Film Review: Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie

An appropriately juvenile sense of humor makes 'Captain Underpants' one of the more twisted kids’ movies from DreamWorks Animation.
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Just when you thought animated movies couldn’t dive any deeper into the gutter in order to entertain your kids, along comes the pinnacle of laughable potty humor in what will also be the last DreamWorks Animation movie distributed by 20th Century Fox after their five-year relationship.

Like the recent The Boss Baby, Captain Underpants is based on a popular series of books, these by Dav Pilkey with the subtitle dubbing them as “Epic Novels.” This first movie version features fourth-grade buddies George and Harold (voiced by Kevin Hart and “Silicon Valley”’s Thomas Middleditch), who come up with imaginative comic books together while also pulling elaborate pranks at their elementary school. The latter has made them the absolute bane of the school’s Principal Kropp (Ed Helms), who’s made it his job is to remove any sense of fun at the school for both the kids and their teachers.

In danger of being split up, the boys inadvertently hypnotize Kropp into thinking he’s their made-up superhero, Captain Underpants. As this ridiculous hero wearing nothing but tighty-whities and a cape, Kropp turns into the polar opposite of himself, now being all about having fun. The boys learn that water turns him back into the grumpy Kropp, but with a snap of their finger, he’s “Tra-la-la”-ing his way into fighting injustice and getting himself into predicaments.

At the same time, a mad scientist with the unfortunate name of Professor Poopypants (voiced by Nick Kroll) has arrived at the school to fill the need for a science teacher. The Professor’s unfortunate last name has made him a laughing stock among the scientific community, so he seeks revenge by removing laughter from the world, starting with the boys and their schoolmates.

This odd screenplay is written by Nicholas Stoller, best known for his R-rated humor in movies like Neighbors, but also having balanced that with family fare like last year’s Storks and even The Muppets in 2011. Captain Underpants may not be the strangest premise for one of DWA’s animated movies—that would probably be The Boss Baby—but Stoller uses it to get some bona-fide belly laughs, especially if you’re able to turn off your brain for 90 minutes and tap into what makes most kids laugh.

Make no mistake that Captain Underpants leans heavily on the juvenile humor of fourth-graders, which is predominantly snicker-worthy potty humor. It’s the type of comedy that rarely finds favor among adults (or critics, for that matter), but goes over gangbusters with the younger set and actually works. Making an entertaining movie that isn’t mind-numbing is a frequent challenge the movie lives up to, while introducing fun supporting characters like a lunch lady, voiced by Kristen Schaal, who has a crush on the school’s cranky principal.

The animation takes some adjusting to, because the human characters all have oddly shaped, conical heads, but it gives the characters a comic-strip look similar to “Calvin and Hobbes.” Along the way, director David Soren (Turbo) and his team find a way to mix things up with a number of impressive tangents into other forms of animation (even sock puppets!) to keep the storytelling exciting.

As the film’s pace picks up frantically, the action becomes more of a challenge to follow, but that type of spectacle actually makes the movie more entertaining. If there isn’t enough potty humor for you up until that point, the third act actually delivers a giant robotic toilet as part of Professor P’s master plan.

Adults will likely snub their nose at some of the gags their kids will be laughing heartily at, but this is never a movie that acts too snobby, knowing full well that when you call your movie “Captain Underpants,” you’re generally going to be going for the lowest-brow humor possible. Understanding that, Captain Underpants’ unquenchable desire to make kids laugh is ultimately what wins you over with its charm.

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