In Sydney, Australia, a puppy named Muffin is living with a human family and his own mother. Muffin, who calls himself Napoleon and pretends to be tough, wishes to be with the wild dogs that he can hear howling in the distance. The family has a birthday party and one of the decorations is a basket with balloons strapped to it. Out of curiosity, Napoleon hops inside, but the basket, untied from its tether, begins to float away.
Napoleon flies high above the city and heads out to the sea. Napoleon panics due to a fear of water. A galah named Birdo drops down on the side of his basket and offers to help him get down. Birdo's idea of help is to pop the balloons suspending the basket, causing Napoleon to land unharmed on a beachhead. Napoleon thinks he can finally seek out the wild dogs and heads into a nearby forest, ignoring Birdo's suggestion to return home.
At night, Napoleon starts to fear being alone. A mopoke in the forest warns Napoleon of terrible things that can happen to pets in the wild, but Napoleon ignores him as well and continues on his way. He discovers a large tree used by a psychotic cat as a home. The cat spots Napoleon and, thinking he is a mouse, chases him. Napoleon escapes when the mopoke pushes the cat into a pond. The mopoke then warns Napoleon that the cat will not rest until he is dead. As Napoleon runs off, the cat pulls herself from the pond angrily swearing revenge.
The next morning, Napoleon once again encounters Birdo, who decides to teach Napoleon how to live in the wild.
Napoleon learns hunting by practising on a group of rabbits, but is unable to catch one and ends up eating moss. Birdo's next lessons about friendly and dangerous animals and snowy weather are ignored. A sudden brush fire burns a sugarcane field, but Napoleon escapes with Birdo's help. The cat returns and attempts to attack Birdo, but fails. Birdo reunites with his lost flock but the cat has found them too; Napoleon saves them with a warning of the cat. Napoleon and Birdo then part ways as Napoleon wants to seek the wild dogs and Birdo wants to rejoin his flock.
Napoleon is saddened when he realizes that the howling he has been hearing was just a perentie lizard. As the area begins to flood, he runs for shelter and discovers two dingo puppies inside a damp cave and assumes they are lost like him. The water floods in and sweeps away Nancy, one of the pups. Napoleon dives into the water and rescues her out. The pups' mother returns and Napoleon realises that he has found the wild dogs.
The mother agrees to let Napoleon live with her and her pups. While out together, the mother asks why Napoleon wanted to be with the wild dogs. He explains that he always wanted to feel brave by living in the wild, but confesses to being disappointed with the lifestyle. The mother comforts him by reminding him it was his courage that led him out here and helped him save her puppies, which represents the true spirit of the wild dogs. Wanting to go home, Napoleon takes a trip across the landscape in a kangaroo's pouch. Napoleon reaches the shore and discovers his basket inhabited by a feisty penguin who resembles his past self; wanting to be a wild and brave creature. That night, Napoleon's plan to sail back to the city with the basket is interrupted by the cat's return. A battle ensues and Napoleon tries multiple times to stop the cat. Before she can kill Napoleon, the cat becomes distracted by the penguin, who shouts at her with taunts. Napoleon then knocks the cat off a cliff and into the basket, which sails away in the water. On a cliff side, Napoleon sees an image of a wild dog howling, symbolising that he understands his bravery of being a wild dog inside.
Birdo reappears with a turtle who takes Napoleon back to the city. Napoleon returns home to his mother, who consents to calling him Napoleon and no longer Muffin.Jamie Croft as Napoleon, a Golden Retriever pup.
Philip Quast as Birdo, a Rose-breasted Cockatoo.
Carole Skinner as the Cat
Mignon Kent as Nancy
Michael Wilkop as Sid
Napoleon was the most expensive independent production to be made in South Australia at the time of production. Director Mario Andreacchio was inspired to make the film after watching The Adventures of Milo and Otis with his children. During the shoot, 64 different dogs played the title role.
Napoleon grossed $2,051,855 at the box office in Australia during 1995. In Japan, the film opened on 87 screens during late February under the name Kulta, Finnish for "gold". According to Andreacchio, the Japanese public mistook the original English title for a kind of brandy.
It was released on VHS in the United States, with a different dub, on 11 August 1998 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
In the US, the film received no advance screenings for critics. It however received three stars out of four from the New York Daily News. Despite being a financial disappointment, the film has received a cult following.