Okay, so, this is my first TheAmazingNerdiverse.com exclusive movie review, mostly because it doesn’t fall into the domain of my usual writing gig for Heroic Hollywood and also because Steven probably has zero interest in doing a video review for this one. Nevertheless, I got a chance to check this movie out, so I wanted to share my thoughts somewhere.
When I first heard that a “Captain Underpants” movie was in the works, I was elated. The original series of children’s books by Dav Pilkey was a favorite of mine growing up and it was the quest for that childhood nostalgia that motivated me to get my ass out of bed last Saturday morning and trek downtown for a 10 am screening of “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie.”
This is a film I’ve been waiting to see for about 20 years, so I didn’t even care that I’m almost 30, I was finally gonna check it out. Did it live up to the two decades worth of build-up? Read on to find out…
When two creative elementary school trouble-makers, best friends George and Harold (voiced by Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch), are in danger of being put into separate classes by their overly-stern principal (Ed Helms), they hypnotize him, turning him into the star of their own comic book series, Captain Underpants.
Growing up, what I loved most about these books is that they inspired creativity in young readers. My greatest hope for this film is that it might do the same for the kids in the audience, inspiring them to maybe write their own stories or draw their own comics. I never really thought about it, but those books might be one of the earliest things that inspired me to write my own stories. I remember drawing my own funny comics in elementary school and looking back, I have no doubt that the “Captain Underpants” books were what planted that seed in my head.
Seeing these two hanging out in their treehouse and creating their Captain Underpants comics in the film took me right back to that place in my life. I enjoyed their hijinks (I was pleased to see a message board gag, where the kids switched the letters around on the school’s sign to make it say silly things, as I always loved those in the books), and I especially enjoyed whenever their imaginations took over the story in the film. The kids were perfectly cast too. Both Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch were really funny and endearing. I’m a fan of Hart when he’s used properly, as he was in this film, and I’ve also become a huge fan of Middleditch, thanks to his hilariously awkward role as Richard Hendricks on “Silicon Valley” (which I consider one of the funniest shows on TV). I couldn’t have been happier with the casting of these two.
It’s actually a pretty great comedic cast altogether. I really enjoyed Ed Helms as the cranky Principal Krupp, but he was even funnier as the stupendously dim-witted Captain Underpants. When I saw the first trailer, I thought maybe his “Tra-la-laaa!” catchphrase was gonna quickly get on my nerves, but Helms somehow made it work for me. I also liked Jordon Peele as Melvin, the class nerd/principal’s pet with no sense of humor whatsoever, though I didn’t actually realize it was him during the film. I did, however, immediately recognize Kristen Schaal’s voice and I thought she was terrific as Edith the lunch lady. Her crush on Principal Krupp is actually really sweet and Schaal has the perfect voice to pull that off. Other performers I love that are featured in the cast are comedian Brian Posehn and Mel Rodriguez, who you might recognize from “Better Call Saul” or “The Last Man on Earth.”
Now, for those not familar with the books, if there’s one thing they’re known for, it’s their signature low brow, potty humor (the books were even banned from some schools for this brand of comedy). I mean, the villain is called Professor Poopypants (wonderfully voiced by The League‘s Nick Kroll, by the way, who I also love) and the climactic battle is with a giant toilet robot, so this type of comedy should be expected in a film about a superhero who only wears tighty-whities. It’s crude, lowest common denominator humor, but I do think it was done well. It’s really easy to lose me with this type of humor if the jokes just lie flat, but thankfully, they didn’t. The film is incredibly well-paced and the yucks are coming at you so fast, so even if something didn’t land, something that would was just around the corner. The characters were just charming enough to make all it work for me.
I thought David Soren (“Turbo”) did an excellent job directing the film, as did writer Nicholas Stoller (“The Muppets,” “Get Him To The Greek”) who really nailed the tone and humor of the books. A lot of attention was paid to make this film as faithful to the source material as possible and I really appreciated that. In fact, it might just be the most faithful book to screen adaptation that I can think of in terms of hitting on all the signature jokes from the books and really bringing the spirit of the characters to life.
I liked the animation style, but this movie also had a lot of fun playing around with different styles of storytelling as well. Of course, with the two young comic creators at the center of the tale, you have some really fun comic book sequences, which were incredibly charming in their execution, my favorite being Captain Underpants’ origin story. You also had some other interesting ideas, like a silly “flip-o-rama” flipbook type sequence (of which these were a regular part of the books), and even a live-action sock puppet act out. I thought these sorts of sequences did a great job of keeping things fresh whenever the film was in danger of growing stale. They kept the story moving along in a fun way that should engage and delight young viewers. At just under 90-minutes, which somehow felt like 60, this film just flies by, which is an experience I don’t get too often these days with films’ unnecessarily overblown runtime.
Overall, I really enjoyed my trip down Memory Lane, just off of Nostalgia Boulevard (if you hit the gas station at the corner of Reminiscence Street and Jesus, I’m Almost 30 Now Road, you’ve gone too far, as I have with this dumb idiom). However, I don’t know if I would have liked “Captain Underpants” as much as I did had I not grown up with the characters. I have a feeling critics are gonna crap all over this, but I had a lot of fun with it, so I wanted to put at least one positive review out into the world.
While I wouldn’t really recommend the film for the actual adults out there who aren’t accompanied by children (unless you too grew up with the books), I think it’s a perfect film to bring your kids to, as long as you’re okay with the potty humor, and who knows, you might have just enough fun with it that you’re not pulling your hair out the whole time from boredom, as is too often the case with these animated family films. Coming out of the film, I literally saw a child yell “Tra-la-laa, I’m Captain Underpants!” before jumping off of some steps into his mother’s arms and that just warms the ol’ heart, ya know?
“Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” hits theaters June 2nd.
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