Napoleon Dynamite

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
Napoleon Dynamite Movie Poster Image
One-of-a-kind high school comedy for the family.
  • PG
  • 2004
  • 82 minutes
Parents recommendPopular with kids

Parents say

age 9+
Based on 28 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 112 reviews

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

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 & Representations

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

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. 

Sex

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.

 

Language

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. 

 

Consumerism

Dodge van, Tater Tots, Gossner Foods milk.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What 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

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 11, 18+, and 18+ year old Written bykathryn ford May 30, 2010

don't even consider wasting 5 min on this

we watched 1/2 of this with our 11 yo before bailing out. all of us thought it depressingly stupid. every character has the same flat affect which seems to be... Continue reading
Parent of a 10 year old Written bytch January 29, 2010

Quirky but safe!

This is a quirky movie that may not click with everyone...but there is no harm done in watching it. The strongest words are "frickin" and "What t... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byJazzyB12345 April 9, 2008

BEST MOVIE AWARD!

this waz an awsome movie ! this is a family movie i think this should be 8+
Teen, 15 years old Written byP dump April 14, 2010

Fun, the more I watch it, the more I like it.

That being said, I watched the movie 4 times in theater, and over 20 times total. Don't blame ya if you think its stupid. It is. But it's just as funn... Continue reading

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?

Movie details

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