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Animated Napoleon Dynamite? Seriously?

January 4, 2012

Think back. WAY back. No, further. Remember 2004? Sure you do!

Britney got married for 72 hours. Janet Jackson showed a boobie on the Super Bowl. Ashlee Simpson got busted lip-syncing on SNL. Martha Stewart went to jail for … something.

Napoleon Dynamite animated seriesAnd Napoleon Dynamite was released in theaters. I remember seeing it for the first time on a recommendation from a dear friend who knows my sense of humor well. Of course I loved it, as did most people early on. Its blend of quirky humor, subtle performances, and a kind of sweet high-school innocence had fairly widespread appeal. It was easily the most quotable movie of the year, a must for anything aspiring to “cult” status. Sadly, as with most flames that burn brightly, its appeal burned out pretty quickly. Far too many “Vote Pedro” t-shirts were sold, and too much other inscrutable merchandise was made available, all of which I’m sure is now collecting dust in the backs of closets everywhere. I think the final gasping breath was when the Idaho state legislature passed a resolution recognizing the movie for its contribution to “increasing the nation’s awarness of Idaho.” When a bunch of crusty, old elected officials start liking something, you know it’s not cool anymore.

That said, I had considered writing another post in my nostalgia series about the possibility of a comeback of sorts for Napoleon Dynamite. I recently caught a few minutes of it on TV and was surprised at how much I still enjoyed the movie, its imminently recognizable characters, and chuckle-worthy lines. I speculated that some things may fall out of favor, but may have the power to come back and still entertain after the dark period of backlash has passed. I believe this is true of Donnie Darko, Tarantino soundtracks, and other films and music as well. And I believe it is possible for Napoleon Dynamite to re-enter our hearts and at least be fondly remembered instead of inducing eye-rolls.


Over the Christmas holiday, just as I was planning to write the aforementioned Napoleon Dynamite comeback post, I saw a promo for an upcoming animated series Fox is developing based on the movie. It is slated to start next week as a mid-season replacement. I must admit I’m having a hard time articulating my mixed feelings about this. On the one hand I’m glad to see that, at the very least, all of the original cast is set to reprise their roles. I would have expected the likes of Tina Majorino and Deidrich Diedrich Bader to have little time for this aged indie property, having made names for themselves on other projects (notably, for Majorino, in HBO’s Big Love and Fox’s Bones). But the affection they seem to bear for the story, the characters, and creator Jared Hess appears to have won them back.

On the other hand I have serious doubts about the animated series’ ability to recapture the magic of the film 7 years after the fact (yes, magic; don’t deny that you loved it back in the day! Pants on fire!) Lead player Jon Heder has done exactly two things since 2004: jack and shit. Aaron “Kip” Ruell? Nothing. Efren “Pedro” Ramirez? Zip. Jon “Uncle Rico” Gries (best remembered as Lazlo Hollyfeld in Real Genius)? Zilch. Most of the principal actors (and Hess himself) have not quite been able to capitalize on their original, short-lived mojo. Hess’s Jack-Black-tastic Nacho Libre was deeply underwhelming, bordering on unfunny. (To be fair, I hear Gentlemen Broncos is gloriously effed-up and surprisingly not bad-ish. It’s in my Netflix queue.) Not only does this series seem to me like an answer to a question that was never asked, but it also has a pungent, beer-farts whiff of desperation about it.

I guess what I’m saying is: even if the intentions are pure, do we really need a Napoleon Dynamite animated series? Can’t we just pop in our well-worn DVD copies of the movie on Sunday afternoon and enjoy them in peace? Don’t answer these questions. They are rhetorical. Flippin’ idiots, GOSH!

  1. Chris permalink
    January 6, 2012 2:01 pm

    It will recapture the magic of the film 7 years after the fact! Mark my words! :-)

  2. January 6, 2012 6:41 pm

    Totally agree. This whole thing reeks of “development hell.” What likely happened was that FOX signed on to this a few years back when it was still somewhat novel, took forever halfway fostering the idea, checking in on it occasionally and wondering if it would be a viable option, and eventually decided they’d poured just enough money into it that they had to air it sometime. That’s why it’s a mid-season replacement. I give you this absolute GUARANTEE: No more than six episodes, probably only three. Fox isn’t counting on this show to succeed. Not one bit.


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