Viewers shouldn’t expect Fox’s upcoming Napoleon Dynamite animated series to simply rehash the hit 2004 movie on which it’s based. Animation brings with it creative freedom that allows producer Mike Scully and the original cast to bring something new to the world inhabited by the eccentric teenager and his family, friends and pet llama.
“In any episode we always look at it and [say] like, ‘Could this be done live-action?’” Scully, a veteran writer and producer for The Simpsons, told reporters at Comic-Con International. “And if the answer is yes, then we have messed up somehow and you have to go back and insert, you know, a dream sequence or something crazy happening.”
He illustrated this point by describing an episode where fans will get a glimpse at an exciting job prospect for the title character. “There is an episode where Napoleon actually gets a job working at a liger-breeding facility, which is something, like, in the movie, in the live-action film, would be very hard to do because it ends with a liger rampage in Preston, Idaho. So … very hard to film,” Scully laughed.
Many of the story ideas and jokes come from examining what it’s like to live in a small town like Preston. “There’s an actual event in Preston, Idaho, they do every year called ‘The Preston Bed Races,’ where people, like, push each other on beds through the center of town,” he said. “So we wanted to kind of capture that small-town feel, and we were able to do a whole episode of ‘The Preston Bed Races,’ but, you know, in animation you could have a bed flip into the crowd like a car and explode.”
That kind of creative freedom was one of the reasons the powers that be were so interested in revisiting the movie after seven years. However, despite the extended hiatus, getting the original cast to commit to the show was actually easy.
“[Napoleon Dynamite co-writer/director] Jared Hess called everybody personally and just said, ‘You know, we’ve got this crazy idea. Would you be willing?’ And everyone just came on right away,” Scully said. “They really wanted to do it.”
“We’ve continued the world of Napoleon, it’s very specific to that sense of humor,” said actor Diedrich Bader, who plays Rex, the martial arts instructor with a peculiar taste in pants.
When asked what it was like to play Rex again after an extended absence, Bader admitted it hadn’t really been seven years since he last shouted, “Bow to your sensei!”
“I’m asked almost continually to do that voice, both professionally and in my personal life just walking around,” he said.
Drawing on his 18 years of writing and producing The Simpsons, the gold standard by which all other animated series are judged, Scully spoke briefly about what Napoleon Dynamite and The Simpsons have in common.
“It has definitely, like, a Simpsons rhythm and pace, and there are several Simpsons writers working on Napoleon. I stole as many as I could,” he laughed.
Moving from live-action to animation presented some challenges for the cast. “Probably, like, the biggest adjustment for any actor when they do animation is you kind of have to talk, like, 10-percent faster than humans do,” Scully said, adding, “It’s just kind of a general rule.”
While Fox has given an initial order of just six episodes, Scully said he and the movie’s creators Jared and Jerusha Hess have every intention of exploring the popular cast of secondary characters.
“Napoleon is definitely the center of the show, but we have an episode that features Rico and one that features Kip, but it’s all kind of with Napoleon at the center and then as time goes on we’ll expand and eventually we’ll be doing shows about Rex Kwan Do and Tina the llama will have an emotional story, I’m sure, at some point,” he laughed.
Napoleon Dynamite premieres in January on Fox.
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