By Nell Minow,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
One-of-a-kind high school comedy for the family.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Nonconformity is celebrated in Napoleon Dynamite. Underneath the silliness and deadpan behavior of its main characters is the premise that even the lowliest members of a social order can succeed. Everyone has something to offer, no matter how offbeat or unconventional. Dignity and respect are possible by creating friendships and forming a community of people with whom one shares values and goals. Themes include compassion and empathy.
Positive Role Models
Reluctant respect is given to dysfunctional individuals who seem at first to be only objects of scorn. Laughing at the characters becomes laughing with the outrageously geeky as they win the day. Authority figures and adults are portrayed as clueless, self-serving, or both; for example, while comic in its intent, the authority figures (in addition to some of the students) of the high school reveal prejudice and cultural insensitivity toward a Mexican teenager new to the school.
Violence & Scariness
Teens ineptly wrestle, slap, and fight. A school bully is shown putting Napoleon in a headlock and pushing him in the locker; this same bully does this to another smaller teen, then attempts to grab the boy's bike as he unlocks it from the school bike rack. A school bus full of young kids stops the moment a farmer shoots and kills one of his cows with a rifle; the violence is not shown but strongly implied through the reactions of the kids. One of the lead characters is beaten up by a jealous husband when the husband catches him selling breast augmentation supplements to his wife; violence not shown, but implied by the injuries on the character's face and body.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Other than numerous scenes that include comical efforts to sell an herbal breast-enhancing product (using flyers and "straight-talking" sales pitches), sexuality is limited to mild kissing and embracing and exaggerated attempts at seduction, all with humorous intent. No nudity.
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Insults and substitutes for obscenities only: multiple uses of "idiot," "frickin'," "retarded," "crap," "sicko," and "flippin'." One character is described as "still wets the bed." One of the characters becomes a door-to-door salesman passing out fliers for breast enhancement treatments.
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Products & Purchases
Dodge van, Tater Tots, Gossner Foods milk.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Napoleon Dynamite is a quirky 2004 indie coming-of-age comedy. While it ultimately celebrates nerds and misfits, some may feel it fuels mockery and ridicule; others will simply find it funny. While the film is comical and satirical in its presentation, the authority figures of the high school, as well as one of the popular girls, reveal ignorance and prejudice toward a Mexican teen who is new to the school. When the teen, Pedro, runs for class president against the popular girl, there's a scene in which characters hit a pińata made to look like the popular girl. The comic action includes slapstick pratfalls (bike injuries to the groin, for instance) and exaggerated bullying by school tough guys. The language is never obscene; characters rely instead on insults ("idiot," "sicko," "retarded") and disguised swearing ("frickin'," "flippin'," "crap"). And there is mild sexual innuendo, along with some kissing and embracing. Napoleon's uncle tries to sell breast enhancement supplements door-to-door, so there's talk of breasts, breast size. There's a scene in which a school bus full of kids stops in front of a field where a farmer is on the verge of shooting a cow in the head with a rifle at point-blank range; the violence is not shown, but strongly implied by the reactions of the kids. Napoleon Dynamite became a box office bonanza and a cultural phenomenon, and spawned an animated series.
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A Movie for The Whole Family
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Amazing Movie a most watch!
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What's the Story?
NAPOLEON DYNAMITE (Jon Heder) just can't catch a break. Life seems so unfair. Women only like men who've got skills, and to Napoleon that means nunchuck skills, computer hacking skills, or maybe some really sweet dance moves. But those endless arms and legs don't seem to want to cooperate well. Then there's Napoleon's uncle and his schemes to make a lot of money and go back in time to that crucial turning point in a high school football game, and Napoleon's best friend Pedro's (Efren Ramirez) campaign for class president against alpha girl Summer (Haylie Duff), and what happens when his older brother's online girlfriend shows up.
Is It Any Good?
What's great about this satisfyingly humorous movie is that it keeps us laughing with Napoleon, not at him. And that's thanks to Napoleon Dynamite's deliriously specific detail, superb use of the Idaho setting, affection for its characters, unexpected developments, and most of all its genuine sweetness. He may be clueless, but he has a great heart, and we know he will be fine, not just for a satisfyingly happy ending for the movie but beyond.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about adolescence in different times and places. How is life for the teens in Napoleon Dynamite like or unlike your own experiences of adolescence?
While being quirky and exaggerated in its depictions, how does the movie convey the deeper realities of growing up "different" in a small town?
While released in 2004, how does the movie reference the pop culture of different decades?
How do the characters in Napoleon Dynamite demonstrate compassion and empathy? Why are these important character strengths?
- In theaters: June 11, 2004
- On DVD or streaming: December 21, 2004
- Cast: Efren Ramirez, John Gries, Jon Heder
- Director: Jared Hess
- Inclusion Information: Latinx actors
- Studio: Fox Searchlight
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Friendship, High School
- Character Strengths: Compassion, Empathy
- Run time: 82 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements and language
- Last updated: December 8, 2022
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