Napoleon Dynamite is a film directed by Jared Hess, based on his earlier short film, Peluca. Napoleon was filmed in the summer of 2003 in and around Preston, Idaho.
It made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2004 and was released to theaters in June 2004. The film's budget was only $400,000. The DVD was released on December 21, 2004.
In 2005, it won 3 MTV Movie Awards, for Breakthrough Male Performance, Best Musical Performance, and Best Movie. This film is number 14 on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies ".
On May 16th, 2006, Fox released a special collectors edition of the film in collectible packaging in Region 1 (Paramount holds the rights in most countries outside of the US and Canada).
Although not primarily a plot-driven film, this movie follows the protagonist Napoleon Dynamite, a socially clumsy and shy high school student with a passion for drawing and telling implausible stories. The film showcases Napoleon's personality and circle of equally quirky friends, family, and associates in his hometown of Preston, Idaho; and also shows how Napoleon helps his friend, Pedro Sanchez, succeed in the school presidential election. The movie is semi-autobiographical. As the filmmakers state in the DVD commentaries, much of their own social awkwardness growing up in Idaho was the inspiration for the characters.
One subplot of Napoleon Dynamite concerns Pedro Sanchez's (Efren Ramirez) quest to become student body president of Preston High School. The film follows Napoleon's classmates Pedro and Deb (Tina Majorino) as they all become friends. Throughout the film, Napoleon pursues Deb as a love interest. As Jon Heder jokingly said in an interview: "I think they might one day find it in their hearts to unite for eternity."
Napoleon lives with his 32-year-old geekish brother Kip, and their grandmother, who sends their Uncle Rico, an ex-high school quarterback with shattered dreams of stardom on the football field, to look after them when she is hospitalized following an all-terrain vehicle accident. The unemployed Kip spends most of his day "chattin' with babes" on the Internet—with his successful Internet romance serving as one of several subplots within the movie.
* Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder), the film's protagonist, is a stereotypical geek who enjoys mundane diversions such as drawing creatures such as ligers (which he describes as his favorite animal), drinking milk, eating tater tots, and playing tetherball. As the film progresses, Napoleon develops an interest in hip-hop dancing, which proves valuable in securing his friend Pedro's eventual election as student body president. Napoleon has a flat, listless personality and poor social skills. His awkward appearance and behavior are the source of much of the film's comedy. He is active in the FFA and his school's sign language club (the "Happy Hands Club"), and has worked at least once at a local poultry farm. His best friends are Pedro and Deb.
* Pedro Sanchez (Efren Ramirez), a new student to Preston High, is originally from Mexico. He is occasionally the target of mild antagonism on the part of the school principal. His campaign for student body president becomes the main story halfway through the film. His cousins (credited as Cholo #1 and Cholo #2) assist Pedro in earning the students' loyalty by protecting a boy from bullying. Halfway through the film, Pedro shaves his head and wears a wig henceforth.
* Deb (Tina Majorino) is a shy and awkward schoolmate, a friend of Napoleon and possible love interest. She is interested in photography, and spends her time trying to earn money for college by operating a Glamour Shots franchise and selling boondoggle keychains. She often wears her hair in a single ponytail off to one side. Deb seems to be the most articulate character in the film.
* Kipland "Kip" Ronald Dynamite (Aaron Ruell) is Napoleon's wimpy older brother (said by Napoleon to be "like 32 years old") who enjoys chatting with women in chat rooms and claims to be training to become a cage fighter. He and Napoleon live with their grandmother. In one chat room he meets a woman, LaFawnduh Lucas, and, in a post-credits scene, they wed.
* Uncle Rico (Jon Gries) is the self-absorbed uncle of Napoleon and Kip. When first seen, Rico is living in an large orange van in the middle of a field. He played football in high school ("back in '82"), and is constantly living in the past. He longs to go back in time and change his fortunes, certain he had the potential to join the NFL. Uncle Rico enjoys eating microwaved steak. He cares for Kip and Napoleon while their grandmother is in the hospital with a broken coccyx. During this time, he and Kip attempt a couple of business ventures: selling imitation Tupperware and herbal breast augmentation supplements. These ventures are largely unsuccessful, and Rico uses what money they do earn to buy a time machine on the Internet. To the chagrin of all, the machine fails to work, although the hoax was a very thorough one: the time machine was fully labeled, and came with an owner's manual and a set of "crystals" to fuel it. Rico very nearly ruins Napoleon and Deb's fledgling relationship when he tries to sell her one of his breast enlargement supplements, telling her Napoleon recommended her for them. This leads to Napoleon's attempt to kick Rico out of the house. Later, Uncle Rico is severely beaten by Rex after he tries to sell the supplements to his girlfriend Starla. The last shot of Rico hints at his finding romance again.
* Summer Wheatley (Haylie Duff) is a stereotypical blonde against whom Pedro runs for class president. She is pretty, popular, and preppy.
* Don (Trevor Snarr) is Summer's cocky boyfriend. He helps Summer campaign for class president.
* Trisha Stevens (Emily Kennard) is one of Summer's good friends whose mother forces her to go with Napoleon to the school dance. She is a member of the "Happy Hands Club" along with Napoleon. Her mother is one of Uncle Rico's sales prospects.
* LaFawnduh Lucas (Shondrella Avery) is a woman Kip met over the Internet, with the screen name "LaFawnDuh". She is tall, stylish, and black, in contrast with Kip's short stature, awkward demeanor, and pale complexion. After spending time with her, Kip changes his clothes and demeanor to mimic African-American or white rapper stereotypes. In the post-credit sequence, she and Kip wed.
* Rex (Diedrich Bader) is sensei of the "Rex Kwon Do" martial arts dojo. He is an ex-'ultimate fighter' and charges a large fee for his services ($300 for an 8-week program). He is a very confident man and is married to Starla (Carmen Brady), a female bodybuilder.
* Grandma (Sandy Martin) is Napoleon and Kip's single grandmother. She breaks her coccyx on a jump while driving a Quad (ATV) at the sand dunes while on a date. According to Rico, there is a lot Napoleon and Kip do not know about her.
* Randy (Bracken Johnson) is the school bully. He frequently hurts and steals from Napoleon and other students.
* Tina ("Dolly") is the stubborn alpaca that belongs to Napoleon's grandmother.
* Lyle (Dale Critchlow) is a neighborhood farmer who regularly supplies Napoleon's family with steak. He has no qualms about slaughtering his cattle in broad daylight, to the horror of local schoolchildren.
Preston, Idaho is a real town located near the Utah border, and is predominantly Mormon. Since the release of Napoleon Dynamite, it has become a tourist attraction of sorts, with the school, Preston High School, being a main feature. In April 2005, the Idaho state legislature approved a resolution commending the filmmakers for producing Napoleon Dynamite, specifically enumerating the benefits the movie has brought to Idaho as well as for showcasing various aspects of Idaho's culture and economy. On June 24-25, 2005, Preston held a Napoleon Dynamite Festival celebrating the film. An estimated 6,000 people attended the two-day event. Then on July 8th, 2006, Preston held another festival, but it was not as successful as the previous year.
The film displays some quirky references to Mormon popular culture. Napoleon uses euphemisms like flip, gosh, and heck that are common in (though far from exclusive to) Latter-day Saint circles; examples would include the lines "what the flip was Grandma doing at the sand dunes?" and "Heck yes; I'd vote for you."
Napoleon is seen wearing a t-shirt that reads "Ricks College," the former junior college located in Rexburg, Idaho now known as BYU Idaho. In the DVD extras, there is an interview with Jon Heder in which he jokes that perhaps Napoleon and Deb may be "sealed for time and all eternity"—a reference to the Latter-day Saint belief in "eternal marriage" or "sealing" performed in the Church’s temples. The principal's reference to "Juarez"—where he assumes Pedro is from—may be a reference to Colonia Juarez, a Latter-day Saint colony in Mexico founded in the nineteenth century. Characters, even those intended to be the popular girls, do not wear shorts any shorter than knee-length. Fashions in LDS culture tend to be more modest than those of popular culture. Napoleon goes to Deseret Industries, a thrift store operated by the LDS Church, to buy his famous suit. At the same time, the director seems to have taken care to not project an overt presence of Latter-day Saint/Mormon culture. Crosses and statue images pertaining to other Christian churches are placed prominently in some scenes, particularly at Pedro's house, which is full of Roman Catholic iconography.
While the film is set in the present day, it contains many anachronisms. For example, the music playing at the school dance is from the 1980s, featuring "Forever Young" by Alphaville and Cyndi Lauper's "Time after Time" performed by Sparklemotion. Other vestiges of earlier decades include fashion trends that reflect those of the 70s and 80s, and the top-loading VCR in the Dynamite residence that resembles those from the early 1980s. Throwbacks to the 1990s come from music by the Backstreet Boys when the two girls were dancing to Max Martin and Jay Orpin's "Larger than Life" and Jamiroquai used in the choreography of Summer and Pedro's skits (their song "Canned Heat" is used for the scene in which Napoleon dances). Also, the TV resembles a model of the early 1990s and some of the shows resemble 1999 pop culture, especially the exercise commercials. The type of imitation Tupperware Uncle Rico is seen selling door-to-door has not been available for purchase for many years. Kip does use the Internet for dating and purchasing a "time machine". However, the style of computer is arguably from the mid to late 1990s and he is using a dial up internet service that charges users by the minute, a practice uncommon in the US since the late 1990s. On the other hand, the hydraulically equipped Pontiac in which Napoleon gets a lift to the dance—and the music playing therein—are phenomena roughly contemporary to the film's 2004 release. Finally, Napoleon's school ID card, as shown in the opening credits, clearly reads "2004/2005," unambiguously setting the movie in the present day, despite the film's abundance of elements suggesting otherwise.
The retro aspects of the movie have been suggested by some to be a depiction of cultural stagnation such as that seen in areas without immediate connection to culturally fast-paced areas like major cities (rural and midwestern America being an appropriate example), or an homage to similar genre films of the 1980s, such as Ferris Bueller's Day Off. The films of Wes Anderson, for instance, have the same outdated electronics/music/clothing while still taking place in the present. When asked when his movie was set, writer/director Jared Hess simply replied, "Idaho."
All the characters of Napoleon Dynamite experience a rite of passage. Virtually everyone in the movie is stuck either in the '80s era or a past state-of-mind. This is evident in Deb's fashion sense (her hair and wardrobe), Uncle Rico's appearance and wistfulness, Kip's fashion sense (a nerdy, retro wardrobe and excessively large glasses), and Pedro's bewilderment at being reprimanded for practicing a "Mexican tradition". Toward the end of the movie, however, everyone snaps out of the past and into the present: Kip unites with LaFawnduh and subsequently adopts a new style, Rico's finds love again, Deb dons a new hair style, Pedro wins over his new classmates, and the popular crowd becomes integrated with those previously considered unpopular.
Although presented subtly, diversity is a common theme in the film: Kip finds love in African-American culture; Pedro, a Mexican, triumphs over the stereotypical blonde-haired American cheerleader. The uniting nature of diversity is more clearly expressed in a scene after the end credits in which Kip and LaFawnduh are married, where people of all backgrounds come together to celebrate within the predominantly white town.
The movie also focuses on Napoleon's inability to fit in, even amongst his family. He is shown being put down by his grandmother, brother and uncle, and also shown being bullied by students at school. Kip and Napoleon had been shown to be almost close, but as soon as Uncle Rico moves in (which Napoleon is upset about, and Kip is not), Kip and Rico bond and start raising money together, through a number of shady deals, and they do not talk when Napoleon is in the room. The film shows the "popular" characters all playing basketball and talking together, as Napoleon plays tetherball by himself; this shot is used numerous times. And Napoleon is often shown running, even if there is nowhere to go. Examples of this are shown when he runs the first few steps to go feed Tina, and as he decides to turn around before picking Trisha up for the school dance.
Critics were somewhat divided in their opinions of Napoleon Dynamite. Some praised the movie for its unconventional humor, while others decried the film for much the same reason. It garnered a 71% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Michael Atkinson of The Village Voice praised the film as "an epic, magisterially observed pastiche on all-American geekhood, flooring the competition with a petulant shove." Highlighting the opposing opinion, Keith Phipps of The Onion A.V. Club commented that "a seemingly ill-considered run for class president that provides Napoleon Dynamite's only semblance of a plot. It also allows the film to score some unearned points by taking a stand against the inevitable, dull tyranny of the popular kids. If this didn't seem so much like a film made to make those same kids bust a gut laughing at nerds, the ploy might even have worked."
* Napoleon is parodied in the February 2006 comedy Date Movie, only the T-shirt said Don't Vote for Pedro. He was played by comedian Josh Meyers.
* In Ultimate Spider-Man Annual #1 a character resembling Napoleon Dynamite is seen in the background (pg. 10, second-to-last panel). The character has a "Vote for Pedro" T-Shirt and Napoleon's same tired demeanor but a different hair style.
* In 2005, ice cream makers Ben & Jerry's unveiled a new flavor entitled "Neapolitan Dynamite", a pun on the film's title.
* Jon Heder and Efren Ramirez reprised their roles in the Adult Swim show Robot Chicken, which involved Napoleon playing his namesake.
* The introduction to the MTV Movie Awards featured a skit with Jimmy Fallon being cut into scenes from Batman Begins; the skit ends with Batman revealing himself as Napoleon Dynamite. "Who the heck did you think was Batman? Superman?" The skit is available on the DVD of Batman Begins and the Napoleon Dynamite special edition DVD.
* In the music video for the Gorillaz song "Dirty Harry", 2D performs a portion of the Happy Hands routine.
* In the episode called "Chew on This" of My Gym Partner's a Monkey, the animals wanting Adam's tater tots seemingly spoofs this movie.
* In an ad for the 3 Mobile Network, a man dressed as Napoleon Dynamite appears briefly as a member of an "ancient distant family".
* Napoleon Dynamite made a cameo in the final episode of Teen Titans, "Things Change", in addition to a "Vote for Pedro" poster.
* IBM used a quotation from Napoleon Dynamite as a cipher to encrypt the XML feed from Wimbledon 2006. The passphrase was "Knock it off, Napoleon! Just make yourself a dang quesa-dilluh!"
* The New York Mets used the phrase "Vote for Pedro" to encourage fans to fill out All-Star ballots in 2005 for Mets players such as pitcher Pedro Martinez. It should be noted that fans only vote for position players; pitchers are selected by the All-Star managers. The San Francisco Giants also staged a similar campaign for utility infielder-outfielder Pedro Feliz, who was not eligible for the ballot because he did not regularly play any one position.
* The dance Napoleon performs is the basis for the "Dance" command in the MMORPGs World of Warcraft (for male Blood Elves) and Guild Wars Factions (for male ritualists).
* In the South Park episode "Trapped in the Closet", Stan assesses Tom Cruise's acting skills by saying "I mean, you're not Gene Hackman or that guy who played Napoleon Dynamite, but you're okay."
The name "Napoleon Dynamite" is pseudonym used by Elvis Costello on the back of the album Blood and Chocolate. Jared Hess has denied that this was his source for the name, once claiming that rather, the name came from an old Italian man he met in Chicago, and that the Elvis Costello connection is some sort of odd coincidence.
Heder has recently appeared in a skit shown at a conference where Bill Gates was presenting Windows Vista. The skit is just 5 minutes of Napoleon Dynamite if he was going to become head of Microsoft. Bill Gates plays himself but it seems that he's the "Kip" of the skit. It was leaked online. Jon Heder and Efren Ramirez also reprised their roles in a series of commercials advertising the 2005 Utah State Fair. Heder had appeared as Napoleon on CBS's The Late Show With David Letterman to do the Top Ten List (which was "Top Ten Signs You're Not The Most Popular Kid in High School") at the time of the first DVD release of the film.
British film director Alex Cox has stated that Napoleon is a tribute to a scarily similar character in his 1984 cult classic Repo Man. The film also has a character by the name of Napoleon.
The character of Kip (played by Aaron Ruell) was based on impersonations and ideas of Ruell's younger brother. The scene involving the time machine was a real story that occurred with Ruell's brothers and himself. Ruell was the one that plugged in his little brother and shocked him.
According to members of the band Patrick Street, their recording of "Music for a Found Harmonium" was used in the movie without credit to or permission from them for the performance. As of 2006, the band says, lawyers are sorting out the ramifications. This song, originally written by Penguin Cafe Orchestra, does not appear on the soundtrack album. The version in the movie, which is a guitar arrangement, appears to be from the album "The Celts Rise Again".
Jon Heder lied to the cast and crew and said he got his hair permed for Napoleon at the same place he got it done for the short film Peluca. When he arrived for the first day of shooting his hair "looked like Shirley Temple's hair," said director Jared Hess.
Jon Heder freestyled most of his dance routine with the help of Tina Majorino (Deb), who is a hip-hop instructor. Some of the moves included were inspired by *NSYNC and Michael Jackson. Heder mentioned in a post-production interview that he figured "almost half" of the dance moves came from watching John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever (which incidentally was released by Paramount Pictures, the international distributors of Napoleon Dynamite). Jon Heder danced to three different songs for the ending dance sequence which was later synced to Jamiroquai's Canned Heat.
Jon Gries and Efren Ramirez wore wigs for the role of Uncle Rico and Pedro. The wigs attracted flies throughout filming, as seen in the film. The sound designer put in many fly buzzing sounds throughout the film as the flies are shown.
The lady on the bicycle who approaches Rico near the end of the film is his ex-wife, who is mentioned earlier in the movie. She was played by Aaron Ruell's (Kip's) wife, Julia Ruell.
The "Happy Hands" Club was inspired by a real club at Preston High School called the "Good Hands" Club. They have started an actual "Happy Hands Club" since.
An * denotes a song that is not in the soundtrack album.
* "We're Going to Be Friends" by The White Stripes*
* "A-Team Theme"
* "Forever Young" by Alphaville
* "Larger than Life" by Backstreet Boys*
* "Design" by Fiction Company
* "Canned Heat" by Jamiroquai
* "So Ruff, So Tuff" by Zapp and Roger*
* "Time after Time" by Cyndi Lauper
* "The Rose" by Bette Midler*
* "Light In Your Eyes" by Sheryl Crow*
* "Music for a Found Harmonium" by Patrick Street*
* "The Promise" by When In Rome