It can be a challenge to fairly review a movie if you aren’t its target audience, and this reviewer certainly isn’t the target audience for Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie. Fortunately for this reviewer, this adaptation of Dav Pilkey’s series of Captain Underpants books weds a stellar cast with a well-written animated movie.
Directed by native-Toronto animator David Soren, who also wrote and directed Turbo for DreamWorks, Captain Underpants perfectly mixes humour that will appeal to both children and adults. The movie follows grade-school friends George (Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch), imaginative and creative best friends who live next door to each other and have been in the same class since kindergarten. George is a storyteller, Harold is an artist, and together they create a comic book called Captain Underpants, about an overweight superhero who wears only a cape and underwear.
The kids intend the superhero to be funny, giving the explanation that most superheroes wear tights that resemble underwear. The kids have a wicked sense of humour, which they use to torment their bitter, lonely principal, Mr. Krupp (a terrific Ed Helms), with a long list of pranks, often involving crude hijinks and whoopee cushions. During a school science fair–staged on a Saturday!–George and Harold sabotage a toilet invented by school nerd Melvin (Jordan Peele), who has no humour. Fueled with proof of the boys’ misdeeds, Krupp decides to put George and Harold into separate classes. The kids panic and accidentally hypnotize their principal into thinking he’s Captain Underpants. The kids, feeling guilty, follow Krupp around to make sure he doesn’t hurt himself. Not knowing how to turn him back, the kids convince Captain Underpants to live as his alter ego, a school principal. In disguise, Underpants hires mad scientist Professor Poopypants as the new science teacher. A genius inventor, Poopypants is tired of being laughed at for his name (one well-written scene shows him being awarded a Nobel Prize while the Nobel committee laughs at his name). As revenge, Poopypants decides to rob the school’s kids of their humour.
The storyline sounds particularly layered and complex for a kids’ flick, and to tell the truth, it is complex. But don’t let the seemingly convoluted plot scare you away from taking your kids, for Captain Underpants is a brisk 90-minute movie that both you and your kids will enjoy. The adults will recognize that this movie is actually a superhero origins movie, and George and Harold actually tell us themselves. The two kids are acutely aware of the fourth wall throughout the movie, and in the opening scene, the boys write the Captain Underpants origins comic book. The boys say things like “DreamWorks presents a Treehouse Comix production.” Throughout the opening scene, George and Harold edit the story as they go along, and they tell each other that origin stories are hard to write. (If this concept sounds familiar, it should be. Deadpool did it really well for adults.)
And although some recurring gags may be funnier for adults (one involves Krupp’s secretary. George and Harold prank phoned her and told her she had won a million dollars, and the audience continually sees her lying on her desk, waiting to be taken off hold), some gags will go directly to the kids, such as George and Harold, laughing at the name of the planet Uranus. And there’s a teacher named Poopypants!
For fans of superhero stories: this movie cleverly sets itself up for sequels, as all good origin stories do. But a sequel isn’t necessary; the good writing and direction is plentiful in this well-crafted kids’ movie.