'Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie'
Can a movie exist primarily around the hilarity of seeing a middle-aged cartoon man wearing underoos? Yes, apparently it can. It’s called ‘Captain Underpants’. It comes from a successful series of children’s books, so presumably the film will appeal to tikes who love them and older kids who were raised on them. Despite the relentless energy of the movie and the sheer volume of family-friendly potty humor on display, it’s hard to imagine anyone else getting much out of it.
The film focuses on two public school kids named George (Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch). They’re the class cutups, regularly doing pranks to liven up their boring school. Their principal (Ed Helms) is an absolute jerk who’s determined to put the boys in separate classrooms to ruin their friendship. That ain’t right, so the pair decide to foil his plan with more pranks. Specifically, they use a hypnotism ring turn the principal into a backyard superhero they’ve created named Captain Underpants. Miraculously, it works. Every time they snap their fingers, the principal strips down to his underpants and makes school fun. When he gets wet, he becomes a jerk again.
Things get extra crazy when an evil teacher named Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll) starts teaching the school’s science classes. As you can imagine, people tend to laugh at his name, so he has dedicated his life to robbing the world of laughter. Weirdly, he starts his plot in an undistinguished small town. Thankfully, two hilarious kids and a principal who thinks he’s an undies-focused superhero live in that town and they’re just the team to stop the perilous plot of Professor Poopypants.
As you may have gathered by now, this isn’t exactly high art. ‘Captain Underpants’ isn’t even a children’s book with themes or morals worth exploring for family audiences. It’s just a big, goofy, joke-driven cartoon designed for youngsters who think there’s nothing funnier than the word “poopypants.”
To be fair, that is a funny word. Indeed, the film has a handful of amusing gags. Unfortunately, there isn’t much variance to the humor or depth to the proceedings. It’s just one joke executed as shrilly and vibrantly as possible. It will play like a dog whistle. Those kids who can hear the pitch will eat it up and beg for seconds. Everyone else will sit there dumbfounded hoping to somehow understand why this franchise is so popular. It’ll likely divide most families who see it. But kids need dumb fun too, right?! Even if they sadly can’t go to these sorts of movies by themselves.
The movie is at least executed with a certain style and reverence for the source material. Longtime DreamWorks Animation veteran David Soren mimics the aesthetic of Dav Pilkey’s popular book series well and pulls it into three dimensions with enough swooping set-pieces, lightning-paced montages, blinding bright colors, and cartoon surrealism to ensure that there’s little time for boredom or thought in the 89-minute running time. Meanwhile, Nicholas Stoller (‘The Muppets’, ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’) combines several books and his own jokes into a script with no breathing room. The voice cast composed exclusively of comedians deliver every character with broad humor and kinetic insanity. It plays like a particularly rambunctious Saturday morning cartoon on a blockbuster scale: loud, rude, colorful, quick, and joyously meaningless.
The appeal of ‘Captain Underpants’ to kiddies is obvious, and undoubtedly those who made this series popular enough to warrant a movie will love it. As an adult (even one who enjoys good potty humor), it was hard for me to find the same immature gags funny or connect with any of the characters. Watching the movie felt like having a massive whoopee cushion blown into my face for 90 minutes. At first it was kind of funny and occasionally the commitment to the same stupid gags spark a couple laughs later, but for the most part it was exhausting, irritating, and I desperately wanted the big fart to end.
I’d imagine that’ll be true for most parents forced to sit through this thing. But it’s not for us. It’s for the 12-year-olds out there, for whom a 90-minute massive whoopee cushion faceblast would be a dream too good to possibly ever come true. I hope they enjoy the hell out of ‘Captain Underpants’, because everyone else has a long, loud and obnoxious sit coming their way fast.