Watch 52 musicals, one every week, in 2015.
CANNIBAL! THE MUSICAL (1993)
Before The Book of Mormon… before South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut… before, uh… is there music in Orgazmo? I’ve never seen it. Anyway, Trey Parker and Matt Stone once starred in a low-budget musical about a real cannibal named Alferd Packer, and holy shit, wow, let’s get right to it.
Whatcha got here is your standard road trip movie, save for the singin’ and the dancin’ and the dyin’. A bunch of Utah miners hear tales of abundant gold in Colorado Territory, so off they go to claim it, with naive optimist Alferd Packer (Trey Parker) leading the way. What could go wrong? Now, I don’t want to give too much away about Cannibal! The Musical, but there is a very specific plot point contained in Cannibal! The Musical that I wouldn’t want to reveal and spoil your enjoyment of Cannibal! The Musical. Ya see, people get eaten. By people! And the story is told in flashbacks during Alferd’s trial, as he’s the last surviving member of the party. Neat.
That’s right, it’s a musical, a Western, a biopic, a spoof, AND a courtroom drama.
Now, I might lose some of our zero readers by saying this, but I’m not a huge South Park fan, and knowing Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s excessive, intentionally offensive style and the sort of ridiculous gorefests typically distributed by Troma Entertainment, I was expecting to see Jesus farting menstrual blood onto six men fucking a pile of intestines.
Capped off with a heavy-handed libertarian rant, presumably.
To my surprise, though, this was closer to a Mel Brooks production (minus the budget) than The Toxic Avenger or an episode of South Park. One thing Mel always got right in his spoofs was the proper amount of sincerity and reverence for genre films, and Trey Parker’s direction is on point in that regard. For all the wacky shit popping up along the way, this isn’t just a collection of gags about Westerns or musicals; these characters felt real and I always cared what would happen to them next. So much so that I was repeatedly caught off guard every time a goofy joke slapped me in the face.
I gotta warn you… you’re gonna laugh your tits off.
I’m working extra hard not to overuse the word “sincere” when I talk about Cannibal! The Musical, but dammit, Trey Parker’s performance as Alferd Packer is just so golly gosh-darned sincere. He is cheerful and hopeful and says, “Aww, shucks,” and it’s a deliberate contrast to the horrific events he’s about to be involved in, but gee whiz, is he adorable. And never half-assed. Cut the blood and the “fucks” out of the script and he’d be the perfect Disney protagonist that your mom would eat up with a spoon.
Couldn’t you just pinch those cheeks?
Go ahead and slap a “sincere” or two on everybody else in the cast as well. I’m not sure how Trey directed his actors, but he clearly wanted them all to treat this like a serious musical. Toddy Walters, for example, is totally camping up her fact-finding journalist character Polly Pry, but she still plays it sweet enough that we want to see her get Alferd off.
Not like that, but also, yeah, totally like that, mmm.
If you’re wondering where Matt Stone is in all this, he’s James Humphrey, a nasal-voiced irritating disphit in a stupid hat. He definitely has some hilarious moments, but to be honest, he’s almost trying too hard to be funny and stands out from everybody else playing it straight.
Known colloquially as “Eddie Deezening.”
Fuck, I just want to call the rest of the cast “sincere” again and pack it in. Okay, I will make special mention of Ian Hardin as the preacher Shannon Wilson Bell, whose folksy kind-heartedness is especially fun to watch disappear when he flips the fuck out.
THE SONGS AND DANCES:
Okay, so here’s the part where I evaluate each song, but if you haven’t seen Cannibal! The Musical, I’m going to ask you to skip this section. Why? Well, I’ve been watching a musical a week in the name of science and SWEET TEETHING BABY JESUS, I am so glad I finally get a movie making fun of all this singing dancing crap. I want to show my thanks for the brilliance of every single number, which means ruining a lot of jokes. Shit, and even if you’ve seen it, you probably don’t want me to tell you why it’s funny, so fuck it, everybody skip this section. But I need to get out of my system why this is the musical I’ve been waiting for all my life.
First up? “Shpadoinkle.” The fuck does that mean? Probably the same as “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” or goddamned “Shipoopi.” It’s a brilliant skewering of the inexplicably popular nonsense songs that pop up in musicals, with lines stating that Alferd is pretty sure he knows what “it’s a shpadoinkle day” means.
Also, Trey can sing, you guys.
Then, because Trey knows how musicals work, we get your standard What The Characters Want song, this one entitled “That’s All I’m Asking For.” Each of our intrepid hikers sings about what he’ll do with the money once they bag the gold… except one, who flatly responds with, “No, no, I don’t sing” and then just says his plan aloud while everybody else awkwardly bobs to the music. It’s perfect.
And catchy as hell!
Alferd belts out an ode to his trusty horse Liane in “When I Was on Top of You,” which, wait a minute, that sounds like SEX. It’s the most Michael Bolton-y slow jam crammed deep with double entendres about mounting, hair-pulling, etc.
I know what I’m playing at my wedding now.
Can’t have a musical without a villain song, right? Alferd and the gang cross paths with some trappers who sing a “Trapper Song” about how manly it is to kill animals and smash bricks with your nutsack. Best of all, it ends with a fight about what key the song is in that gets funnier the longer it goes on.
I don’t know dick about music theory, but the word “mixolydian” is always funny.
Polly Pry gets her own song to reflect on the feelings Alferd stirs up inside her called “This Side of Me.” It is a big-ass ballad and is legitimately quite lovely, but while she’s singing, some random guy just wanders confusedly through this private moment of musical self-reflection and it made me fucking howl.
This is a perfect gag. Brilliant timing, flawless reactions, and it doesn’t hold too long.
When the boys start to lose hope in the mountains, one of them tries to raise their spirits by singing “Let’s Make a Snowman.” (I’d make a Frozen joke, but that’s one musical I haven’t seen yet, so meet me back here in six weeks.) It’s unabashedly positive and also contains an ingenious double gag of a) tap dancing in snow b) that’s too deep for you to see the footwork.
This movie is just wonderful. See it. If you’ve seen it, see it again.
Reprises aside (and they’re all reprises with clever twists because of course they are), the last full song is “Hang the Bastard,” a big joyous showstopper featuring all the townsfolk and their hankerin’ to see a man die today. It contains the most meta lyric (“it’s the end of him and the end of the show”) and a shitty cowbell solo.
*ding ding ding dingdingding*
Keep in mind, these are just the gags within the songs; there are plenty more musical conventions mocked elsewhere in the film. Two of my favorites are Alferd constantly getting interrupted while trying to start a song and a ballet dream sequence where zero attempts are made to cover up the fact that they’re using doubles.
Hey! That guy wasn’t in BASEketball!
I THINK THIS LINE’S MOSTLY FILLER:
Hey, it’s a comedy, so any dumb lyric is probably intentional, but still, this line from “Trapper Song” has me scratching my head over if it’s a sex joke or a deliberately bad rhyme or just fucking weird…
“My pa was an elephant, but that’s irrelevant…”
Imagine if A Million Ways to Die in the West was ten times funnier at 1/30th of the budget. Maybe I’m just clogged full of musical cheese and this movie cleared me out, but nevertheless, it’s a must-see. And a way more entertaining biopic than Evita.
Everyone Says I Love You (1996)