Team America and Thunderbirds are both action adventure films that use puppetry and voice acting. Although they both follow Torodov’s narrative theory, they do it in completely different ways. Thunderbirds was aimed at children and was given a U bbfc rating but has gathered a cult following in recent years. Team America is what is considered to be a “hybrid” of genres. It is an action adventure but also a satirical comedy that ridicules films such as Thunderbirds.
Both films open with non-diegetic music which has connotations of glory and heroism but only 30 seconds into Team America and it becomes apparent that this film isn’t aimed at children. The Team America theme tune involves many swearwords and vulgar references to sex, the opening sequence finishes with an unrealistic model of the world blowing up. Whilst Thunderbirds uses puppets for a serious effect Team America uses them to add comedy with the strings showing instead of being edited out and the movements jerky. This is to parody Thunderbirds and to create a simplistic South Park like animation.
The beginning of the opening sequence uses what seems to be a long shot to show a stereotypical Parisian street. The caption ‘Paris, France’ flashes up followed by ‘3635 miles east of America’ which is used to connote America’s ignorance and perceived centrality to the rest of the world. The camera then pans out to show that the scene was just a painting with the ‘real’ background behind it. The long shot allows the audience to see a French street with cobbles and souvenir stalls. Nearly all of the people in this panning long shot are French stereotypes including the man with the stripy top and beret and an accordion player.
The scene cuts to a mid shot of a young boy walking along singing ‘Frere Jacques’. The boy knocks into an Arabian character who can only be seen from the waist down. This highlights the boy’s vulnerability and allows the audience to sympathise with him. The camera shows the Arabians from a lower angle and the music changes to menacing middle eastern pipes. The mans facial expression indicates dark and sinister intentions.
The action then unfolds with a suitcase bomb being revealed and rapid cuts of the Parisians to show their anxiety. Two more Arabians appear with turbans and over the top facial hair which may be considered racist by some. Again, there is another extreme close up of a terrorist’s eyes to show what is about to unfold. The heroes then turn up in overly fantastical vehicles that add humour. A non diegetic soundtrack plays heroic music to signify their presence. The problem is solved with all of the terrorists being killed and the heroes celebrate. Team America mocks other action adventures by having the heroes destroying every landmark around and making them blatantly unaware of what they have done.
Thunderbirds also opens with a heroic non diegetic soundtrack with a long shot of a remote aircraft with base with a large hanger with the words ‘Zero X’ on it. The hanger then opens up to show a futuristic spaceship that has to be Zero X. The thing that is most striking about the opening is how extremely long the cuts are. Cuts may have been longer in 1966 and this glorifies the sci-fi and allows the audience to take it in. When the spaceship finally launches it is revealed that there is a spy on board.
The man is of Chinese nationality because at the time China was seen as the common enemy. There is an extreme close up on his eyes to make him look suspicious. The mission fails after a sabotage and the spaceship crashes into the sea and Lady Penelope is called out on rescue. Her clothes and car are all pink and her hair is blonde giving connotations of her just being a stupid girl. The paradox is that Penelope is always shot from below and she has a cockney Asian driver who is always seen from above which illustrates his inferiority.
Whilst team America seems racist it actually sets out to mock certain stereotypes and challenge the codes and conventions of film. Thunderbirds is actually the archetype for all puppetry films and although it doesn’t seem like much now, it was groundbreaking at the time. Thunderbirds creates all the stereotypical characters and scenes and Team America parodies and mocks them.