Film Review – Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
It has taken 20 years, but Dreamworks Animation has finally brought Captain Underpants to the cinematic world. Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is based on immensely popular novel series by Dav Pilkey. Thanks to the rise of Pixar, animated movies have become a Trojan horse at the theater, luring in children with their animated adventures but also entertaining adults with their thoughtful stories. Despite the progress over the years by Dreamworks, this film failed to work on multiple levels and seems to focus purely on kids.
The plot focuses on mischivious two friends, George Beard (Kevin Hart) and Harold Hutchins (Thomas Middleditch), who accidentally hypnotize their elementary school principal Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms) into taking on the persona of their homemade comic superhero Captain Underpants. Naturally things spiral out of control and the world’s laughter is put in danger at the hands of Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll).
The script is adapted by Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek, Neighbors, Storks), but because I’m unfamiliar with the source material by Dav Pilkey, I’m not really sure who to fault more. Clearly adults are not the target demographic, the children at my screening were yelling with excitement while the adults seemed mostly unimpressed. For the most part, the humor is pretty basic toilet fare that failed rise above the most simple jokes. Stoller’s career has generally seems to skew more towards adult humor so this is a real disappointment from him, in particular since he wrote and directed last year’s Storks which was a well balanced animated movie that found a balance between adults and kids.
At the heart of the film is the friendship between George and Harold, and the extent to which they are willing to fight to keep it alive. This is very charming, albeit a lightly explored plot line, and the ultimate resolution at the end feels abrupt and undeserved. As a character Captain Underpants is a bit of a macguffin since this is really George and Harold’s story. The threat to their friendship is the emotional backbone but the plot is bogged down in favor of the Professor Poopypants subplot which is just dull.
The casting of the film is quite good, with Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch both nailing their characters. The humor and friendship feels effortless between them, but I certainly wish they gave them more opportunity the depth behind their friendship. As it stands it is because they both are amused by the word “Uranus.” Helms is able expertly swing between the evil principal and the dopey but well meaning super hero, showing his natural versatility as an actor. Nick Kroll does capture his character as written in the script, which unfortunately is a fairly one dimensional cliche, and is probably the best example of where the film fails to inspire as it doesn’t go beyond the most basic definition of a comic book villain.
The film is directed by David Soren (Turbo) and stylistically it is quite impressive. Using a variety of styles in both 2d and 3d animation, Soren playfully takes an otherwise basic story animated adventure and gives it some pop. If it wasn’t for the vibrant style of filmmaking this would have been a much tougher grind to sit through. The risks that Soren takes in experimenting with the visuals are somewhat of out of harmony with the writing and probably will largely be under appreciated by children because they are too high concept. It would’ve been advantageous to either raise the writing to meet the visuals but as it stands it seems like the visuals aspire beyond what the story needs.
Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie isn’t unwatchable by any stretch of the imagination, but I certainly don’t want to watch it again. The failure of the film is that it really fails to find any depth. Unless they are able to flesh out the characters more I find it hard to be compelled to see another film in this series and will be surprised if this film will be successful enough to warrant one.