The use of marionettes instead of actors in an action film is a reference to Thunderbirds, a popular 1960s British television show, although Stone and Parker were not fans of that show. The duo worked on the script with former South Park writer Pam Brady for nearly two years. The film had a troubled time in production, with various problems regarding the marionettes, as well as the scheduling extremes of having the film come out in time. In addition, the filmmakers fought with the Motion Picture Association of America, who returned the film over nine times with an NC-17 rating. The film was recut by a few seconds and rated R for graphic crude and sexual humor, violent images and strong language – all involving puppets.
The film premiered at the Denver Film Festival on October 14, 2004, and was released in cinemas in the United States on October 15, 2004 by Paramount Pictures. The film has received mostly positive reviews from critics and grossed over $52.1 million worldwide against its $32 million budget.