REVIEW — “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie”
Here’s something you probably didn’t expect to read today – Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is one of the most delightful surprises of the year thus far. Based off of the hit book series by Dav Pilkey, the film follows Harold (Thomas Middleditch) and George (Kevin Hart), who are two inseparable best friends and notorious pranksters at their Elementary School. After their overbearing and constantly furious principal Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms) threatens to separate the two of them and place them in different classes, they end up hypnotizing him to be under their command. Within a snap of a finger, he turns into their original comic-book creation named Captain Underpants. This leads Krupp into believing he’s genuinely the superhero they created, who has a vast array of implausible and ridiculous powers.. the only catch is that Mr. Krupp doesn’t actually have these powers, which makes his antics more harmful than good and leads to many hijinks that Harold and George have to stop.
I’ll be honest and say that some of my enjoyment for this film is based on the nostalgia I have for reading these books in elementary school. In fact, reading these books with friends is one of my most delightful memories from that period in my life. That being said, I’m confident to say that Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie actually is a surprisingly well-made film and I found things to admire, aside from just my personal enjoyment. My biggest compliment to the film is how unabashedly weird it gets at points. The humor is completely self-aware and meta to the fullest degree, even sort-of reminding me of The Lego Movie in certain sections. When adapting a series that is as weird as Captain Underpants is, you need to go weird or go home – and the film is even weirder than the books are at certain points. There’s an entire sequence where live-action sock puppets take over the film to tell a story and robots randomly barge in and kill each other. That’s probably the best example of how oddball this thing is and a reason why a lot of the parents leaving my screening were telling each other how terrible they found it to be.
As far as the animation goes, it’s obviously beautifully done, as that is to be expected from any DreamWorks Animation film at this point. But the unique visual style of the film and the way it adapts the look and feel of the books, opposed to trying to modernize or normalize it all, is quite admirable and makes for one of the most interestingly designed films the studio has put out thus far. This is escalated even more once the film reaches its third act showdown with the evil Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll) and it shows off how wacky and colorful it can possibly be. From a shrink/enlarge ray being used at any target the characters can find to a giant toilet that is full of neon-green radioactive water, the film really holds nothing back when adapting this wacky source material and going all in on honoring the style and tone that Dav Pilkey established in his novels. It’s refreshing to see such an imaginative and bonkers children’s film.
This isn’t one of the best animated films of the last few years by any means and it’s not without faults that can be found by others – but as far as being a Captain Underpants movie goes, this one succeeds more often than it should and is far better than it has any right to be. It has a committed voice cast behind its characters (Jordan Peele voicing a privileged white kid is hysterical), a genuinely smart script with clever dialogue and a fun story, a brisk pace, and a surprisingly heartfelt undertone to all of the wackiness that ensues. This is by no means a tearjerker, but the film has a fairly positive message about the values of creativity and friendship in the midst of a society driven by adults who seemingly only want conformity and basic thinking within their students. This film should help kids be more open to expressing their ideas – no matter how weird they sound or turn out to be. It’s not going to be the best film of the Summer, but if you’re interested in seeing it or have kids begging you to take them, I suggest giving it a shot; you may just have as good of a time as I did. 3.5/5.