"Flippin' Sweet!" Napoleon Dynamite Turns 10

Jun 12, 2014

Ten years ago this week the film "Napoleon Dynamite" hit the silver screen and became an almost instant success. Social media is abuzz with talk of the 10-year anniversary. UPR's Matt Jensen went back to Preston, Idaho where the film was shot to see where it all happened.

It’s the last day of classes at Preston High School where much of "Napoleon Dynamite" was shot during the summer of 2003. The independent film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival the following January and made its debut in theaters later that summer.

Inside Preston High, things look very much the same. The classrooms, the auditorium and, of course, those now-iconic red and yellow lockers.

Napoleon Dynamite was shot in Idaho during the summer of 2003. It premiered in theaters the following June.
Napoleon Dynamite was shot in Idaho during the summer of 2003. It premiered in theaters the following June.
Credit Fox Searchlight

The film is a glimpse into the life of social misfit Napoleon Dynamite, his live-at-home adult brother, Kip, their grandmother and drop-in Uncle Rico.

Napoleon navigates his awkward adolescence with the help of his best friend, Pedro, and after a few setbacks, he wins the heart of his high school crush and the love of his classmates.

I figured today’s students wouldn’t relate all that well to the movie, now that most of its buzz has worn off. But Napoleon Dynamite seems to have earned itself staying power among American movie classics. I asked a Preston High freshman if she’s seen the movie. Remember, she was five when it came out.

“Yes several times," she said. "I love that movie actually."

Several characters in the film were local residents and the students here tell me some of the quirkiness in the story depicts real life in this small Idaho town. In one scene, Napoleon and his friends work to move hundreds of chickens with large talons into new cages. Their pay is a few dollars in quarters and lunch complete with egg-whipped orange juice. This student says that’s a real thing.

'The scene about him drinking orange juice with eggs with in it, we used to have a guy that worked for our farm that actually put eggs in his orange juice."

Though not everyone says the movie captured the essence of Southern Idaho.

"I think they kind of portrayed people in Preston as being more redneck than we actually are," says Melanie Herrmann.

She was 14 when she played an extra in the movie. She was in the school dance scene With Napoleon and his girlfriend, Deb, and in one of the most memorable scenes where Napoleon dances on stage during a school assembly.

That assembly scene is a bit of movie magic, she explains. During shooting, actor Jon Heeder who plays Napoleon didn’t actually dance in front of a crowd.

"What they had us to do, is (director Jared Hess) was the one standing on stage telling us to clap or do whatever we needed to do," she explained. But I didn't actually see Napoleon dance on stage.

In fact, Herrmann and some extras didn’t even get the chance to see Napoleon Dynamite.

"I think going into it I guessed I kind of imagined I was going to meet Napoleon," she added. "But that was a little disappointing. I do kind of wish I would have met him."

Napoleon Dynamite taught us that being different makes you memorable and that making the right friends through life is more important than having sweet skills. For Utah Public Radio, I’m Matt Jensen.