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'Napoleon Dynamite' animated series is funny, familiar, but not too family-friendly

Published: Thursday, Jan. 12 2012 4:39 p.m. MST

Napoleon and Deb in the new FOX animated series "Napoleon Dynamite."

FOX BROADCASTING

It's Napoleon Dynamite, for sure.

On Jan. 15, the animated version of the enormously popular film debuts on FOX with two episodes at 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. MST. Napoleon's world — from martial arts and mythical creatures to llamas and tater tots — couldn't have been re-created much better in this new medium. And it certainly doesn't hurt to have the voices of original cast members like Jon Heder (Napoleon) and Aaron Ruell (Kip) deliver the dorky dialogue.

Fans of the movie who've laughed through multiple viewings will be all too familiar with the quaint Preston, Idaho, setting. The storylines, however, are fresh, and if the first two episodes are any indication, the animated series won't just be falling back on old gags.

But it seems as though someone felt this show needed a little more street cred in order to hang out on FOX's Sunday animation block alongside "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy." (The first two Napoleon episodes book-end an episode of "Family Guy," in fact.) How else to explain the crass language and innuendo that are sure to be a bit jarring for those who appreciate the film for its nerdish innocence as much as for its quirkiness?

Jared and Jerusha Hess, the husband-wife team who attended BYU and wrote/directed "Napoleon Dynamite," partner with Mike Scully ("Everybody Loves Raymond," "The Simpsons") for the animated version. In a news release, the team says the series "allows us a fun, new way to follow the adventures of Napoleon and his friends and broaden the unique world of Preston, Idaho."

The debut episode, "Thundercone," begins with a throwdown between Napoleon and older brother Kip during a family picnic. (Lafawnduh is nowhere to be found.) After taking a piece of fried chicken skin to the forehead, Napoleon develops an embarrassing patch of acne and starts applying "Rack-U-Tane." The side effects, however, are lust and unbridled rage, and the siblings end up battling it out for the affections of a girl Kip met online named Misty (Amy Poehler).

Rex and Grandma, peripheral characters in the movie, play prominent roles here.

The second episode, "Scantronica Love," starts at Preston High, where one of Napoleon's teachers claims his scantron machine can match the students with their true love. Napoleon, Deb and Pedro end up with some unexpected "scientifically chosen soulmates." Meanwhile, Uncle Rico's latest business venture is to turn Kip into a party entertainer.

The Hesses and Scully have successfully reimagined those adventures and that unique world, with enough originality to not tire out the novelty. At times, the show is laugh-out-loud funny, like when Kip takes Misty to the Preston equivalent of Chuck E. Cheese to watch a robotic gorilla, octopus and kangaroo sing "Takin' care of Pizza."

"I've seen them 137 times and they've never played a bad show," Kip tells his love interest, whom he attracted with his spray-on abs.

Those who like to parrot lines from the movie will find some new material. The dialogue is new, but just as charming and odd.

"If you ask me, there's only two questions that matter for compatibility," Napoleon says during the "Scantronica Love" episode. "What's your favorite kind of hawk, and how many do you own?"

Napoleon's mannerisms, like his famous lean-forward run, are nicely captured in animated form. And there are some new touches, like a school marquee with changing messages that could become a favorite feature.

Still, those anticipating a fairly tame animated version are likely to be caught off-guard. The closest the PG-rated movie came to edgy was the story of Uncle Rico's business marketing breast augmentation. The animated series will ruffle any expectations of a kid-friendly cartoon.

There's very little here that's overtly offensive, unless viewers are really bothered by seeing characters in their underwear. Expect some mild sexual innuendo, scattered crude language and a bit of bathroom humor — nothing you wouldn't hear at the local high school, but also nothing you would expect from the Napoleon brand.

"Napoleon Dynamite" is funny, familiar and original. It's just a bit disappointing to see this beloved character move closer to the same neighborhood of cartoons you wouldn't necessarily want your kids watching.

Email: ashill@desnews.com

Twitter: aaronshill

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