MOVIE REVIEW: CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS: THE FIRST EPIC MOVIE
June 15, 2017
If you're a parent, or someone who's grown up from the elementary school aged to teen/tween years within the past 20 years, you've heard of CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS. Written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey and first published in 1997, the CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS series now includes 12 books, and three spin-offs with 70 million books sold worldwide (including 50 million in the United States alone) and translation into 20 languages. And now Dreamworks Animation brings us CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS: THE FIRST EPIC MOVIE! TRA-LA-LA-LAAA!!
Based on the book series by Dav Pilkey, directed by David Soren (the man behind "Turbo"), and written by Nicholas Stoller, from script to animation the result is a seamless adaptation of non-stop zaniness, laughter and heart. Lots and lots of laughter and lots and lots of "Hart." It's safe to say, there's nothing poopy about CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS (other than Professor Poopypants!)!! These tight-y whities are comically mighty!!
For those uninitiated in the world of CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS, the series revolves around best friends George Beard and Harold Hutchins. Meeting in first grade, the two became instant besties thanks to the hilarity of the word "Uranus". Living in Piqua, Ohio, they are in the fourth grade and not only are they best friends, they are also next door neighbors, with an awesomely cool that overhangs into both of their backyards. But that's not just any ordinary treehouse. That treehouse is headquarters for "Treehouse Comix, Inc.", where George and Harold turn out completely original comic books which they sell on the school playground for 50 cents apiece (after sneaking into the school secretary's office to make copies of the latest publications, of course).
Class clowns and natural pranksters, George and Harold believe it their responsibility to create laughter wherever they are, especially when school Principal Benjamin "Benny" Krupp is around. Over the years they patented a style of good, clean fun nicelessly blended with jokes about bodily functions and toilets, all to relieve the tedium of school. A man who hates children (and he's an elementary school principal? Go figure.), George and Harold are the bane of Krupp's existence. Needless to say, they also make Krupp the butt of much of the humor in their own comic books, something which riles Krupp to the point of wanting to separate the boys and place them in different classrooms. But what happens when the ideas on the pages of their comic books suddenly start to happen in real life?
Using their never-ending imaginations, just for kicks and giggles George and Harold try to hypnotize "Benny" with a 3D Hypno Ring out of a cereal box and make Benny believe he's Captain Underpants. Imagine their surprise when it actually works! With the snap of their fingers, Benny believes he's Captain Underpants - barefoot super-hero out to save the world wearing nothing but his tight-y whities and red cape! Captain Underpants is also the master of silly one-liner jokes, the total antithesis of Krupp. But with a dousing of water, he's back to being mean old Principal Krupp. And while George and Harold believe that this power will just enhance their powers to create laughter all around them, Captain Underpants has no super-hero powers, something that might really hurt Principal Krupp. This puts a burden on George and Harold to follow Captain Underpants everywhere he goes to make sure he doesn't get injured.
Interesting is that while he's Mr. Krupp, he doesn't remember anything about being Captain Underpants, but while Captain Underpants he seems to know EVERYTHING about Captain Underpants. How can that be? Krupp confiscates and destroys all of George and Harold's comic books. Or does he?
But things take a strange turn with the hiring of the new science teacher, Professor Pee-Pee Diarrheastein Poopypants. As we quickly learn, Professor Poopypants is anything but a well-intentioned science teacher. He is really a mad scientist with and evil agenda to remove laughter from the world. GASP! And it doesn't hurt to have a brown-nosing student like George and Harold's foe, Melvin, to want to help the teacher in all of his endeavors. As Professor Poopypants does his evil best with his latest invention, the Turbo Toilet 2000, things get even stranger when thanks to some toxic chemicals Captain Underpants drinks, he develops real super-powers!
Can Captain Underpants, together with George and Harold, defeat the evil Professor Poopypants and make the world safe for laughter? Or will the universe be doomed for a humorless existence?
As with Pilkey's books, at the forefront of CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS: THE FIRST EPIC MOVIE is friendship and laughter! The heart of the books and the film is the friendship between George and Harold, something which translates from page to screen quite well, not only thanks to the animation but the perfect voice casting. Filled with plenty of fourth-grade level potty jokes, one can't help but laugh on hearing them. The jokes are often cute and funny but what sells them is that the jokes are coming from the mindset of a 9-year old and not adults trying to be crass. Kids love potty jokes and when kids tell them, even adults laugh!
So often flops from the start, with CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS, one-liners abound but they work beautifully, never falling flat or feeling out of place or just thrown in. The story humor is organic with the visuals then serving to complement.
Story structure of the friendship between George and Harold is well thought out and delves into the fears of losing your BFF because you're in a different classroom. While that's not the case, to a kid that is a fate worse than death. Kudos to scribe Stoller who sets the stage with this fearful act only to bring it back around in the third act as a wonderful message for kids with George's realization that you don't lose a friend just because you're not pinned at the hip. The entire conceptualization of friendship and laughter making the world a better place couldn't be more timely and more necessary in today's world. And imagination! CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS celebrates imagination as Harold and George create their comic book stories.
The story is tightly constructed and quite good from concept to execution. The 9-year old point of view is done to perfection. Jokes are kid perfect. Everyone remembers (or was) pranksters like George and Harold in elementary school making connection and resonance universal. And of course, toss in the world of CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS, notably the treehouse, and uh, locking yourself inside a school locker is something everyone has felt like doing at one time or another, and visual and emotional touchstones leap off the screen.
Talking about visuals, the animation and the use of different animation styles is not only executed perfectly and ups the ante on the book to screen adaptation without losing the innocence and appeal of the book illustrations. Breaking down the fourth wall with 2D animation, sock puppets and Flip-O-Rama flip-book sequences, you feel like you are in the movie or in the pages of the comic books within the film. Flip-O-Rama is a real animation standout, but then giving us the 2D magic marker comic drawing of the books within the animated film is wonderfully executed. Creating the visual texture of drawing paper even in the end credits, and then having the hand drawings throughout done with the inevitable streaks of white that weren't colored in, all make for wonderfully realistic and realized touches. One of the greatest visual delights in the film, however, is a third act sequence of a multitude of chomping toilets with toxic neon green oozing from their toilet seat chomping teeth. Hilarious!
Character creation through voice and animation provides plenty of enjoyment on multiple sensory and emotional levels. Professor Poopypants is too Einstein-funny while Captain Underpants' alter-ego Principal Krupp is a true amalgamation of how many kids view their school principal. The level of animated exaggeration of events and the world as seen through a kid's eyes is so well done. Everything seems bigger and scarier than it really is, like the security lock on the principal's door. Yikes!
The detail within the animation is standout. Without a doubt one of the best pieces of animation is the treehouse. Designed as the kind of sanctuary every kid - and many adults - dreams of having as their own, detail abounds within every knock and cranny and wood knot. Look around. Then see the film again and look some more. You'll see something new each time. The design of the school picks up on common themes and classroom identifiers.
Then there's color. The use of color is a confectioner's delight using primary colors of red, blue and yellow, plus green, as the primary focus of the main animation and each main character, the color wheel then gets a work-out in the background art and design detail. Not just pleasing to the eye, but appropriate and supportive as a storytelling tool.
If there were an Academy Award for voice casting, Kevin Hart would be at the top of the nominee list for his work here as George Beard. Hart has finally found the perfect role. I can imagine no one but him as George Beard. There is not a moment you don't believe him. Hart often acts so much like a kid that it's more than fitting he finally gets to play one with this voicing. He is beyond fun and funny. The rapier delivery and split-second comic timing is flawless. And the way Hart says "kindee-garten" just cracks me up.
Joining Hart's George Beard as Harold Hutchins is Thomas Middleditch who, while equally enthusiastic as Hart, serves as a balance to Hart's often somewhat more frenzied patter. Ed Helms as Principal "Benny" Krupp and Captain Underpants is a scream. No stranger to voicing, Helms is masterful at effectively altering inflection, tone and cadence between the two characters.
Better than having super-sized rolls of toilet paper popping out around town is the film's music. Talk about high energy cool fun! The "Captain Underpants Theme Song" song from none other than "Weird Al" Yankovich, is beyond catchy and fun while the "Saturday" song has all the makings of a Top 40 pop hit! The soundtrack releases the same day as the film and this is one album you'll want for your listening library complete with tracks from Andy Grammar, plus Yello's "Oh Yeah" covered by Adam Lambert and Lil Yachty, and three tracks from the Theodore Shapiro's original score.
CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS: THE FIRST EPIC MOVIE. Friendship, fun and laughter. A perfect way to celebrate the end of school and the start of summer. No one is gonna give David Soren and company wedgies after seeing this film; not even George Beard and Harold Hutchins!
Directed by David Soren
Written by Nicholas Stoller, based on the books by Dav Pilkey
Voice Cast: Kevin Hart, Thomas Middleditch, Ed Helms, Nick Kroll