Napoleon Dynamite: Welcome Return or Unnecessary Retread?

By Price Peterson

Jan 17, 2012

Nobody knows what happened eight years ago. That is a span of time so long it can only be measured in theories and equations by scientists pulling all-nighters scribbling on chalkboards. And even then a secretly genius janitor would have to walk in, solve the equation, and confirm, "Yes, 2004 happened." Eight years was a long time ago, basically.

So it's understandable if you've forgotten that 2004 was a year in which an unassuming indie movie named Napoleon Dynamite made the transition from BYU student film to mainstream pop culture juggernaut. Jared and Jerusha Hess's low-key comedy told the story of a mouth-breathing teenage misfit with an unlikely blaxploitation name and the gaggle of kitschy characters who surrounded him. What began as a highly amusing cult hit ended up an MTV-endorsed, overexposed pop culture annoyance that resulted in frat guys quoting dialogue, Jon Heder receiving additional starring roles, and those ubiquitous "Vote For Pedro" t-shirts. In retrospect this over-saturation certainly tarnished the original film's charms, which is a shame because it was really something special: proudly weird and unpredictable, with a unique sense of humor that worked mostly due to the movie's low-energy, low-budget aesthetic.

But now, just after we'd finally put this tired pop culture artifact out of our collective consciousness, the cast and creators have reunited to bring Napoleon Dynamite the animated series to Fox's Sunday-night Animation Domination lineup. Yay? Quick question: Who asked for this? No matter, the series now joins that special category of movie-to-cartoon adaptations that includes Ghostbusters, Beetlejuice, and Clerks. There's a precedent for this sort of thing, so the real question now is, "Is it any good?"

Napoleon Dynamite (2012) isn't terrible, let's put it that way. The animated comedy bar has been significantly lowered by Seth MacFarlane's franchise of Family Guy carbon copies, and it was recently planted deep beneath the earth's crust by Allen Gregory, a truly awful show that really worked hard for its cancellation. So by comparison, Napoleon Dynamite is okay, but it's definitely no Bob's Burgers or even latter-day The Simpsons. Despite the return of the movie's entire original cast, the show actually bears less stylistic similarity to the movie than it does to Family Guy. Where the movie had drawn-out scenes of unexplained awkwardness and musical interludes, the animated series has cut-away jokes and rapid-fire dialogue. In fact, I had to double check that Seth MacFarlane wasn't actually involved. He's not: In addition to the Hesses, the credited producer is Mike Scully, a Simpsons veteran. At the very least they all seem to be fans of MacFarlane's.

Anyway, Fox aired two new episodes on Sunday, "Thundercone" and "Scantronica." The first involved Napoleon using an acne medication that caused him to become aggressive and get involved in a secret fight club, while the second featured a computer which paired off the teenagers into romantic couplings against their wishes. All our favorite characters appeared, including lispy brother Kip (who's no longer married to LaFawnduh), Uncle Rico, Grandma, Tina the llama, Pedro, karate expert Rex, and Rex's bodybuilder wife. Guest-star Amy Poehler appeared as Kip's crazed love interest in the first episode, while the second episode featured voice work from Jennifer Coolidge and Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement (both of whom appeared in the Hesses' film Gentlemen Broncos).

On paper the premises and cast are terrifi,c and a number of jokes made me laugh—including a recurring bit about a Showbiz Pizza-esque animatronic band and Kip's skills with a Fushigi ball. But generally speaking, something about the whole enterprise just didn't click for me. It's hard to say whether it's because the execution was off, or if I was just too haunted by the tired spectre of the movie to truly enjoy the animated versions of its characters. But I'll allow that it's completely possible for this thing to become something more watchable in the future, if it ever leaves behind its own mythology and delves into more surprising territory. Unlike with Allen Gregory, Napoleon Dynamite's characters are rooted in an essential sweetness, plus the show's world is an open and appealing place where observational humor can safely live alongside absurdity.

So while I'm mixed about whether Napoleon Dynamite works as an animated series, I remain baffled about why it exists in the first place, particularly if its tone and energy are so different from the movie. I'm not saying that an animated TV series adaptation is a failure if it departs from its source material, but I suspect Napoleon Dynamite would be more enjoyable for viewers with no knowledge of the original movie whatsoever and came to these characters fresh. I can't help but think that if this animated series was a completely new enterprise, its originality could've been as celebrated as that of Bob's Burgers. As it is now, Napoleon Dynamite is merely a curio from a foregone era of trucker hats and The Simple Life, and I think we can all agree those are times best left forgotten.


What did you think of Napoleon Dynamite the animated series? Was it fresh enough to make it worth your time?

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  • michiganbits Jun 11, 2012

    This Series was 1000x better than the RIDICULOUS Bob's Burgers - That's for sure!!!

    The FACT that ND was such a Cult film, and the FACT that its characters all came back for the animated series - and the FACT that it was ABSOLUTELY HILARIOUS and the FACT that it was 1 of only a few Evening Animated series that Parents could watch it and Enjoy it, as well as with your 6 yr old, and your 16 yr old, and even with Grandma to- I guess means it HAD TO GO??? Bobs Burgers is a VILE attempt at humor, and besides that FACT that it's just NOT Funny - its a STUPID Series almost nobody can relate to - Unless you happen to be a 3rd generation burger joint owner!!! I am guessing there's actually about 12 of them in the entire USA - Since McDonald's and BK, and Wendy's etc.. have pretty much run all the Mom and Pop Burger Joints out of existence!!

    I don't know who makes these decisions at Fox - but ND got a 2.5 rating, and had Little OR NO advertising- and NO advance notice that it was coming on the Air because it replaced another wilted prime-time series from FOX!! And still - ND got a 2.5 - 3.2 during the 6 weeks on the Air. Then they Follow it up the next season with another FILTHY Low-budget animated series that looks like its drawn by a 3 yr old with with Parkinson's - It's not Cutely drawn terrible either, it's just plain TERRIBLE!!!! All the way around!!

  • CinnaBlaze Feb 16, 2012

    I really enjoyed it and think it's pretty funny! I liked Allen Gregory too...needed more of a chance I think. I love the line up, Bob's Burgers is great, Family Guy is good but can be great again, American Dad is decent...and Simpsons is quite funny...The Cleveland Show I can do without, I just don't think it's that funny anymore. I hope they give ND a chance! Just my opinion......

  • MathewDiMarti Feb 05, 2012

    I thinks its ok. The thing is people are so dumb founded by family guy and the Simpsons that they cannot get into a new routine. cancel the Simpsons already i think 20 years is enough, and for family guy that should have state cancelled. They should have given Allen Gregory more of a chance. I don't know why people are trashing this show because I would have a lot to say about family guy and the Simpsons and their repetitiveness and bland programming.

  • level_jumping Jan 27, 2012

    Talk about fox catering to the lowest common denominator; this show absolutely sucked. I cannot believe for one second that anyone can say this was better than Allen Gregory. Seriously. I actually enjoyed Allen Gregory and had no problem with some people not "getting" it, but when those same people say they like THIS show better...well your opinion is now no longer valid; you may also be mentally handicapped.

  • pigeon Jan 22, 2012

    B6, DROP FOR YOUR SENSEI!!

  • hueyf Jan 21, 2012

    Its just too different from the movie for me. They should have just left it alone

  • Lostindharma Jan 19, 2012

    Plus all the characters suck. None of them are even remotely interesting.

  • Lostindharma Jan 19, 2012

    I gave this show a chance. First of all I hated the movie. It was not only one of the worst movie of all time but one of the worst things I ever seen this side of Two Girls One Cup. So my expectations were very low. Well the show is terrible. I rated it a 1 only because I give it a negative rating. As bad as the movie was, this was probably as bad if not worst. I still will give it chance but I hope this show gets canceled. How bad is this show? Allen Gregory is the best show ever by comparison.

  • hockeyrick Jan 19, 2012

    ND just is boring and not funny! plain and simple! its VANILLA!

  • jegolas1973 Jan 19, 2012

    Napoleon Dynamite has the same FOX animation style that I noticed with King Of The Hill.

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