Sunday, August 17, 2014

CARTOON REVIEW: NAPOLEON DYNAMITE (The Series)

I wonder if they can get Rico some Suave while they're there?

I told you I was going to do it. If I was going to review Napoleon Dynamite the movie, I made up my mind to review Napoleon Dynamite the cartoon. I'm sure at least seven others recall it.

As we know, the original movie was quite successful when it came out. Given how neatly the story wrapped up (Pedro wins the election, Napoleon and Deb patch things up, Kip lands a girlfriend, etc.), there wasn't much room for continuing the story... yet they did anyway.

Eight years later.

That was one thing that did this show in: it hit TV too late. By 2012, Nappy D had settled from a pop culture phenomenon to just a cult classic. Not exactly a smart move.

Another thing that killed this show? It played on FOX. The curse of FOX is pretty simple to understand: if your show plays on that network, there is a substantial chance that it will get cancelled before it can accrue a following (Firefly being an exception as it had one) or keep it on the air for so long that people will be in the streets demanding it to be given the ax.

*Death Glare*

The decisions behind airing this show were as questionable as can be, but what of the quality of the show itself?

THE SHOW


Well, one thing the cartoon had going for it was casting. Almost every actor from the movie returns to reprise their respective roles (Jon Heder as Napoleon, Jon Gries as Uncle Rico, Tina Majorino as Deb etc.). The only exception was Don (originally played by Trevor Snarr), Summer's jock boyfriend and fellow Popular, now played by Nappy D co-creator Jared Hess.

For the most part, this is a continuation of the movie: the characters know each other, stuff that happened in the film are referenced (Napoleon's dance), but LaFawnduh was totally ignored. 

I'm not making this up: in the first episode Kip dates another woman called Misty (and, no, we ain't talking Pokemon here) and has gone back to dressing like a dweeb:


Did a wormhole open up while they were riding away on that horse, suck her in, and erase all memories of her? 
Was she NOT his soul mate like he claimed? 
Did producer Mike Scully do what Thomas Jefferson did with the Bible and remove the stuff he didn't like?
To quote AOSTH Robotnik... "WHY? WHY? WHY!?"

So yeah. Much of the latter stages of the movie were ignored for reasons unknown.

Also, it would seem that Rico's girlfriend dumped him again and he's back to hanging around Napoleon and Kip. 


The character personalities are also a bit of a mixed bag. Napoleon's still a monotone geek who loves ligers and has a hushed affinity for Oriental melee weapons; Pedro's more or less the same as he was in the movie; Summer is still a vapid Popular that dislikes Napoleon; Rico's still a moocher trying to find quick bucks. Kip, as stated above, has reverted to his pre-LaFawnduh status of loser big brother and does the added bonus of taking his dates to Chuck E. Cheese clones for dinner. Don has been merged with the bit player Randy (Randy was just a run-of-the-mill bully in the film, so there wasn't a lot to discuss). Deb, however, was given a closeted love for Napoleon. It MIGHT have developed between movie and series in-universe, but no mention of it was made before.


What about the writing? Since this show only lasted six episodes, I can briefly go over each.

1: THUNDERCONE


Napoleon fights Kip over the last fried chicken breast they got at a convenience store. Kip throws the greasy skin on his brother's forehead, causing Napoleon to get a big pimple problem. Rico buys Napoleon a recently banned acne cream called Rack-u-tane that makes the user stronger and more aggressive (Wasn't this kind of stuff somewhat common on Futurama?). After showing off the Rack-u-tane's enhancements during PE, Napoleon's coach sends him to a secret fight club run by Rex, founder of Rex Kwan Do.

While all this is going on, Kip has landed a date with a girl (the aforementioned Misty). It turns out that she's nuts and is attracted to physical strength (regardless of gender or marriage). When Napoleon, empowered by the ointment, draws Misty's attention, Kip tries to get back at his brother.

The Brothers Dynamite duke it out in the fight club's arena, the Thundercone (Doe ho ho), which goes down the road to pathetic when Kip uses up all the cream (got a little chuckle out of me, for what it was worth).

Also, the end credits for this one was cute. I won't spoil.

2: Scantronica Love



The school brings in a really 80's-looking scantron to pair up the students in some bogus love experiment (a sentiment shared by Napoleon). Pedro lands Summer (much to little miss Popular's chagrin... and MY amusement), Deb gets Don, and Napoleon winds up with a Japanese exchange student called Tokiko.

Everyone tries to warm up to their partners, but when Napoleon learns that Tokiko only came to America in order to learn how to act like a stereotypical American teenage girl, Napoleon realizes that Mr. Pornstache in the picture above was full of crap. To everyone else (including Deb) it seems to be accurate.

Summer and Pedro break up in a split second and join forces with Napoleon to save Deb from promising to promise to marry Don (yes, you read that correctly), leading to the climax on Don's houseboat.

I think I've seen the whole "computer/inanimate object tells you how to run your life" plot on Doug and Hey Arnold! years ago. The message I got from them AND this was the same: COMPUTERS KNOW NOTHING!

Oh, there was also a subplot about Rico and Kip trying to make money with a fushigi ball. Go figure!

3: Ligertown


The episode begins with the lowest point of the show: trying to see what happens if you try to fart, sneeze, burp, and yawn at the same time. Fortunately, it doesn't get dragged out like many other bodily jokes on that same animation block. But the act breaks Granny Dynamite's transition lenses and Napoleon has to find an after-school job to pay for them. He lands a job on the only liger farm in Idaho. Much to his anger, the ligers have gotten lazy. When he finds out one is in labor and has its baby, Napoleon faints.

While passed out, Napoleon gets a vision from the first (and only humanoid) liger, Shasta, who wants Napoleon to train the newborn to be what a liger is supposed to be; he takes it home with him when he regains consciousness. After he fails to feed Shasta steak and Deb gives him milk from Tina the llama. The milk gives the cub a huge amount of spunk. It roars, causing its mother to hear him at the farm. The ligers join together and wreak havoc on Preston, trying to find the cub. When the havoc forces the mayor to flee to Orlando, Pedro becomes leader of the town ("Student Body President" is on the town's chain of command). Will the cub be returned to its mother before Preston's reduced to rubble?

Despite the considerably rocky start this episode had (and the incident was mentioned twice as it progressed), it's actually one of the better episodes! The gags with the town going nuts as the ligers wrecked the place were really amusing... especially the mayor's flight to Orlando!

4: Pedro vs. Deb


Napoleon and Deb are working for Preston Senior High's struggling newspaper. Deb needs a big story to save it and Napoleon suggests a pretty, well, Napoleonesque story, but she refuses. Instead, she follows Pedro around all day interviewing him. When this bears nothing of interest, Pedro comforts her, saying that it isn't her fault that Preston's so boring. Ultimately, she takes him out of context and makes it the paper's headline. Thus, the two friends become enemies.

Because of that newspaper article, the whole town turns against Pedro. Napoleon tries to get everyone to forgive him with the dance he gave at the end of the movie, complete with LaFawnduh's tape (She's not in this show, so what's the point?). Pedro and Deb refuse to make amends and demand that Napoleon chose between them. Will Preston continue to hate Pedro or will it take a monster to reforge his and Deb's bonds of camaraderie?

Meanwhile, Kip wants to exercise his Second Amendment rights.

Apart from a noticeable hiccup, this episode was okay. It had this little joke that put a twist on the whole Blair Witch Project concept. The friends-no-more idea, however, has been done a million times: A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, Rugrats, and a mess of others; you know how it will end.

5: Bed Races


Granny Dynamite has won Preston's annual Bed Race six years straight. Rico really wants to win and even goes as far as to cheat by throwing an X-Ray blanket on Granny's bed. Rico becomes the talk of the town and Granny becomes your regular old woman. While Rico gets all kinds of free stuff, Napoleon becomes increasingly concerned about his grandmother's behavior. When the town threatens to mulch the hedge sculpture of her due to her defeat, Napoleon cracks and admits that he and his uncle cheated. Granny goes back to normal and rushes to save her sculpture! Will the Dynamites make it in time?

I've seen this cheating-a-friend-to-win-a-race concept was tackled earlier in an episode of Rocket Power, sans the dreams about napkin dispensers and random stuff talking. But that episode didn't include the Rico Shuffle!

I don't know why, but this made me laugh.

6: FFA


Napoleon's original partner in this upcoming Future Farmers of America competition drops out when the Populars make fun of their uniforms. He turns to Pedro, who agrees to come with him. Unfortunately, Napoleon's rival at the FFA, Filson, shows up. Filson's a rebel, dressing against regulation and showing off. Napoleon's efforts at the competition are further at stake when the Egg Queen starts hitting on him... little does he know she's working for Filson! Will Napoleon and Pedro be able to beat Filson or just get buried up to their necks and use their heads as weapons?

At the same time, the Dynamite residence is infested with Granddaddy Longlegs and has to be fumigated; until the spiders are gone, the Dynamites have to live in Rico's van.

The final episode of the show was pretty good. Not 100% certain about the way Napoleon reacted to when the Egg Queen starting hitting on him (then again, adolescent romance was something the movie never played up), but the way Napoleon's plot ends... well, I'll just say it's a nice call back to the way the movie ended. Had a few chuckles in this one, but the Granny/Kip/Rico plot is where this one shined.


VERDICT

Some people think this wasn't very good, but I wouldn't sell it so short. Let's face it, Allen Gregory is a hundred times worse. 

Does it have its flaws? Sure: unexplained exclusion of LaFawnduh, the fact that a bunch of the concepts that were seen numerous times before, not to mention the stupid simultaneous burp/fart/yawn/sneeze thing from the third episode. Furthermore, the fact that it aired so long after the movie didn't help audience participation (it was clobbered in the ratings) and the funding went to Bob's Burgers.

I'll also give the show some points for trying to keep the humor clean as it could. It still got a TV-14 rating sometimes due to the inclusion of stuff like guns and some double entendres, but compared to stuff like Family Guy/American Dad/The Cleveland Show and The Simpsons, it's really tame. I think the strongest swear I'd heard in it was either "crap" or "pissed". Call me a softie or something, but I have a lot of respect for shows that try to be funny without resorting to sex and bawdy stuff (though most of that can be attributed to the Hess Brothers' Mormon background).

That being said, the humor can be hit-and-miss. Some said that the animated gags don't work in a spin-off of a movie that was mostly a slice-of-life piece. I tend to disagree, the ending to "Thundercone" was kind of cool and the method they used to get on Don's houseboat was neat... but when the jokes fell flat, they fell flat.

Usually, the crew did a good job in recapturing the spirit of the original movie. An unnecessary follow-up? Maybe. But it was nice to see the characters again (though there were some minor changes to Deb's character). Perhaps if it came out around 2005 or early 2006 when Napoleon Dynamite was still fresh in people's heads, it could have done better. But alas!

For me, the cartoon was just okay; it wasn't great, yet not as terrible as it could have been. You'd be more likely to enjoy the cartoon if you loved the movie. But then again, that's just me.



I'm DLAbaoaqu. Heck yes!


Napoleon Dynamite (2012 TV) is owned by Jared and Jerusha Hess and FOX.

2 comments:

  1. I remember this show. I actually liked it. Sure, it was terrible in the ratings and FOX abandoned it, but it was a guilty pleasure of mine. At least it isn't Allen Gregory (*1 Night in Gotlieb flashbacks**shudders*)

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