Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is directed by David Soren and features voice work from Kevin Hart, Ed Helms, Thomas Middleditch, Nick Kroll, and Jordan Peele. The film is based on the Captain Underpants series of children novels by author Dav Pilkey.
If you were curious, yes, I did grow up reading several of the Captain Underpants novels, so I had childhood nostalgia to boost me through the film and not let me be totally bothered by the fact that I was sitting in a theater filled with kids that, I would guess, were mostly between the ages of seven and twelve. A book series like Captain Underpants is one that brazenly embraces toilet/potty humor which naive young children will soak up and giggle over. Let me clear about one thing; I have seen enough bad comedy in my lifetime already to understand that fart jokes, poop jokes, and anything else similar in nature are usually regarded (mostly by adults) as some of the lowest forms of humor out there. These jokes grow old super fast, since there is only so many times that you can hear a wet fart or see someone face-plant into a mound of feces before you say, "That's not funny anymore." You'd normally see these kind of jokes in movies featuring the likes of Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider, and all of their comedy friends (Kevin James, David Spade, etc.), and, needless to say, the likes of Grown Ups, Jack & Jill, and Norm of the North have all received acidic reviews because of how oh-so terrible and lazy that the humor is in those said films I just mentioned, relying on strict farting, pooping, and pissing in some shape or form. So while the likes of Adam Sandler foolishly believe that they can make you laugh with something like lame fart sounds, Captain Underpants does something rather unique with toilet humor. It doesn't just embrace the possibilities of gross-out potty jokes; it acknowledges and takes advantage of how much children love hearing words like "fart" and "poop" and their accompanying sounds. The parents/adults will find it funny because the kids are howling with laughter. This is what makes Captain Underpants work.
The plot is more-so a mash-up of various characters from the first few novels. Fourth-graders George Beard (Kevin Hart) and Harold Hutchins (Thomas Middleditch) are trouble-making best friends who love to spend time in their treehouse writing and drawing comic books. They sell their comics on the playground at school and bring lots of needed joy to their fellow classmates. George and Harold's most notable comic is of the superhero Captain Underpants. George and Harold also pull off various pranks at school, which draws them the ire of their cranky, no-fun school principal, Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms). The two decide to pull a prank at the school's annual Invention Convention, but Mr. Krupp is able to gather evidence of the prank, and proceeds to put the boys into separate classes, threatening to destroy their friendship. George and Harold are able to prevent their separation when George uses a 3D Hypno Ring to hypnotize Mr. Krupp and command him to be Captain Underpants. It's all fun and games until Captain Underpants begins to cause havoc around George and Harold's hometown. George and Harold's awkward predicament only gets worse when their school hires a new science teacher named Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll), who has a secret evil agenda under his belt to get revenge for the ridicule that he has suffered throughout his life due to his name.
The funny thing is that this is the second-such DreamWorks Animations release this year in which its humor is centered on a titular character whose name and appearance will most likely send your mind into the toilet bowl. The Boss Baby (which I still have yet to see) suggests any sort of smelly undoings that come with taking care of babies, and a superhero that runs around wearing nothing but a cape and his underwear is just begging to make you think of whatever dirty (but still kid-friendly) things that go along with underwear. Now since I have not seen The Boss Baby yet, I cannot accurately describe it as a movie that is targeted towards kids or if it is more family-oriented. Captain Underpants, without question, is a kids movie. It does have its adult references slipped in here and there (there always has to be SOMETHING that only the parents can understand), but given its setting and basic story, there is no denying that it's the kiddies that the film is hoping to appeal the most to. The film, made on a relatively cheap $38 million budget, has the cutesy animation style seen in the likes of Mr. Peabody & Sherman and The Peanuts Movie, and it is the first time that I have ever seen Kevin Hart play a role in which he is not allowed to do any of his typical Kevin Hart outbursts. The film also surprisingly shares some similarities to the adult-minded Sausage Party. Nick Kroll voices another hilariously-named villain; first a literal Douche bag in Sausage Party, and now Professor Pee-Pee Diarrheastein Poopypants in this movie. Both Sausage Party and Captain Underpants also enjoy the wonders of dirty humor. However, I would say that Captain Underpants is just a little bit better in that regard, since the focus is more on the possibilities of a dirty joke to be funny, while Sausage Party can get carried away at times, mostly in how characters are dropping empty F-bombs to excess.
- The cheeky sense of fun. A lot of Captain Underpants's essential plot points are based on the impudence of its characters towards each other. George & Harold seek to make their principal's life a living hell, so much so that we see that George and Harold have their own reserved seats outside of Mr. Krupp's office. Professor Poopypants is driven to do evil by the ridicule that he has faced his entire life, and he reaches his boiling point when the children of Jerome Horwitz Elementary School discover his full name. The rather irreverent nature of the film's humor really comes down to one of the most essential components of comedy; someone must be in some form of misery. Someone is almost always getting irritated or made a fool of at the hands of George and Harold (and sometimes Captain Underpants himself), and it's funny because of how the beneficiary is children who are in a stage of their lives where we can expect them to laugh at words like "fart" and "poop" and cause trouble. None of it feels mean-spirited because no adult character is completely innocent.
- The film utilizes various animation styles outside of the CG animation which are quite fitting. There is a sequence in which we see George & Harold as sock puppets, and we see a couple of times in which George & Harold show off the flip-o-rama, one of the fundamental parts of Dav Pilkey's novels. Two pages are flipped back and forth to display some sort of action/fight move, and they normally happen right in the midst of a big fight involving Captain Underpants. There are also several animated hand-drawn sketches, which give the film a comic book feel.
- There really wasn't anything in Captain Underpants that I found to be a specific low point, but I was slightly disappointed that the film didn't have a laugh-out-loud hilarious moment that I would remember and tell to my friends and family later on. The film does a fine job of getting some mild laughs and constant giggles out of you, but it never risks any sort of dark humor and it never slips in a super naughty adult joke that the kids should not understand until they grow up. But, hey, when a comedy film makes you laugh enough throughout, it's done its job right.
I now feel inclined to go back and reread the Captain Underpants books that I read as a child, and I am quite sure that I was not the only grown adult male in the world to go and see this film in a theater filled with young kids. The Captain Underpants novels were a memorable part of my childhood, and I'm happy to give the first epic movie a thumbs up. The word "first" in the title implies that there will be sequels, and if the sequels are able to maintain the series' goofy fun and actually-funny potty humor, then, to hell with having to sit in a theater filled with young kids. I will be there sitting right next to them; no shame and no questions asked.
Recommend? Yes, even if you didn't read Dav Pilkey's novels
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