It makes sense, in an appropriately odd way, that "Napoleon Dynamite," the off-kilter cult movie comedy about an endlessly awkward teenage outcast, is set for a new life as a TV cartoon. Part of the 2004 flick's quirky charm rested in the juxtaposition of cartoonish characters and a bleak setting that was anything but animated.
We'll soon see whether the show, slated to debut Sunday on Fox, is, to quote Napoleon’s favorite expression, "Sweet!" But there's reason for hope the movie misfit will find his place on TV.
The original "Napoleon Dynamite" team, including filmmaker Jared Hess and star Jon Heder, is behind the effort to squeeze Napoleon into a Fox Sunday night cartoon line-up that includes such broader, more established fare as "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy." But Napoleon's kindred cartoon souls – and perhaps the best harbingers of his potential success – can be found on MTV, where Beavis and Butt-head are in the midst of a comeback after a 14-year absence.
Both "Napoleon" and "Beavis" mine comedy from bored, disaffected teens with delusions of grandeur who mock the stupidity surrounding them, even as they unwittingly contribute to the general idiocy quotient.
While Beavis and Butt-head live in front of the TV, Napoleon occupies a cheerless stretch of Idaho, with a bevy of eccentric role models – a much older brother who finds an unlikely love match online, an uncle who lives in a van and wallows in memories of high school football stardom and a moronic martial arts instructor. But at least there are dreams mushrooming under Napoleon's puffy shock of hair. We’re looking forward to seeing his sketched version of the liger – part lion, part tiger and all magic – come to life.
The challenge for the "Napoleon Dynamite" crew will be to create and sustain the low-key magic of a peculiar low-budget movie whose strange hold on many of us defies reasonable explanation. Napoleon Dynamite beat the odds before, getting his underdog friend Pedro elected student body president with a dance routine that's a revenge-of-the-nerd classic. We laughed with him and at him, and that's kind of sweet, if not in the Napoleonic sense.
The movie's tagline – "He's out to prove he's got nothing prove" – fits a character who somehow wildly exceeded our low expectations the first time around. We're willing to give the cartoon a chance to live up to the same billing. In the meantime, as you consider whether to vote for Pedro, check out the preview below:
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.