How Thunderbirds inspired the South Park guys
Team America: World Police was directly inspired by the British puppet show.
You never know how a show or a movie might live on after its runtime comes to an end. After all, art is one big continuum, and everything is influenced by something. For instance, Chris Carter, creator of The X-Files, frequently cited Kolchak: The Night Stalker as the series that most inspired his own. Simply put, there's no Flintstones without The Honeymooners. And it's awfully hard to picture a show like Lost without Gilligan and friends getting stranded on an island first.
There aren't too many shows or movies that look like Thunderbirds, though, as the show's use of "Supermarionation" ensured it stayed unique forever. Instead of live-action actors or animated characters, Thunderbirds was somewhere in the middle, populated by electronically-operated marionette puppets. You may be surprised, though, to learn that the show's influence extended into cinemas back in 2004.
While developing their follow-up to the critically and commercially successful South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut, Trey Parker and Matt Stone were inspired by a very unlikely source. As their story of an elite team of rescuers took shape, the duo was inspired by the 1960s Thunderbirds series, and specifically, the way that show's characters looked and moved.
"It wasn't like we were fans," Parker said in a 2004 interview for Knight Ridder Newspapers. "We were just flipping through the channels one day and I was like, 'Oh yeah, I remember this,' and Matt was like 'Oh yeah, I kind of remember this.' And as we were watching it, we were thinking 'God, that still looks really cool. Look at this, this is amazing.' But then as we were watching it, we started realizing, God, the story sucks."
Parker continued to elaborate on the show's influence on their movie Team America World Police, which would also feature the same style of electronically operated marionettes. Specifically, he noted how the Thunderbirds influence was nearly a harbinger of doom for the production.
"It was a really hard sell," said Parker. "When we met with the studios and said we wanted to do a movie with puppets, like Thunderbirds, people would say 'Yeah, but Thunderbirds doesn't even hold up for an hour. A puppet movie won't hold up for an hour and a half.'
"And I was like, 'But it's not because they're puppets.' That was the hard thing to explain, especially to studio executives. They aren't the brightest people, they don't have a lot of vision, so it's hard to tell them that no, this would really work."