Comic books have been a part of American youth for decades. Generations of kids have had the thrill of turning the pages to catch up on the latest exploits of heroes in spandex, battling evil and standing up for good. Then there are the kids that get together and craft their own stories of heroism, laying on the floor doodling to the best of their youthful abilities as their young minds have fantastical stories swirl around. That spirit is at the heart of the animated film Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, director David Soren’s film based on the “epic novels” by Dav Pilkey. Captain Underpants aims for a younger audience but provides plenty of laughs for the adults in the theater while honoring that enthusiasm that super-heroics bring out in the young mind.
George (Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch) are best friends that spend their free time crafting comic tales of their own superhero, Captain Underpants. Their escapist fun isn’t welcomed by the authoritarian principal of their school Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms), who tears up their penciled and inked labor in fits of rage. George and Harold have an affinity for toilet humor and find an outlet for their ample senses of humor through various pranks to break up the monotony of their clamped down school. But their latest prank has pushed the iron fist of Mr. Krupp to split up the two troublemakers, causing the young friends to wonder what such a thing would do to their friendship. Out of desperation, George attempts to hypnotize his principal with his plastic Hypno-ring, which proves surprisingly effective. Now their grumpy principal believes himself to be their created superhero Captain Underpants, creating a whole new set of obstacles along the way. When the nefarious Professor P. (Nick Kroll) gets a job at the school, he teams with the humorless Melvin (Jordan Peele) to eliminate laughter. There’s only one hero that can stop this scientific supervillain – Captain Underpants.
The humor of Captain Underpants is very, very juvenile with an emphasis on toilet humor, literally. But that’s not to say that the screenplay by Nicholas Stoller is raunchy in its humor. There’s plenty of wit within the movie but it remains entirely focused on its younger audience, so the toilet jokes get somewhat tiresome for adults as they’re often repeated. Even when it does get somewhat tiresome, there’s plenty of good nature to the innocuous sense of toilet humor that dominates Captain Underpants.
Captain Underpants: The Epic First Movie does have some nice themes about friendship and fearing change in youth, something that movie does with a bit of comedic swagger in the enthusiastic friendship of George and Harold. The movie also taps into the despair that children feel in their learning institutions, and these are realized in visually funny moments where sadden kids trudge along with their heads lowered as they march towards their joyless classes. On top of all that, Captain Underpants revels in subverting the tropes of the superhero genre, starting with the film eponymous superhero.
This is a movie that isn’t going to set the world on fire with its artistry. The animation is colorful and minor but the real pleasures of Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie lie in the wit of its writing and the joyous nature of the way it tackles its themes. Captain Underpants doesn’t try to hide the fact that it’s aiming for a very young audience that are amused by farts but is able to slip enough wit in there that parents won’t want to rip out their hair. It is impossible to fully dismiss any movie that ends with an original song by “Weird” Al Yankovic. The other big movie coming out this weekend is also a superhero movie and the trend shows no signs of slowing down in the immediate future. At least there’s a new superhero movie that understands that magical feeling that drew so many kids to these amazing stories that adults still obsess over.
Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
An animated children’s film with a juvenile sense of humor, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie aims for the laughs of kids while slipping in a few jokes for adults.