Since the movie was released in 2004, there probably aren’t too many times when the cast of “Napoleon Dynamite” can walk into a room and get treated like rock stars, but most of the time they’re not at San Diego’s 2011 Comic-Con. The moment Efran Ramirez (Pedro) said, “My name is Pedro,” the crowd went wild, hooting and laughing as they stomped their feet. Who knew it was so good to be Pedro? Or for that matter, Napoleon?
Executive producer Mike Scully (“The Simpsons”) explained that the reason why “Dynamite” creator Jerod Hess decided to opt for an animated series instead of a traditional sequel was because Hess didn’t see a way to move the characters into the future, while animation opened a wider range of possibilities. “A lot of movies can’t make the leap to animation. ‘Schindler’s List’ would be one,” Scully joked. “But we thought it could make the leap and now we’re preparing to be on midseason, hopefully between ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘Family Guy.'”
The panel kicked off with each of the actors, all of whom were in the original, reminiscing about taking on a microbudget project. “My agent told me not to do it,” said Deidrich Bader (Rex). “There wasn’t much money, no one knew what was going to happen, but I was told I was going to stay at the Plaza. I didn’t realize there was just a hotel named Plaza. And I was told I was going to be picked up by a car at the airport, and this beat-up Toyota Corolla pulls up. But I guess it wasn’t a bicycle.” Bader was enthusiastic about the animated show (especially now that his sitcom “Outsourced” has been put out of its misery). “We get to heighten the humor. And I get to play a liger, which was a lifelong dream.” The audience erupted into giggles, thinking Bader was just kidding around. But that big lion-tiger hybrid reveal was for later in the program.
Aaron Ruell was also happy to be back as Kip, and briefly fell into character (with Heder) to the roar of the audience. “Aaron Ruell goes away entirely when I play Kip,” Ruell said, though this clearly disappointed some Kip loyalists (and yes, they came dressed in character). “I like playing Kip. He’s really fun. He’s a weird, kind of creepy guy but he’s not really dangerous at all, so it’s okay.”
Jon Gries (Uncle Rico) recalled that everyone took filming seriously — perhaps to a weird degree. “Something really interesting about doing this film, when we were doing things that were ultimately really funny on film, nobody was laughing on the set. We all approached the film like we were doing ‘Schindler’s List.’ We were all very committed to our characters and were really serious about it. We weren’t winking at the camera. These were life and death situations.”
Some cast members, though probably happy to be working, seemed understandably sanguine about a movie that came out seven years ago. Efran Ramirez spoke about his East L.A. childhood, then explained his inspiration for Pedro: “I put Buster Keaton and my ex-girlfriend’s dog together.”
Sandy Martin (Grandma) admitted, “Grandma’s not much of a stretch for me. I roll out of bed every morning.”
Jon Heder spoke briefly about how he came to be cast (Hess was a college classmate) and about his attitude toward acting. “After Napoleon came out and all the success with that, I went to LA and it’s continued to be fun. And when it stops being fun, I’ll leave. But it’s pretty rad so far.”
Scully then showed short clips of the show, the first of which (“Zit Pop”) got a huge reaction (laughter was so loud and sustained most of the dialogue was drowned out), though the reaction to “Kip Bath,” “Shasta” and “Chritchlow” had diminishing returns once the novelty of animated Napoleon, who seemed like a twitchy bastard child of Beavis and Butthead, wore off. With “Shasta,” the crowd discovered that Bader wasn’t kidding about the liger — in one episode, Napoleon ends up taking a job on a liger breeding farm and, sickened by the sight of a liger birth, hallucinates a dream sequence in which Bader gives voice to a “Lion King”-esque character. Who happens to be a liger.
Scully also revealed that guest stars will be adding their voices to the show, including Amy Poehler and Sam Rockwell. But one character we shouldn’t expect to see is LaFawnduh (Shondrella Avery), as the show takes place before she enters Kip’s life. “We didn’t want to limit ourselves,” Heder explained. “And Kip has a lot of women on the show.”