Sunday Night with Napoleon Dynamite: A Cult Series Turns Toony
Scully’s been part of the creative team that’s been dreaming up the escapades of Springfield’s favorite family since the mid-90’s; at various times he’s been credited as its producer, supervising producer, executive producer, co-executive producer and consulting producer. “I’m still there, after almost 19 years. I’ve left a couple of times, briefly, to work on shows that were quickly cancelled, but they always seem to welcome me back afterwards.” Scully may be a bit too modest about his non-Simpsons credits, which include a season as co-exec producer on Everybody Loves Raymond. At the moment Scully says he usually spends one day a week on The Simpsons, while working on Napoleon as well as the live-action Parks and Recreation.
The entire cast of the live-action Napoleon Dynamite film has returned to voice their animated incarnations. “That was part of my first discussion with Jared,” says Scully. “If we couldn’t get everybody there was no reason to do the series.”
Voicing cartoon characters – even characters they had already portrayed in live action – was a new challenge for the cast. “It’s a whole different type of acting. You don’t use your body, you have to convey a lot with your voice. Matt Groening taught me you have to talk 10% faster in animation.
“The actors picked it up very quickly – by the third episode they were in the groove.” As in most animated series, the performers were recorded individually on a catch as catch can basis. “We’d sometimes record several people the same day, depending on their schedule.”
Scully says Hess himself is capable of voicing his creations. “He’s got the whole world in his head – he can act as them. When we’re in the writers’ room Jared will pitch a joke, or he’ll say a line someone else came up with in the character’s voice to see if it works.
“It was a huge help for us. We all kind of had our own version of their voices in our heads – it helped a lot when Jared did them.”
Scully’s quite pleased with the lineup of guest voices in the show’s initial run: people like SNL’s Amy Poehler, Jemaine Clement (The Flight of the Conchords), Jennifer Coolidge and Sam Rockwell.
The film’s characters all sported very unique appearances, making it easy to create their large-headed cartoon likenesses. “The design process went through a lot of hands,” says Claudia Katz of First Draft Studios, production home to the series. “It was a collaborative effort, but it started with Ted Sterns and Peter Avanzino [the show’s supervising director] honed it from there. Sometimes you go through rounds and rounds of designs before you get it right, but this time it happened relatively quickly.
“You look at them and they kind of make you smile. There’s a charm to them that’s really great. There’s a lot of heart in the show, and it comes through visually.”
The simple style and character design is a bit reminiscent of Mike Judge’s creations, but Scully says the real goal was to “replicate and exaggerate” the movie’s characters. Even so, Scully admits that in profile the open-mouthed Napoleon does resemble – to a slight degree – Judge’s Butt-head.