Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie

Posted June 2, 2017 by in

Quick Stats

Genre: animation, super-hero
Director: David Soren
MPAA Rating: PG
Actors: Stars: Kevin Hart, Thomas Middleditch, Ed Helms
Length: 1 hour 29 minutes
Release Date: 1-2-2017
Studio: DreamWorks Animation
What We Thought

A kids’ movie that positively revels in its immaturity and potty humor, which at the climax is quite literal.

by Daniel Hodgson
Full Article
Kids laugh at toilet humor.  Heck, adults I know personally still get a big kick out of fart jokes.  Ok ok, when the supervillain Professor Poopypants revealed his full name in Captain Underpants, I must admit, I bust out laughing myself.
     I won’t give away what that name is, as doing so would spoil the film’s best gag.  Captain Underpants:  The First Epic Movie is fun for children, and entertaining enough—in a juvenile sort of way—for adults who must do their duty as parents and take their kids to the movies from time-to-time. This is not a family film like Pixar was once so adept at making, but a kids’ movie that positively revels in its immaturity and potty humor, which at the climax is quite literal.
     The film is based upon the illustrated novels of the same name by Dav Pilkey, which are about two friends who hypnotize their super-mean elementary school principal into believing he is a super-hero of their own invention, Captain Underpants.  Kevin Hart and Thomas Middletitch lend their voices to prankster 4th graders George and Harold, with Ed Helmes voicing Principle Krupp, a middle-aged curmudgeon who becomes Captain Underpants when one of the lads snap their fingers.  A splash of water returns him to normal, with no memory of his misadventures.
     As a superhero, he’s nothing but trouble.  He has no powers and no sense of responsibility.  It’s up to the kids to look after the grown up, and in the process learn that there is such a thing as too much fun.  There’s a valuable Cat in the Hat lesson here for kids, but it’s lost in a blur of hyperactivity and mayhem.  Captain Underpants will not sit still long enough for that message or anything else to really sink in, so the film fails to connect emotionally beyond tickling the funny bone; you’ll laugh, but you won’t care.
     The film is computer animated by DreamWorks, with occasional cell animated scenes, a flip-book scene, and a scene done with live-action sock puppets for humorous effect.  This sense of pastiche is part of what makes Captain Underpants the most aggressively Postmodern of the DreamWorks canon, and that’s saying something considering that Postmodernist is the studio’s defining trait since 2001’s Shrek.  Right from the get-go, George and Harold hum the DreamWorks intro, then pay homage to Superman, and acknowledge that they know they’re in a movie by referring to the film’s budget at the climax.  There is creativity in its commitment to postmodernism, but the effort would have gone better into a sense of sincerity, into developing George and Harold as individuals with differences to highlight the film’s supposed theme of friendship.
     The film is more successful, though, in acknowledging that adults need to have fun too.  When the boys guide an incapacitated Mr. Krupp home after a rampage, they find a lonely place without a single decoration, bathed in cold blue light.  Their real mission is to get their new pal a girlfriend, who might be the cafeteria lunch lady.  The film has a semblance of a heart, but it’s too juvenile to linger on it.  A kid’s movie, indeed.  2.5 out of 5 stars.

About the Author

Daniel Hodgson

Daniel has a degree in film from the University of Texas at Austin, and writes about himself in the third-person, because that's the fashion.


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