15 Trivia Tidbits About ‘Napoleon Dynamite’
Back in 2004, a mouth-breathing, liger-drawing oddball with a ridiculous name somehow captured moviegoers’ hearts, making oodles of money at the box office and, most amazingly, somehow getting the American public interested in an election. Now, nearly two decades later, we’d like to celebrate the Netflix-breaking Napoleon Dynamite by assembling some trivia about how it was made, such as…
It Began With as a Short Student Film
The seeds of Napoleon Dynamite were first planted in the short film Peluca, made by director Jared Hess for a class at Brigham Young University’s film school and starring Jon Heder as a very Napoleon Dynamite-like character named “Seth.”
Heder Was Originally Cast as the Bully Character
Heder, who was also a student in the film program, was originally cast as Randy, more of a bully character. But after failing to find someone he liked during auditions, Hess told Heder, “Actually, look at the lead role.”
The Jamiroquai Song Happened to Be Playing on the Radio While Heder was Dancing
Napoleon Dynamite famously ends with Napoleon triumphantly busting a move to Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat.” The song selection was happenstance; while making the short, Heder was dancing on the side of the road while in costume, and “Canned Heat” randomly came on the radio. Hess, who had already started writing his feature script, thought, “This is how we've got to end the film!”
The Song Wasn’t Cheap, Though
According to Heder, while making Napoleon Dynamite, they weren’t sure which tune they would be able to license for the film, so he performed his dance “to three different songs” — including a Michael Jackson track from Off the Wall. In the end, they were able to get “Canned Heat,” and as Heder recalled, “I think that was half our budget.”
Heder Was Originally Paid Just $1,000
The budget for Napoleon Dynamite was around $400,000, and its star was paid just $1,000 for his work — at first. Heder later revealed that “he was able to renegotiate for a percentage of the film's profits.”The Name ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ Came From a Random Old Italian Man
The name “Napoleon Dynamite” wasn’t invented for the movie. According to Jared Hess, while he was fulfilling his Mormon missionary duties in Chicago, he encountered an elderly Italian man who called himself Napoleon Dynamite. Hess later said of the event, “My mind was blown. Clearly, it wasn’t his real name. But I remember writing down on a piece of paper: ‘Title of first movie must be Napoleon Dynamite.’”
The Movie Was Full of the Director’s ‘Embarrassing Family Material’
Hess packed the film full of real-life remembrances. When his mother first saw Napoleon Dynamite at the Sundance Film Festival, she remarked: “Well, that was a lot of embarrassing family material.”
Uncle Rico’s Mail-Order Time Machine Was Based on a Real Incident Involving an Actor’ s Brother
One of the wackier subplots in the movie involves Uncle Rico’s time machine, which he orders online — but this was also based on true events. Aaron Ruell, who plays Kip, revealed that his brother “purchased a time machine from a man in Florida.”
There’s a Fan Theory That the Time Machine Totally Works
At least one fan has speculated that Rico’s time machine does actually work, and we witness multiple timelines in the film.
A Dentist Gave Kip Real Braces in Exchange For Movie Tickets
A dentist straight-up put real braces on Ruell for the movie, which “actually started to move his teeth.” And he did it all in exchange for free tickets to the film’s premiere.
Efren Ramirez Based Pedro on Buster Keaton — And His Ex-Girlfriend’s Dog
Ramirez has gone on the record stating that his performance had two distinct inspirations: silent film comedy legend Buster Keaton, and his ex-girlfriend’s dog who “had been hit by cars several times and had a kind of stunned aspect.”
The Production Company Sued Fox Over ‘Unreported Revenue’
The company behind the movie, Napoleon Pictures, sued Fox in 2011, claiming that the studio “owed at least $10 million in allegedly underreported royalties and improper revenue deductions” from Napoleon Dynamite.
‘Vote for Pedro’ T-Shirts Were a Big Deal
Those ‘Vote For Pedro’ shirts from the movie were obviously printed up and sold in real life, becoming a major trend at the time. A 2020 VICE article investigated how all these shirts seemingly disappeared “without a trace into Goodwill bins, dumpsters and Buffalo Exchange resale piles across the U.S.”
The Cast Reunited for a Short-Lived Animated TV Show
While there was no big-screen sequel, Hess, Heder and rest of the cast re-teamed for a 2012 Fox animated series, which only lasted for six episodes.
A Filming Location in Idaho Has Been Renamed ‘Napoleon Dynamite Lane’
Napoleon Dynamite put the town of Preston, Idaho on the map, and while some residents love the association, others aren’t so enthusiastic. (Could be worse.)
The town has since honored the film by renaming a street next to the house that stood in for Napoleon’s home: Napoleon Dynamite Lane. Come on, “Worst Day of My Life, What Do You Think? Blvd.” was right there.
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