Viewpoint: New ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ cartoon better than expected


“Napoleon Dynamite,” FOX’s new animated series based on the 2004 hit movie, isn’t all that bad. In fact, it’s actually pretty funny at times.

But, to be fair, the initial expectation was probably pretty low, so maybe it’s only funny in comparison to that low bar.

Though FOX does have an affection for animated shows (“The Simpsons,” “Family Guy,” etc.) their decision to pick up “Napoleon Dynamite” is in some ways a head-scratcher. The unlikely cult classic was released only eight years ago — hardly enough time for nostalgia to settle in, or for its overly quoted one-liners to be funny again.

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Cast members Efren Ramirez, left, and Jon Heder, right, participate in a panel discussion for the Fox animated television show "Napoleon Dynamite" at the Fox Broadcasting Company Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour in Pasadena, Calif. on Jan. 8. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)
The new series debuted its first two episodes Sunday night, and if those episodes are any indication, the show will be hit and miss. The first episode was surprisingly funny; the second one was grasping at straws. But, given the subject matter, it could have been a lot worse, so overall it’s probably a win for FOX.

It doesn’t shy away from the lines that made it famous — plenty of “Sweet!”, “Gosh!” and so forth. At times the familiar catchphrases are actually pretty amusing. But, as expected, the whole affair is remarkably self-referential, which makes one wonder how quickly that comedic well will run dry. Llamas and chatting with babes online may only be funny for so long.

The show is actually at its best when it’s less like the film, and departs from the snail’s-pace style of the original. As well, the unusual film was actually semi-realistic in its portrayal of small Idaho towns. The new animated series, however, is more funny when it abandons that quasi-realism and operates completely outside the realm of plausibility.

Take the first episode, for instance, which shot gags and one-liners rapid fire. In the episode, Napoleon’s acne cream has an unexpected side-effect: unbridled rage (“Sweet! My rage has never been unbridled!” he exclaims). His newfound strength leads him to the Pioneer Punch Club, a secret fighting institution established by the town’s founders. In the process, he steals Kip’s new girlfriend, culminating in a Thunderdome-esque fight scene to close the episode. It’s all pretty ridiculous, but its inconceivability is what makes it entertaining. The Preston, Idaho, of the film was never this eventful.

The second episode, while still silly, was a little less absurd and had a slower pace. The lackadaisical mood may have worked for the film, but it doesn’t over a 20ish-minute story line. As the show goes forward, hopefully the creators will embrace the zaniness and feature more of Kip, who is hands down the most consistently funny character. If they do, “Napoleon Dynamite” has a chance at being “freakin’ sweet.”

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