Simon Moore reviews the season finale of the Napoleon Dynamite animated series…
It’d be fair to say Napoleon Dynamite has come a long way since our re-introduction to his lanky, bear-slippered, underpantsed self in that first title sequence six weeks ago. Our boy has developed some skills, romanced his fair share of ladies, even dallied with the mythical realm. He still looks clammy and moody, but hey, we’re not asking for miracles here.
FFA stands for Future Farmers of America, which is actually a thing. A thing with just over half a million members. We’re in the big leagues now. Sort of. This national status doesn’t disqualify Napoleon and his state competition team-mate Curtis from ridicule at the hands of Don ‘Ye-heaah’ Moser. It seems that Curtis hadn’t actually realised FFA could be construed as somehow ‘lame’ in the eyes of the popular kids. He immediately switches sides, leaving Napoleon in the lurch.
He turns to his number one compadre, Pedro, appealing to his team-loving nature by documenting their past team-themed glories; watching basketball together, Heimlich manoeuvring each other, robbing banks. They might not all be real past glories, but Pedro is nothing if not a man who appreciates a touch of imagination in his friend’s arguments.
Unfortunately, Napoleon’s resounding victory at last year’s competition has gone to his head a bit. He’s mobbed the moment they get off the bus by his horde of farming fans. Twilight apparently hasn’t reached Preston yet; the girls here like their heroes to know pigs by name and sign their chicken eggs. For the first time, Napoleon is admired in his own right. Until…Filson.
Sam Rockwell has always rolled out a wonderful line in smug, narcissistic characters, and his Filson is no exception. Looking like a third Allman Brother in his non-regulation sleeveless jacket and low-rise flared jeans, he need only shake his lion’s mane of hair to steal away Napoleon’s fickle groupies. As the former champion, he’s so obsessed with winning this competition again he deliberately failed his final year of high school just so he could qualify.
Filson is soon hatching nefarious plans, distracting his nemesis from the competition with the help of his undercover girlfriend, driving a wedge between Napoleon and Pedro. The promise of Team Awesome is looking a little hard to keep, with his mind on the girl with the livestock thighs.
In all this excitement, you’d think the rest of the Dynamites would be keeping themselves busy. Well done you. Kip is having his special bath time – but wait, before you cry ‘Spot the Dog already did it’, this bath time is interrupted by spiders. A wall full of spiders, as it happens. The house will have to be fumigated. So where will they live in the meantime? Uncle Rico is right on cue with an answer: “My Dodge Santana sleeps up to five people – six if they’re missin’ limbs.” Kip and Grandma are reluctant, but this is living in a van. For once, Rico knows what he’s talking about.
This unfolds as one of the better subplots of the series so far, as everybody’s favourite homeless man teaches his family to live Rico-style. See beef jerky magicked from the depths of a gas station vacuum cleaner. Marvel at Kip emerging from the drive-thru car wash, looking like Michael Cera after a Jersey Shore makeover. Admire Uncle Rico’s wolf ear, courtesy of Howie, the much-cheaper-than-a-doctor taxidermist. You kill ‘em, he’ll fill ‘em. Rico’s “The whole world is your TV set” philosophy might well be the highlight of the entire episode, if it weren’t for that wolf ear. Hot dang, that wolf ear. Just you watch, this time next year everyone’ll have one.
Back at the FFA competition, Napoleon is tricked into a midnight picnic by the promise of tickles from Nicole the FFA Queen. Buried neck deep in soil by her mere moments later, he’s still not quite convinced she’s Filson’s fiancée. To make matters worse, Pedro has been buried in with him, in what Napoleon has already dubbed ‘The Love Dungeon’. They fight and squabble and head-butt into the wee hours, until Rico’s wolf ear (pre-order yours now) hears their distant bickering.
One swift clamp-based rescue and a round of apologies later, Napoleon and Pedro are now faced with playing a long day’s catch-up to Filson’s impressive lead. Luckily, Napoleon didn’t win by accident last year. He genuinely lives and breathes farming, so they ace events like Sheep Shearing, Well Rescue and the always challenging Sittin’ A Spell, maxing out the judge’s Relax-O-Meter.
It soon comes down to a tie between Team Filson and Team Dynamite. The tie-breaker is a simple oath recital, nicely resolved with a touching song of friendship improvised by the many-talented Pedro, probably the best friend/landscape gardener/substitute mayor anyone could ever ask for. “This,” the judge declares, “is what the FFA is all about: friendship, loyalty, and timely membership payments.”
Well, that’s it. As the Dynamite family settle down to watch one last edition of Parking In Front Of Some Guy’s House And Watching His Family Eat, we must bid them farewell. It’s been a delightfully bizarre season of stories about ligers, mine shaft monsters, computer love and underground fight clubs. Alright, so it’s really all about friendship and the ties that bind, and those mad weird bits were the icing on the cake.
Perhaps that’s the triumph of Napoleon Dynamite; it sneaks in a heartfelt tale of friendships tested and bested under the cover of compelling quirks and eccentricities, and we don’t mind because it’s not contrived. We don’t feel manipulated into feeling for these characters with a ‘moral lesson of the week’ musical cue or a news-worthy medical condition inflicted on our hero. Jared Hess’s cast of misfits stand on their own sweet skills and comical flaws; on that basis alone, this series needs, nay, deserves a second season.
Next week, nothing. Find something new to do. Make brownies. Start a reading group. Or watch some great films, I guess.
Read our exclusive interview with Napoleon Dynamite co-developer, writer and producer Mike Scully here.
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.