The big question surrounding the premiere of Fox's Napoleon Dynamite animated series is... why? Why is a cartoon based on Jared Hess's no-budget comedy arriving on TV a full eight years after the live-action version became a surprise box-office hit? Certainly, the last attempt to translate a popular, Sundance-approved indie flick to animation (Kevin Smith's short-lived Clerks cartoon) didn't work out all that well, although that show's failure had as much to do with behind-the-scenes problems between the creators and the network as it did with low ratings. In contrast, Fox seems to have left Hess and his original Dynamite team (including his wife and co-writer, Jerusha Hess, and much of the movie's cast, from star Jon Heder and his sidekick Efren Ramirez to love interest Tina Majorino and popular girl Haylie Duff) pretty much alone to recapture the odd, offbeat sensibility that made the movie such a success.
"Odd" and "offbeat" are definitely two words that summarize the series. "Inconsequential" and "forgettable" would be two more. Honestly, the animated Napoleon Dynamite is probably one of the least objectionable midseason shows around, in that the two episodes Fox premiered last night at least offered a few solid chuckles and didn't desecrate the source material that so many people flipped for back in '04. At the same time though, neither episode is funny or clever enough to really justify the show's existence. The deadpan sense of humor that the Hesses specialize in doesn't translate particularly well to animation and neither does their use of lo-fi props, costumes and production design (think Napoleon's liger sketches, his T-shirt collection and even his wild 'fro) for comedy. The contrast between the normalcy of Napoleon's small-town surroundings and the sheer oddity of himself and his family and friends is what gave the movie its comic charge. Now that these walking cartoons are literally starring in a cartoon, they're simply not as funny.
But hey, whatever its issues, Napoleon Dynamite is an instant improvement over the show it's replacing, Jonah Hill's obnoxious Allen Gregory. And as we said, there were several moments that were genuinely amusing. Here are the five lines of dialogue from the series premiere "Thundercone" and the follow-up episode, "Scantronica Love" that best captured that vintage Napoleon Dynamite vibe:
"Quit bothering the pharmacist -- he probably has student loans to worry about." -- Uncle Rico after Napoleon buys a dangerous brand of zit cream.
"Sweet! My rage has never been unbridled." -- Napoleon after applying said zit cream to his forehead and experiencing the unbridled rage warned about on the box.
"So you want me to go back in time 20 years and kill the Idaho state legislature?" -- Napoleon after his coach explains the history of the Pioneer Punch Club, a fight club that dates back to pioneer times, but was outlawed by the state.
"She has a name Kip. I just don't know what it is." -- Napoleon after Kip accuses him of stealing his woman.
"Pizzaritaville's not about pizza. It's about a town. I think they're from there."- Kip, defending the artistic integrity of his favorite band, Goof Nutz Pizza's in-house animatronic (or are they?) animal band.
"'Call Kip Create/Don't you wait/He'll be on time/He's never late!' I'll never write anything that good again." -- Uncle Rico's jingle for Kip's new magic act and subsequent disappointment after shooting his creative wad.
"I know Scantronica will be right about me and Summer. As soon as she stops crying." Pedro, after the Scantronica love machine pairs him with his blonde dream girl.
"I want to make everything I say sound like a question?" -- Napoleon's scientifically-selected Japanese girlfriend about what he wants to learn from American culture.
"That's it, students! Enjoy each other! Reap while the corn still grows high!" -- Professor Koontz observing the successful pairings inspired by his Scanitron machine.
"I owe you an apology. I'm sorry that I was right all along. That machine is stupid." -- Napoleon's non-apology apology designed to get Deb out of being "promised" to Don.
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