Simon Moore reviews the third episode of the Napoleon Dynamite animated series…
They say you should never meet your heroes. Especially if your heroes happen to be a rare crossbreed of lions and tigers that you happen to believe possess mystical powers. Bad luck for Napoleon, the owner of many sketchbooks bursting with illustrations on this subject matter. Besides hawks and sweet bicycle jumps, ligers are his yardstick of awesome. So how will he cope with meeting the real thing?
Not very well, as it turns out. He lands a job at the liger sanctuary as a way of earning money to pay for Grandma Carlinda’s new glasses, after he’d crushed them in a futile attempt to sneeze, fart, burp and yawn at the same time. Yes, you read that sentence right, do not adjust your medication. That’s just the sort of situation that crops up on a regular basis with the Dynamites.
Pumped up by an orientation film on ligers that tells of origins as a weapon bred for war by President Truman, Napoleon is just about ready to explode with excitement. Then he sees what ligers actually do. Which is….nothing. There’s some TV, a tyre swing, and some French yoghurt that turns up for meal time. Nobody’s cultivating their natural bloodlust, or sitting at their feet to learn of their magical prowess. It is a rubbish job after all.
This doesn’t sit well with our awkward mouth-breather (the liger’s words, not mine). Blow-drying the drool off peacefully decrepit big cats was not what he had in mind when he sketched his first majestic liger. A pregnant ligress in labour sees him step up and deliver a newborn cub. This might have been magical in itself, if he hadn’t had a brief hallucination about a Thundercat who ordered him to kidnap the chosen one and train him to be awesome.
So, with his cub safely tucked away in a 12-piece chicken bucket, Napoleon runs for it. Seriously, this kid runs everywhere. He’s like Forrest Gump without the crew cut. After some surrogate parenting with ever-hopeful Deb, the ligers soon get wise to the cub-napping. Their natural bloodlust comes out as we witness the invasion of Preston. The Mayor and the Police Chief skip town in the chaos, leaving the next highest authority to assume emergency power. Which, according to the city charter, is the Student Body President. Pedro. Just you try not smiling as the boy with the coolest boots in town immediately settles into his role with characteristic relaxed sobriety and valuable Chupacubra lore.
While this siege of semi-mythical creatures is going on, a nicely understated subplot with Kip and Grandma Carlinda is unfolding. Legally blind without her specs, Carlinda strong-arms Kip into being her seeing-eye grandson. With duties like reading saucy romance novels aloud and pedestrian-spotting from the passenger seat, Kip soon regrets selling himself as the family’s best describer.
Sandy Martin and Aaron Ruell excel themselves as the respective steam-powered matriach and spineless manchild, bringing to mind Jessica Walter and Tony Hale’s characters in Arrested Development and their own marvellously weird mother and son dynamic: “You can’t drive, Kip. You haven’t the leg strength.”
Ligertown offers slightly more of a character arc for our hero than previous episodes, with Deb on hand to help him come to terms with the fact that ligers just aren’t the sorceror predators he’d built up in his mind. It doesn’t last long, as a milk-related miracle/accident involving the cub and Tina the llama provides evidence for Napoleon that ligers really can fly. His imaginary Thundercat-type liger mentor provides some closure on the sneeze/fart/burp/yawn phenomenon, and everyone learns that Pedro actually makes for a strong leader in a crisis.
Uncle Rico continues to be the scene-stealing Zoidberg of this series, offering up gems like his hastily-organised Liger Safari: “Aim for the bladder! That’s nature’s gas tank!” We get a similarly desperate glimpse into his answering machine company Rico Industries, offering Romantic Bodyguard services, tours of Indian graveyards and his own line of anti-depressant muffins.
This episode is really an insight into Napoleon though, but not just in the main liger dream plot. Through the magic of throwaway lines, we learn that Napoleon wants his ashes to be sprinkled on Bear Lake by a hawk if he ever dies in an accident; that he could never be with a woman who doesn’t believe in the mystical realm; and that it’s been like, five days since he took a dump. That just about covers everything you need to know, and quite a lot you didn’t want to.
Next week: Pedro vs Deb. Can Napoleon bring his two arguing best friends together again, or is he forever doomed to eat school dinners by himself?
Simon Moore is a budding screenwriter, passionate about films both current and classic. He has a strong comedy leaning with an inexplicable affection for 80s montages and movies that you can’t quite work out on the first viewing.