsters" that Cartman sees after taking too much Ritalin in the Season Four episode “Timmy 2000.”

The last such instance where a live-action-ish face was used in a South Park episode came during the Season 25 finale, “Credigree Weed St. Patrick's Day Special,” when, following Randy’s attempt to capitalize on the holiday and the entire town’s tussle with topics like consent and cultural appropriation, the patron saint of Ireland (in the form of an old oil painting) descends from the heavens to stop the fighting. Saint Patrick preaches that the true meaning of the holiday has been lost – as in, getting drunk and being debaucherous – and he proceeds to creep out the whole town by being grabby and gross, turning South Park against the holiday for good.

Sadly, St. Patrick might just be the last live-action-adjacent celebrity representation we see on South Park. The animation style of the show is much cleaner and more effortful than it was in the first season, and it could be that Parker and Stone have grown tired of the clashing aesthetics. However, their hand may eventually be forced as the faces make their triumphant return – it’s only a matter of time before Mel Gibson gets in the news again for all the wrong reasons.


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