To be a hundred percent honest, I never thought I’d see the day when Captain Underpants would get a movie. Don’t get me wrong, I love the books that made toilet humor more than a one trick gross out farce. But trying to work that kind of content into a movie, especially for kids and/or families seems very risky for both author/producer, David Pilkey and DreamWorks Animation. However with some fantastic creativity, an incredible cast of characters and a completely bonkers story this turns out to almost rival The Lego Batman Movie as one of the best animated films of the year, on its own and as an adaptation of a book series that constantly fought school censorship for twelve volumes.
Geroge Beard and Harold Hutchins (Kevin Hart and Tomas Middleditch) are two best friends surviving the purgatory known as Jerome Horwitz Elementary. In order to cope with their jail of a school, they create comic books via their Treehouse Comix Incorporated “business” and pull off rebellious pranks. But their warden Principal, Mr. Benjamin Krupp (Ed Helms) and his squealer pet, Melvin Sneedly (Jordan Peele) accumulate watergate level evidence against the duo to finally place them in separate classes. In a last ditch effort, they hypnotize Mr. Krupp into thinking he’s their own creation, Captain Underpants. But it turns out he’s harder to control than a dog without a leash. Meanwhile a new professor (Nick Kroll) seeks employment at Jerome Horwitz as a cover up for his revenge scheme on the world that never ceased to laugh at everything about him.
There’s so much effort from story to animation to make this a complete epic for the silliest reasons. Despite crocheting a plot from more than one book, it still stands on its own while cooking up fan service as the main course to its loyal readers. Everyone else was able to enjoy the sheer chaos of something that’s looks straight out of a Rick and Morty adventure where the rules are anything but grounded to our own reality. Heck, there were more adults laughing at it than kids at the screening. And things that should be clichéd are actually played for laughs, like a forced romantic interest, bratty kids and evil adults. The toilet humor never becomes a gross-out-sploitation fest like Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul or Osmosis Jones even with the underpants as the headlining garment. Once you get past the ticket line as a grown adult, there’s a lot to take in and appreciate through
For grown-ups who play kids, Kevin Hart and Tomas Middleditch still manage to be as convincing as Kristen Schaal from Gravity Falls (She’s also in this! Yay!). And that’s without mentioning their imaginative chemistry and justifiable rebellious antics. Their situation separate’s them from most kid characters who want to rebel because, insert reason 101. Ed Helms sells his vocal chords as Mr. Krupp and the tighty-whities Superman clone who’s actually given more of a backstory. But Nick Kroll steals the spotlight as the villain with a motive so sympathetic that it’s kind of sad for him to end up as the butt of everyone’s joke be it kids and especially adults. There’s a lot of epicness put into something so small that it comes off as absolutely charming.
The animators at Dreamworks and Mikros Image clearly took a lot of influence from both Pilkey’s books and the BlueSky adaptation of Peanuts. The computer animation has a hand-drawnification feel mixed with a dash of the Fleisher Brothers elastic exaggeration. It’s so bizarre and unique in the medium that the animation can morph from computer, to child drawings, to sock-puppets of all things. Whenever Mr. Krupp smiles, you can practically feel the Chuck Jones Grinch coursing through his teeth as his happiness sends chills down the kids spines a la the dementors from Harry Potter. It might not be the most realistic, but the fluidity of each expression and situation really embraces a lot of madhouse moments.
Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie really is an epic movie for the most oddball reasons. For a book series that could’ve easily been a 90’s live-action cluster-muck like Steel, Tank Girl and The Phantom this was the best it cold ever be in a time when both kids and adults are sharing nearly the same interest in animation than a decade ago. The characters are very relatable for a story that’s so meta and without any marbles, the animation is one of the most frantic and color-saturated simplicity and it’s a comedic gold fest from the voice acting and the writing. Anyone who’s gone out of their way to keep up with the books owes it to themselves to see a proper novel transition into a movie with old and new audiences. Those unfamiliar with the underpants universe will also get a great laugh, so long as you know that it’s a fun nonsensical experience rather than an academy award life changing masterpiece. If none of the sways you over, maybe a hyper-ballistic theme song performed by the one and only, Weird Al Yankovic will answer all your questions. A match made in heaven when describing both the song and the underpants journey.
Note: The 3D is the only wedgie in these briefs. Watering down all the bright colors with no pop-outs in return.
Pros: likeable cast + characters, colorfully stylized animation, meta-frantic comedy, wacky situations