Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie | David Soren | June 2, 2017
Thinking back to my time growing up, there were a few fads throughout the years of my childhood: Game Boys, yo-yo’s, Pokémon. Other millennial children will have similar responses, with one of them being Captain Underpants. I’m sure if I go digging through the depths of the forgotten corners of my house I will be able to find my once beloved copies of the silly but lovable children’s novel series from author and illustrator Dav Pilkey.
The first edition of the series, The Adventures Of Captain Underpants, came out way back in 1997. Here we are, two decades later, and Captain Underpants is finally making its debut on the big screen. Truth be told I was a bit wary about it being turned into a movie, which seemed way too late and had the possibility of being another botched kids adaptation that put box office gold as priority number one over quality storytelling. Then there’s the fact that most of the kids who really grew up with the series are now adults, as well as the question of how well Captain Underpants was connecting to today’s children, considering that the 12th and final book came out two years ago.
I’m happy to report that Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is not only a success, but it is so enjoyable that it somehow managed to turn back the clock nearly 20 years and make me feel like a kid again. Prior to my screening, if you asked me to describe the series I would only be able to give you a rough outline with the main bullet points. But during the screening, the world of Dav Pilkey came flooding back to me, making me feel like a kid again in the best way possible.
For those who were too old, or whose parents were too strict, Captain Underpants is the story of George Beard (Kevin Hart) and Harold Hutchins (Thomas Middleditch), two best friends in fourth grade, known as master pranksters at their school, driving their uptight Principal Krupp (Ed Helms) up the wall. He makes it his daily mission to try and get proof of their antics to finally have evidence to send them to separate classes, hoping to ruin their close friendship. George and Harold accidentally turn him into Captain Underpants with the help of a magical hypnotizing ring from a box of cereal and are able to control him quite literally with the snap of their finger. The timing is right, as the school also has a new evil science teacher named Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll) who wants to rid the world of laughter so that everyone will stop laughing at his last name. Can you blame them?
If this all sounds ludicrous, just know that it is, that’s part of the charm. Director David Soren brings the story to life in ways I didn’t imagine possible, glowingly showing off the smart and witty script by Nicholas Stoller. Not only does he keep the kids entertained, but he throws plenty of smart and eccentric humor at you at a 30 Rock level of speed that reminds of the sort of smartly ridiculous humor seen most recently in films like The Lego Movie/The Lego Batman Movie and 21 Jump Street. Most of the laughs come rooted in embracing the insanity of the original source material (it was good to see you again, Flip-o-rama!), but a lot of it is zany, creative and totally of left field, which brought an infectiousness that I couldn’t quite shake.
Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch bring the characters of George and Harold to life wonderfully, both injecting the hilarity of the two while also adding a sense of warmth. Ed Helms is strangely perfect as Captain Underpants, bringing a fair bit of the eccentricity that he showed off as the good old Nard Dog, Andy Benard, on The Office. There was also contributing voice work from Nick Kroll as Professor Poopypants, Jordan Peele as the teacher’s pet, Melvin, and Kristen Schaal as the lunch lady, Edith.
Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie succeeds because of the creative humor it interjects constantly throughout the film’s brisk runtime of 89 minutes; it moves so well that it doesn’t even feel that long. Sure, there are some moments where it gets a bit too silly with its childish humor, and the third act does suffer from some pacing issues here and there. But none of this matters because it stays true to the heart of the novels, which was the unbreakable bond of a shared childhood friendship. It’s a theme that hits home even as an adult, is told in earnest, and never gets preachy. The way that Soren and Stoller balance all of this with a hearty batch of comedy that’s well suited for both kids and adults makes Captain Underpants one of the most pleasant surprises of 2017.
If there’s any new film that deserves to find success as a new franchise, look no further. Captain Underpants has arrived.