Rick Bentley, McClatchy Newspapers, Published January 14 2012
Fox series gives an improbable second act to ‘Napoleon Dynamite’
John Heder has reunited with the entire cast – including Aaron Ruell (Kip) and “Vote for Pedro’s” Efren Ramirez – to provide the voices for the animated version of the film. The already cartoonish Napoleon Dynamite, and the gang, can be seen when the series debuts with back-to-back episodes starting tonight on Fox.
There was talk of making a live-action sequel when “Dynamite” mania exploded after the movie was released in 2004. But, it never happened, so Heder, Ruell and Ramirez never expected to return to the roles. Heder and Ramirez went on to do other acting work, while Ruell shifted his attention back to his first creative love – photography – as acting’s always just been a passing interest for him.
Ruell says that “Napoleon Dynamite” seemed like it was so unique that there would never be another chance to play the roles. He became convinced of that with each passing year.
“I was like, that’s OK. It was fun,” Ruell says.
That it got a second life surprised the actors, but not that it came back in an animated form. It’s the best way to revive the characters since the story can continue the exploits of Dynamite in high school for as long as the series runs.
Ramirez believes that “Napoleon Dynamite” was such a phenomenon that there would have been no way to match it with another live-action version. It was so big that there were dolls, toys and loads of T-shirts featuring catch phrases from the movie. Some voters actually wrote in “Vote Pedro” on ballots.
When creator and director Jared Hess made the movie, he was a student who hoped his small film would play well enough at a film festival to help him get an agent and eventually more work.
“We didn’t anticipate at all that we would get into Sundance and then it would get picked up by Fox and then released and that people would like it and all that stuff,” Hess says. “It was all a dream come true.”
Heder didn’t even audition for the role of the lovable dork in “Napoleon Dynamite.” He was issued a mandate by Hess that he was going to be in the movie.
“I owe everything to the film. I wouldn’t have done all the other things I have done if it hadn’t been in that movie,” Heder says. “I was acting in college and studying animation. If the movie hadn’t happened, I probably would have gone down the road of being an animator.”
Heder first realized the movie was going to huge when it was screened at the Sundance Film Festival and the audience loved it. That was the first time he saw the film with people who weren’t friends, family or fellow film workers.
Sundance wasn’t as big a clue for Ruell. He figured if there was one audience that would embrace the quirkiness of the characters, it would be the festival folk. His realization came when the actors had to go through 360-degree body scans to create action figures of their characters.
Ramirez had two “ah-ha” moments.
“There was the first time I saw Denzel Washington wearing a ‘Vote for Pedro’ T-shirt,” Ramirez says. “Then there was the ‘War of the Worlds’ premiere and I met Sir Anthony Hopkins and he was wearing a ‘Vote for Pedro’ button. It was cool to see he had that.”