Silliness abounds in Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, which hails from DreamWorks Animation, the studio that reaped massive success from their most recent children’s novel series adaptation How to Train Your Dragon (a third is on the way).
This time, it’s Dav Pilkey’s books that are receiving the big screen treatment and, while the films a little more aimed toward children that the aforementioned Dragon, it’s no less entertaining and unexpectedly heartfelt. Harold (Thomas Middleditch) and George (Kevin Hart) are best friends: two boys cut from the same cloth who like to cause mischief at school, particularly in the direction of their principal (Ed Helms), and work on their titular comic-book creation in their impressive treehouse.
But when their pranks land them in big trouble, the threat of being separated leads Harold and George to desperation, somehow using a cereal box toy to transform their hard-nosed principal into the character from their imaginations. This, in addition to the arrival of new teacher Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll) – a laughter-hating evil mastermind who has disguised himself as a new science teacher – brings about all kinds of mishaps, not to mention an enormous toilet wreaking havoc on the town. Captain Underpants is the kind of film that takes its sense of ridiculousness and childhood irreverence and runs with it. Toilet humour provides the crux to the script, which was written by director David Soren and co-writer Nicholas Stoller, so audiences shouldn’t expect anything too highbrow. That said, the moments of heart that derive from all the chaos contain messages that everyone can relate to.
All that’s well and good and helps the film to achieve something a little deeper, but it’s almost certainly the fast-passed and freewheeling spirit that separates the film out. It’s a real testament to the powers this film has to entertain that the kind of silly, childish humour it utilises never becomes tiresome. Fart gags, jokes based around funny names and physical comedy reign supreme here and it’s hysterical to watch. The visual treats are in abundance and the wacky third act takes a myriad of twists and turns that makes it impossible to look away. Soren has a knack for keeping things tight, and the animation is done in a way that honours the hand-drawn classicality of Pilkey’s books while also using the best of CGI to punch it up and make it all pristine and wondrous on the eye.
It won’t be for everyone by any means, but Captain Underpants: The First Movie would be easy to overlook as another kids-only waste of money. But that’s not the case. The film subverts this every step of the way and constantly turns in new, unexpected directions in order to surprise and entertain its audience from the start to the end. That, and whoever won’t get a laugh from Kroll delivering what’s arguably one of the best voice performances in an animation film where he plays a character with the funniest, seemingly never ending name ever doesn’t deserve the time.
Jamie Neish | @JamieNeish