Napoleon Dynamite: Animated Alienated Teen
Back in 2004, funny actor Jon Heder won the hearts of every teen who ever felt like a nerdy reject with his portrayal of loveable misfit Napoleon Dynamite. If you personally aren’t Napoleon, then you’ll recognize yourself and friends in some of his buddies.
Finally, eight years later, the ditzy dude is back in animated form on Fox TV with all the original actors voicing the characters: Efren Ramirez (original Pedro), Tina Majorino (original Deb), Jon Gries (original Uncle Rico), Aaron Ruell (original Kip), Diedrich Bader (Original Rex), and Sandy Martin (original grandma).
The actors told press about the show recently in Pasadena.
Q: Jon, why come back with an animated show rather than a movie sequel?
Jon Heder: It’s like having the animated world, we can do anything. We can introduce new characters. I’ve never explored more emotions in Napoleon than in doing the animated series. He cries and he giggles, and he laughs, and he gets really, really angry.
Q: What are everyone’s cartoon influences growing up?
Jon: I grew up on “The Simpsons” and I loved Otto. Being a high schooler, he was the closest to me.
Tina: I watched really silly ones. I kind of wish that I could be in like the gang of “Scooby-Doo” or like be a co-host for “Space Ghost Coast to Coast,” stuff like that. I would imagine myself as a cartoon, just being a part of whatever cartoon I was watching. So this is literally like a childhood dream come true for me. It’s so awesome.
Sandy Martin: I was Mighty Mouse, and we had a cereal in the ’50s, and it was called Jets, and if you ate that, you could fly. I liked Mighty Mouse. I took a dive off the couch and spent the next three days in traction.
Efren Ramirez: A lot of the cartoons I think of were the “Transformers” or “G.I. Joe”. Maybe Pedro is Jonny Quest. I could think about other actors like Charlie Chaplin because they’re very funny themselves, and in one aspect, they had their own physical humor.
Q: Can some of you guys talk about taking the live characters you played in the original film and turning them into animated versions? Was that a challenge?
Tina: I had fun doing mine because my character was like very monotone and still, which was really fun and challenging for me to do in the film because you don’t realize how hard it is to be that still. I didn’t realize how much I talk with my hands until I was playing Deb, and then I had to calm that down. So then [the showrunners] came up with that she’s Perky Deb now. So I actually get to have more of like a higher, excited voice.
It’s really, really fun because I’m playing the same character, and there’s that same sweetness to her. She’s the same person, but it was challenging for me to evolve her a little bit. And, man, I didn’t realize that sometimes I would lose my voice from being so perky. You don’t realize how straining it is, but it was really, really fun because I got to change it up a little bit. It was cool.
Aaron Ruell: Kip is very different in animated form. Kip is a really quiet guy in the film, and he is in the animated series as well, but I found that there were times where I had to really project as Kip a lot more, which was a bit difficult because it doesn’t really sound like Kip when he’s kind of being forceful or strong. But it does lend itself to the animated form to go that direction with it. So there definitely is a shift between what was in the film and how it is now.
Jon Gries: I’m a really physical actor. It’s very difficult for me to make that transition. It was very hard in the beginning.
Diedrich Bader: I am a cartoon. That’s all I’ve ever played, are really cartoonish characters, so for me it was just exactly the same.
Jon Heder: Well, your character (Rex) is the loudest character in the film. I think that was the biggest challenge for everyone. Everyone was so quiet in the film. I just remember when we first started recording and we were all there and [the director] is like “Okay, just louder.” I was right next to Aaron’s booth, and in my head I’m like, “Aaron, just go louder, just go louder. I don’t have all day.”
Jon Gries: You feel like you’re yelling sometimes.
Q: Diedrich, you’ve done a whole lot of voice work. Is this the first time you’ve played a character in both mediums; live action and animation?
Diedrich: Yes and it’s really cool. From now on, I just want to be animated. It was interesting to have a cast that’s mostly on-camera actors doing a lot of voiceover, because it was a difficult transition when I first did it. You have to give broader line readings when you’re doing animation than you would if you were on camera, because on camera, you have to kind of undersell it. With animation, you need to oversell it otherwise it sounds really, really flat.
Q: What else is different about the animated show than the movie?
Diedrich: Everything is turned up a little bit. It’s a lot faster paced. It you know, the jokes are zing, zing, zing. people are going to see that it’s like Napoleon 2.0. You know, we just crank it up.
Q: Jon you’ve played a lot of other roles since the movie. What made you want to come back to playing Napoleon?
Jon Heder: Of course, I love the character. I love the project. I mean, there was a reason why it started my career, because it was me, so I don’t hate me. No, I would never turn my back on me. [laughter]. I love doing different stuff but I had no problem and it’s been long enough since the movie. I was absolutely excited to come back and do it, because I love the world. I love the characters. And, the character has never been a cross to bear.
Efren: And you’ve got to remember, too, that “Napoleon Dynamite” is a film where families can sit together and watch and enjoy. It is smart comedy because you actually follow the characters and their search for finding a better way to do things, and that’s where the comedy lies.
Jon Gries: I think there’s something universal in that style of comedy. I think that this is the kind of cartoon, as well as the film, it’s something that you’re going to be able to watch 10 or 15 years from now and it’s not going to seem caught up in any particular time. It transcends that. It seems to go with the pitfalls in an odd way of humanity that are so likeable and puts a fresh stroke on them, you know.
Diedrich: I think one of the big things that’s different between the movie and the TV show is that there’s more of an emphasis on the family and the relationships within the family, and it’s actually really sweet to see it.