Movie Name: Napoleon Dynamite
Studio: MTV Films
Release Date(s): January 17, 2004 (Sundance)/June 11, 2004
MPAA Rating: PG
Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder) is the coolest kid on the planet…just ask him. His classmates don’t get him and his internet obsessed brother Kip (Aaron Ruell) is even more exasperating. When his grandmother (Sandy Martin) is injured, Kip and Napoleon are left in the able hands of Uncle Rico (John Bisaccio) whose dreams of 1982 and a lost football championship knows no bounds. As Kip and Rico try to strike it rich, Napoleon and his new friend Pedro Sanchez (Efren Ramirez) seek plans for the dance and also the school election. Napoleon is in between girlfriends…will he score big or will the local entrepreneur Deb Bradshaw (Tina Majorino) catch his eye?
Directed by Jared Hess, Napoleon Dynamite premiered at Sundance and adapted aspects of a shorter film by Hess called Peluca. The low-budget film ended up with big box office returns and became a success with a cult following. There was some debate around the film’s title characters since Napoleon Dynamite was a pseudonym for Elvis Costello which Hess said he didn’t know and there were also some lawsuits involving the profits.
I honestly didn’t want to like Napoleon Dynamite. I saw the trailers long before the movie hit theaters and felt it was trying way too hard. I also was a big Rushmore fan and some of the style and story elements appeared to be in the story. I saw Napoleon Dynamite and surprisingly liked it. I saw it again and liked it even more.
What works about Napoleon Dynamite isn’t that it looks good (it does look pretty good), or that the story is good (it is rather average), but all the actors give themselves to their characters 100%. It is in that aspect that it is like Rushmore. If they didn’t make you believe in them, even the minor characters, this movie would fall apart.
Heder s great as the mouth-breathing Napoleon that is a legend in his own mind. His name is on the movie and he owned the part, but you can’t say that almost every supporting character didn’t try to steal the spotlight. Efren Ramirez is also strong as Napoleon’s friend and fellow outcast. Together, they are like a really dorky Butch & Sundance, but you have to admire Pedro’s optimism (going for the “hottest” girl and running for president). It obviously worked since “Vote for Pedro” shirts still pop up every once in a while. Kip is just fun. I love even little scenes including his longing looks toward his nachos and Napoleon interrupts his busy day…little nuances in everyone’s peroformances are well worth second viewings. Bisaccio as Uncle Rico is fun, but of the major characters, he’s the most grating, and probably the creepiest with his pedofile-esque look and behavior. Tina Majorino does a great turn as the side ponytail Deb who is just as backwards as Napoleon.
Napoleon Dynamite is a fun little movie that caught fire. For a while people were quoting it regularly, and it suffered from Austin Powers syndrome. It got a little overplayed at the time of its release, but now a number of years later it is worth revisiting. The series got a little resurgence in 2012 with the release of an animated series for Fox which reunited the cast in the voice work. The series was a bomb and quickly cancelled, but hopefully, it won’t reflect badly on Napoleon or his fun brethren. Just remember…Vote for Pedro!