Review Captain Underpants: Don’t let the title lead you to believe that “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” (PG, 1:29) is “just another dumb kids’ movie” or anything like that. It’s more – surprisingly, much more! First of all, the film is based on the series of children’s novels written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey. The main series of 12 books (not counting three spin-offs) were published 1997-2015 and received a 2006 Disney Adventures Kids’ Choice Award. The books have been translated into 20 languages and sold over 70 million copies worldwide. So, that means that the books were successful enough to make the leap to the big screen, but the question here is whether the movie is any good as a standalone piece of entertainment. Well, if you’re anything like me, being only vaguely aware of the titular character’s existence (if at all) and skeptical of the film’s title, you might need some convincing regarding whether Captain Underpants is worthy of your entertainment dollars – or your time – or that of any tykes in your life. For now, I’ll just say that watching the movie convinced me that the answer to all those questions is a resounding “yes”! The movie takes characters and plot points from each of the first four books (especially the fourth one) – and some of the others – while mixing in some new stuff and functioning as both origin story and fun animated action/adventure. The story follows two 4th grade boys who are best friends and next-door neighbors, George Beard (voiced by Kevin Hart) and Harold Hutchins (Thomas Middleditch, from TV’s “Silicon Valley”). Mainly because of their mean, child-hating principal, Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms), George and Kevin don’t like being students at Jerome Horowitz Elementary (a fictional Ohio school using the birth name of Curly Howard, of “Three Stooges” fame). The boys funnel their frustrations, mischievous natures, natural creativity and 4th grade sense of humor into a series of pranks which puts them even deeper in Principal Krupp’s dog house. With George as the writer and Harold as the illustrator, they also produce a series of comic books which depict the adventures of a dimwitted but enthusiastic superhero whom they call Captain Underpants (because most superhero costumes look like underwear anyway).
With the help of their humorless and nerdy classmate, Melvin Sneedly (Jordan Peele), Principal Krupp gets some evidence of the wily George and Harold pulling one of their pranks and decides to place them in separate classes. The boys worry that this will result in the end of their friendship, so they take action. George hypnotizes Principal Krupp with a cereal box prize (a “3D Hypno Ring”) and commands him to become Captain Underpants. Krupp embodies all of the hilarious positive and negative traits of the boys’ comic creation, which forces them to stick with him to keep him from getting into trouble or getting hurt. Then they discover that Captain Underpants reverts to Principal Krupp when he gets wet, but becomes Captain Underpants again when George snaps his finger. The movie plays that back-and-forth for lots of laughs – and gives this superhero a villain to fight when a new science teacher who calls himself Professor P (Nick Kroll) turns out to be an evil genius who is trying to rid the world of laughter.
“Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” delivers all the charm of the books – and then some. The type of animation (similar to 2015’s “The Peanuts Movie”) is perfect for this one and the voice work couldn’t be better. Sure, potty humor is this film’s stock-in-trade, but it’s so innocently and humorously presented, that it’s hard not to smile (or laugh – repeatedly). But the beating heart of this script by Nicholas Stoller (“Storks”, the “Neighbors” movies, 2011’s and 2014’s “Muppets” movies) is the friendship of the Captain Underpants creators, which is enhanced by a subtle anti-bullying message. Director David Soren (“Turbo”) gives us jokes, comic timing and sight gags that are funnier and more enjoyable than most live action comedies – and includes a great balance of laughs and lessons. You could think of it as an Adam Sandler comedy appropriate for kids – and just as enjoyable by adults who will appreciate the relative innocence of George and Harold, while relating to their mischievousness.
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This movie takes common foibles, flaws and fantasies of elementary school students and turns them into a creative, clever and comedic animated adventure. But don’t just take my word for it. I submit the following reactions for your consideration: During the preview screening I attended, both adults and children frequently laughed out loud, the audience applauded as the credits rolled and I even saw a teenage girl literally dancing out of the theater as the theme song by Weird Al Yankovic played. It’s hard to believe that so much enjoyment can be packed into one little movie. Let’s just hope it lives up to its title – namely, that it is indeed only the first epic Captain Underpants movie. Whether you’re a fan of the books or not, give this one a chance. You’ll never look at tighty whities the same way again. “A+”