PRESTON, Idaho (July 10, 2006) — “Napoleon Dynamite,” a low-budget, feel-good comedy starring Jon Heder, put this farm town near the Utah border on the map.
It has also generated $1 million for Preston, according to the chamber of commerce, one of the first to bill the town as a destination for “Napoleon Dynamite” aficionados.
The movie, which cost $400,000 to make in 2004, has grossed $40 million in the United States and spawned a cottage industry of “Napoleon Dynamite” memorabilia.
The second “Napoleon Dynamite” festival, which wrapped up this weekend, featured a Napoleon look-alike contest, as well as a moon boot dance and Happy Hands club performance at Preston High School — mimicking scenes from the movie.
About 400 people attended this year, down from 6,000 last year, the Idaho Statesman newspaper reported.
“People started coming through here wanting stuff, and we didn’t have anything,” said Pennie Christensen, executive director of the Preston Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber has marketed a popular “Vote for Pedro” ringed T-shirt that replicates a shirt worn by Heder’s character to promote a long-shot bid for the school presidency by Napoleon’s friend Pedro.
The chamber’s merchandise line has since expanded to include hats, homemade key chains copying the handcrafts that also figure into the movie’s plot and many reprintings of the “Vote for Pedro” shirts. Items are available on the chamber’s Web site.
Sales in 2005 allowed the chamber to donate $13,000 to the Preston School District Education Foundation, plunk $25,000 into its annual Festival of Lights event Thanksgiving weekend and pay for this year’s festival.
On State Street, the town’s central artery, stores such as Big J Burgers and The Gingerbread Shoppe are pitching their roles, however small, in the success of the film.
At Big J, which was featured in the movie (though at a different location in Richmond, Utah, about 15 miles south), the marquee exclaims, “Gosh! Come in and get your own dang tots! Napoleon Dynamite stuff here!”
Tourists who sample Napoleon’s favorite snack often leave with shirts that read: “Big J: Where your wildest dreams come true.”
“We started doing our own shirts but didn’t think much would happen,” said manager Dave Johnson. “They really went better than we had anticipated.”
Patrick Zook, the real-life Rex Kwon Do, a testosterone-fueled martial artist in the movie, sells items that features the logo of his dojo, the same one visited by Napoleon and his brother, Kip.
Zook, who was an extra like so many townspeople, sells T-shirts, American flag pants and foam-covered nunchakus featuring one-liners from the film such as “Bow to your sensei!”