Dr. Toon: The Evolution of Animated Comedy
Parody is a form of comedy in which a specific entity or situation is the target of humor. The humor can range from fondness to acerbic commentary, but the form of parody always follows the form of the target. Corky Quakenbush gave us an excellent example with his parodies of Rankin-Bass Animation when he produced violent, subversive shorts featuring Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer for MAD TV. The shorts, none longer than five minutes, utilize the stop-motion animation style used by Rankin-Bass, and contain recognizable versions of the 1964 characters.
Situations that would have been unspeakable in the Rankin-Bass cartoons are cheerfully presented in shorts such as Raging Rudolph, Rudolph's Bloody New Year, and Santa Claus Smuggles Cocaine. Quakenbush takes it for granted that his audience is familiar with the original animated special(s). His parodies exist for laughs, not out of contempt for Rankin-Bass animation. Another notable example is Christopher McCulloch's extended parody of Hanna-Barbera's Jonny Quest. When McCulloch (a.k.a Jackson Publick) unveiled The Venture Brothers in 2003, animation fans knew exactly where he was aiming his death rays. Again, when the characters in Family Guy are represented as the cast of Star Wars, we know we are seeing parody.
Satire is a more general but also more complicated form of humor in which sport is made of social customs, foibles, or institutions. There are two forms of satire extant, both dating back to antiquity. Juvenalian satire tends to be more outrageous, shocking, and contemptuous of its targets. Horatian satire makes light of culture and society with gentler pokes, taking more care to expose the hypocrisies and ironies of life.
South Park is probably the closest familiar example of Juvenalian satire: Crude, abrasive, obscene, and mercurial, the characters play endless rifts on what it is like to grow up in American culture circa right now. The examples are endless, but I'll call up an immediate one: When the boys watch Terrance and Philip, children's programming and its supposed influence on young minds is satirized. Of course, the show in question is a vulgar fartfest.
Creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker take this theme further in the episode "Clubhouses" (1998) in which Kyle's mother makes Kyle switch from watching Terrance and Philip in favor of The Fat Abbot Show, which is supposedly more wholesome. Fat Abbot and friends, as it turns out, command an obscene vocabulary that makes Terrance and Philip seem like pipsqueaks in comparison. The point is, children cannot fail to encounter such influences in today's society, no matter which of 800 channels they turn to. There is nothing sacred in the world of South Park, including the presentation of its social, religious, and political material.