Napoleón Dinamita

Vote for Pedro!

I love the movie Napoleon Dynamite with Jon Heder so much that I’ve seen it at least twenty times. I saw it for the first time because my oldest son wanted me to rent it from Blockbuster. I thought I would end up seeing it all by myself as when I’ve rented other movies for him that he really, really wanted to see, like the Lords of Dogtown–and I ended up watching it alone, which I really loved by the way!

Anyway, I knew I had to own Napoleon Dynamite on DVD! When it first came out on DVD, it was only available at a clothing store called Hot Topic. Once I bought it, my twins started watching it repeatedly because they loved the movie, too. Well, I couldn’t walk by the TV without stopping to watch Napoleon and his misadventures. So, I watched it repeatedly along with my sons. Once we watched the movie all the way to the end and I told my sons not to start it over until I had read the credits; I don’t why, but I like to read the credits to see who the key grip is. (This goes back to the days of my youth when my friends Jim, Vito, and I would go to show and sit through all the credits so we could applaud for the key grip.) So, after the credits were completely over–yes, I read them all–there was another scene in which Kip marries LaFawnduh! My sons and I were pleasantly surprised!

Of course, this made me wonder what other surprises were in store for us on the rest of the DVD. Surprise, surprise! Not only does the DVD have subtitles in Spanish and French, but the movie is also dubbed in Spanish! I started watching it with Napoleon speaking Spanish, but my non-Spanish-speaking-Mexican sons wouldn’t watch it in Spanish!

Anyway, sometimes the topic of the movie Napoleon Dynamite comes up in Spanish class because the new student Pedro at Napoleon’s high school is Mexican. I often tell my students that they should watch the movie in Spanish someday. I was planning to watch it all the way through in Spanish one day. Since I’m always open to suggestions in Spanish class, last week, a student recommended that we Napoleon Dynamite in Spanish. I agreed if we didn’t use the subtitles. They resisted, but I insisted. Then, we reached a compromise: We would watch the movie dubbed in Spanish with Spanish subtitles. Since the students were fourth semester Spanish students and most had already seen the movie, I knew they would understand the action and plot development of the movie. I was amazed at how much the students laughed!

Napoleon Dynamite is much funnier in Spanish, especially when Napoleon says, “¡Idiota!” I was wondering how they would translate words like “liger,” which is half-lion, half-tiger. Well, Napoleon says that he’s drawing his favorite animal, “el legre,” which is “medio león, medio tigre.” However, lost in the translation is, “But my lips hurt really bad!”, which is translated as, “Pero mis labios están resecos” and Pedro’s “Maybe I’ll build her a cake or something.” The Spanish used is standard Spanish and doesn’t really capture the slangy colloquialisms of high school teenagers.

Also, the subtitles don’t always match the Spanish dubbing. In the beginning Napoleon says, “¡Rayos!”, but in the subtitles, we read, “¡Cielos!” Obviously, there were two translators at work. Overall, the Spanish captures the feel of the original movie. I would recommend for all Spanish teacher to watch this movie with their high school or college students in Spanish. It was definitely a very entertaining way to reinforce some of the Spanish lessons learned in class.


Vote for Pedro

From my DVD collection

In the movie Napoleon Dynamite, we see Mexicans in, of all places, the state of Idaho! As an added bonus, you may also listen to the movie dubbed in Spanish. The first time I saw the movie, I thought, “But there are no Mexicans in Idaho!” Then I met a Mexican name Irene from Idaho. So I guess there really are Mexicans in Idaho after all. In the movie, Pedro the Mexican is viewed as a foreigner by the high school principal who tells Pedro on his first day of school, “You do understand English. This isn’t really that complex.” And Pedro just stares at the principal, so the principal asks Napoleon Dynamite to show Pedro where his locker is. Pedro is the only boy at the high school with a mustache that Napoleon admires.

Napoleon and Pedro become friends because they’re both outsiders in this cliquish world of jocks and cheerleaders. They get along so well because they complement each other very well. Napoleon accepts Pedro for what he is and Pedro listens to Napoleon’s stories and lies without questioning them. Pedro speaks English, but sometimes it’s not perfect. For example, Pedro plans to ask to ask the cheerleader Summer Wheatley to the dance. When Napoleon asks how Pedro will get Summer to go to the dance with him, Pedro says, “I’ll build her a cake or something,” with a heavy Mexican accent. When Summer says no, Pedro asks Deb, Napoleon’s prospective date, to go to the dance. So that leaves Napoleon without a date. Pedro offers advice and Napoleon follows it. Napoleon is on his home turf in that high school, but Pedro seems to exude more self-confidence than Napoleon throughout the movie.

Pedro even has the courage to run for school president. Napoleon uses his skills to help Pedro for the school election. Later when Pedro runs for school president, Napoleon tells a kid who is being bullied, “Pedro offers you his protection.” When one of the school bullies tries to take that kid’s bike, Pedro’s cousins, listed as Cholo #1 and Cholo #2 in the final movie credits, show up in their low rider that says, “Vote 4 Pedro” on the door, and they gesture to the bully to stop. The bully runs away without the bike. Of course, Pedro’s cousins look like the stereotypical gangbangers from East L.A. who would beat up the bully if necessary. The two cholos merely shake their head and the bully gets scared and runs away. The movie purposely plays into these Mexican stereotypes.

When Pedro makes a piñata of Summer Wheatly and the students break it, the principal calls Pedro into his office “Look, Pedro. I don’t know how you people do things down in Juarez … Smashing in the face of a piñata that resembles Summer Wheatly is a disgrace to you, and me, and the entire Gem State.” But Pedro doesn’t understand why not since they do it in Mexico all the time. Pedro and his family represent the foreign element in the otherwise homogenized American society of Idaho. Pedro really stands out at the high school as being an outsider because he hasn’t assimilated yet.

In the end, there is a school assembly for the presidential candidates Summer Wheatly and Pedro Sánchez to address the school. In Summer’s campaign speech, she promises two new pop machines in the cafeteria, new cheerleader uniforms, among other things, and then asks, “Who wants to eat chimney-changas next year? Not me! With me, it would summer all year long. Vote for Summer.” Of course, Summer, too, uses the Mexican stereotype for the purpose of fear mongering. For his speech, Pedro promises, “I think it would be good to have some holy Santos brought to the high school to guard the hallway and to bring us good luck. El Santo Niño de Atoche, is a good one. … If you vote for me, all of your wildest dreams will come true.” Pedro doesn’t change his speech despite the fact that Summer Wheatly made Pedro look like an undesirable foreigner.

In the end, Pedro wins the election and becomes school president with the help of Napoleon’s skit. Well, the students accept Pedro and Napoleon for being themselves. Pedro’s family celebrates by having a picnic for Pedro. Of course, there’s a cake with red, white, and green stripes that says, “Presidente Pedro! Felicidades!”

I think this movie illustrates how people have accepted Mexicans without realizing it. Until the immigrant marches last year, Mexicans were largely invisible. No one saw them as individuals doing landscaping, housekeeping, working in factories, among other jobs. And they seemed to accept Mexicans exactly for who they were. Whether America admits it or not, a lot of people are voting for Pedro.

Vote for Pedro and Napoleon!