Are you ever too old to enjoy a poop joke? The big screen adaptation of Dav Pilkey’s beloved Captain Underpants children’s novels sure hopes not.
A lot of young adults grew up enjoying the colourful adventures of the nearly-nude superhero, and the film from director David Soren does an excellent job of bringing the source material to life.
Though not a straight adaptation of any one novel (the film draws together elements from different books in the series together to form the narrative), the movie essentially functions as an origin for the Captain. It’s the story of George and Harold, two fun-loving elementary students with a love of pulling pranks, who hypnotize their cruel, authoritarian principal, Mr. Krupp, into believing he’s Captain Underpants—the main character of the boy’s self-created comic books. Though they initially just want to stop Krupp from giving them trouble, the not-so-superhero soon has to stop the nefarious plot of the villainous Professor Poopypants (yes, really).
This isn’t the kind of movie that one would reasonably expect to be among the best animated films. It’s not a subversive story that transcends the genre. However, it perfectly fits the bill of children’s entertainment like a snug, comfortable pair of briefs. Of course, there’s plenty of toilet humour for the kids, but the film strikes an effective balance between the low-brow potty jokes and some really clever wit—it should draw laughs from the whole crowd.
Not every joke lands, and there are some gags that run out of gas and get over-used at some points (such as George and Harold’s bad musical numbers). But humour, after all, is very subjective, and overall the movie is hilarious. Whether they’re familiar with the books or not, kids and parents alike will find plenty to laugh at here.
The animation is also a delight, and the film is very visually inventive. It captures the designs from the novels beautifully, and also integrates a lot of the unique visual elements of the books—there’s even flip-o-rama! The action is all colourful and fluid; it’s a lot of fun to watch.
The plot is fairly simple, but it holds together, especially considering that it’s technically a superhero origin story, which can be tricky to pull off, especially considering how commonplace such films have become on the big screen. While the script never operates at a very deep level, the movie does deliver a wise message about friendship, without pontificating.
The cast is something of a mixed bag and voice talent is where the film stumbles at points. Ed Helms is wonderful as the titular superhero; he does a great job distinguishing between the mean-spirited Mr. Krupp and the happy-go-lucky Captain, sounding believable as both characters. On the other hand, Nick Kroll hams it up big time as Professor Poopypants, to great effect. He embodies the character with a stereotypical accent and plays up his craziness, resulting in a hilarious antagonist. He’s helped by the fact that the villain gets some of the funniest lines in the entire film, and it’s easy to imagine that Kroll had a blast in this role.
George and Harold, meanwhile, are brought to life by Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch respectively, with far less success. It doesn’t make sense that the filmmakers would cast two grown men to play elementary school-aged children, and the actors make little effort to sound young. Middleditch just sounds like an adult, and Hart sounds like an annoying, whiny adult (which may be worse than a whiny child). Their performances aren’t what you’d expect of the characters from reading the books, and their mature voices don’t match the kid’s visual designs at all; it’s often distracting and takes the viewer out of the film. The roles should have been given either to actual children, or experienced voice actors who could sound convincing as kids. They don’t ruin the movie by any means, but to a certain degree, they do hold it back.
That the film is titled Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie implies the intentions for sequels to follow, and they are more than welcome. Though it remains to be seen if the Captain’s gonch are truly 100% cotton, the film is 100% entertaining, and as well made as a pair of luxury underwear.
(Featured Image: Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, DreamWorks Animation)